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Is Venezuela's Opposition Opposing the Country?

By Víctor García Crespo

October 25, 2004 - It seems that good fortune is in Hugo Chávez's side. On the one hand, he has been reconfirmed and internationally recognized as a legitimate president through his "victory" in the recall referendum. Coupled with high oil prices and all the "legal maneuvers" he has made to have the main source of the national income at his disposition, he is now expanding his populist and demagogue social measures among underprivileged Venezuelans and, most importantly, he is in a position to buy consciences, negotiating with the well-known hypocrisy of the superpowers while spreading his "Bolivarian Revolution" across Latin American. In short he now owns the best revolution that money can buy.

On the other hand, he is full of joy by watching a confused, divided and somehow incompetent and selfish opposition, which is making matters worse when - after having claimed fraud and appointed a committee to substantiate the evidence of such a fraud during the recall process, and having been informed by this committee that there were "grave irregularities and elements of fraud that vitiate and absolutely nullify the Recall Referendum" - appears not to know or is still wondering what to do with the findings and conclusions of the committee and even worse, how to design a clear, solid and appealing course of action, not only to face the upcoming regional elections for governors but most importantly, to conform a political strategy capable of unifying millions of Venezuelan citizens who voted to oust Hugo Chávez from office.

Under these circumstances, the opposition stands today at a four-way crossroads. One path leads to declaring the government illegitimate because it committed fraud, to propose civil disobedience and to not participate in the regional elections. Another path leads to accept government legitimacy "for the time being" until more fraud proof is unveiled, and accept to participate in the regional elections under the same electoral rules and mechanisms of the recent referendum. The third is to show a willingness to participate while standing firm before the National Electoral Council (CNE) under the premise that if they do not change the electoral rules and mechanisms that guarantee impartiality they will not participate in the elections. Lastly, to convince both, the candidates for gubernatorial and mayoral elections, as well as millions of Venezuelans about the merits of the option that has been chosen or taken.

The problem is, that even when the crossroad is there the opposition, maybe for incompetence or lack of leadership, seems to be in denial of its existence. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain the absence of a particular course of action capable of achieving unity within the different opposition forces and above all, the support of electoral population and their motivation or willingness to cast their votes. Of course, Hugo Chávez is taking due advantage of this panorama. His revolutionary strategy is taking a more defined shape and his tactics seem to be paying off to take over every political space in order to consolidate his hegemony. He is openly challenging, with his hand-picked candidates, even those states where the opposition seemed to be invincible: Miranda, Carabobo and Zulia. And to fulfill this end, is counting on the abstention of citizens who, even when they oppose the government, are frustrated by the political mishandling of the opposition leadership.

This is, without doubt a sad situation for Venezuelans because the truth is, that the legitimacy of Hugo Chávez's government is questionable. The definitive report of the committee to substantiate the evidence of fraud is strong enough as to have Hugo Chávez at the edge of a deadly political cliff. The reports strength rests on the overwhelming circumstantial evidence as to how the fraud was prepared and carried out, not to mention the academic merits of its authors. It goes beyond the political spectrum and put forward technical issues that are still waiting for a government reply coming from supporters of the revolution of similar or equal academic standards (if any).

In any other democratic country, where social and political institutions were really independent, the conclusions of this report would be causing a political earthquake and maybe inspiring the book "When the Bolivarian Revolution Came Tumbling Down." Unfortunately, we by now know this is not the Venezuelan case. Regrettably, the independent institutions are resting in peace in Venezuela. Hugo Chávez has been killing them one by one and building new ones which blindly obey his wishes. As the report states, the Electoral Board (EB), which by definition should be impartial and independent, is conformed by a majority of Chavez supporters, and directly responsible, during the recent recall, for "the fraud, corruption and manipulation of the Electoral Roll and the purchase of an automated voting system in violation of the regulations established in Venezuelan legislation.

Notwithstanding the fertility that the government has offered to cultivate a solid opposition movement, the current opposition is struggling and trailing Hugo Chávez with regard to decision-making and clarity about the objectives. It looks as it is sinking and citizens going from excessive optimism to and abandon-ship- and –abandon –all hope despair. In some states the abstention is winning to the votes of the opposition; this is an appalling political situation that demands urgent and profound changes within its leadership. While the shaking of hands between the corrupts of the past and the honest and democratic opposition looked at first as a political necessity to oppose Hugo Chávez totalitarian ambition, it appears now clear that such a coalition is more damaging than beneficiary. Hugo Chávez himself has made mockery of the opposition and has asked for a leader capable to challenging his popularity. Bring me a leader! He has claimed. Maybe it is time to pay attention to such a demand.

To participate in the upcoming elections under the prevailing electoral system will lead to the lost of the little political space that the opposition currently enjoys. But without having a solid and well-grounded political strategy it is impossible to achieve the unity that is necessary to defeat Hugo Chávez and his supporters. The Venezuelan citizens who oppose Hugo Chávez have showed capacity to fight for their rights and even have given their lives for having a country where democracy can reign. They deserve better.

Venezuela needs an opposition capable to resolve the dilemma as to how to oppose a government without opposing a country.

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