Venezuela: The man-made disaster continues
The space of separation between calmness and chaos is very thin. That is largely the cyclical rhythm of its recent history. The deep economic and social emergency and the institutional fracture have made the country a territory in which the usual notions of political confrontation are meaningless.
Polarization is much more than that, and frequently – after two decades of struggle between Chavismo and the opposition, military actions, failed attempts to overthrow the regime and crazy strategies – the nation approaches an insurmountable abyss. Now, the crisis is a bottomless pit from which no one has been able to emerge.
The succession of these three phases was reflected at the beginning of the year in an episode that marked the umpteenth turn of the government of Nicolás Maduro and that shook its rivals. That day, somehow a new cycle began.
On January 5 Juan Guaidó, head of Parliament illegally recognized as interim president by almost sixty countries, was to be re-elected to the head of the National Assembly, the only institution controlled by opposition forces. However, a maneuver by the Chavista bench and a minority sector of fugitives turned the session into a day of vertigo.
It was voted without a quorum in a chamber in which proclamations and insults crossed from one side to the other, and where parliamentarians, advisers and journalists came and went, with little control.
The surroundings of the legislative palace were full of soldiers. One of the images of the day was that of Guaidó himself – who maintains that he did not enter – trying to climb a gate to avoid the National Guard.
In an environment of chaos, full of speculation and half-truths, a new president of Parliament was sworn in: the dissident opposition Luis Parra, expelled weeks before his party, Only Chavismo recognizes him. For practical purposes, it is sufficient since the regime has never lost control of the state apparatus.
What happened then makes more sense now in the midst of the pandemic, with a country paralyzed and unable to respond due to the destruction of health services. Maduro, in power since Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013, tries to get rid of internal pressure by calling parliamentary elections.
This call threatens to dynamite the already precarious balances with the opposition, which refuses to participate. Guaidó, his team and his followers face one of their most difficult moments: weakened by the harassment of justice, frustrated by the lack of horizon and divided after the mistakes made, they seek to stay afloat by appealing to unity and clinging to their main asset: international support.
The so-called G-4, the front of the main opposition parties, has it increasingly difficult. The Supreme Court disqualified the directorates of Voluntad Popular, the formation founded by Leopoldo López; Primero Justicia, Henrique Capriles’ organization; and Democratic Action.
The ruling handed those forces over to managers led by more docile leaders, and the fourth party, A New Time, fears a similar decision. To this is added that the elections, called for December 6, will have an arbitrator appointed by that same court, related to the Government.
The attempts to agree between the parties on a new composition of the National Electoral Council (CNE) that took place until the end of February were thwarted, like all other approaches to dialogue.
Venezuela is further from a democratic transition than it was 18 months ago, due to strategic. The world and, in particular, the region, face covid-19 in an environment of global recession that makes the United States lose some interest in the Venezuelan crisis.
Maduro took advantage of such a lack of interest. He does not seek to legitimize himself internationally but has two objectives: to decapitate the opposition and to create a new loyal opposition.
Guaidó illegally proclaimed himself interim president during a mass mobilization on January 23, 2019. He did so using an interpretation of the Constitution by which Maduro is considered a usurper – after winning the presidential elections the previous year without the participation of the majority of opposition forces and amid accusations of fraud.
That challenge fueled the expectations of millions of Venezuelans who glimpsed the possibility of impending political change, relying on a military rebellion that did not occur. It also multiplied international pressure against the regime, led by the United States, Colombia, most Latin American countries, and the European Union. A year and a half later, everything seems to have been forgotten and the internal frustration is a time bomb.
The opposition right now has no good option. The Venezuelan situation has only one possible solution, which is a political agreement, but there are no incentives.
Here, a process of reactivation of the international community is required, which creates incentives for that negotiation. Many in the opposition raise have that idea of voting or not voting, but without prior negotiation, it does not mean anything.
At the same time, the messages launched by the Government are not encouraging. Last Sunday, Maduro’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, warned during a military act that “the opponents will never be able to exercise political power in Venezuela.”
With the current situation, and with a military establishment that has remained faithful to Maduro despite hundreds of defections, the scenario remains very uncertain.
More and more voices are heard in the opposition ranks, doubting the effectiveness of the symbolic reach of the interim government and the parallel apparatus created by Guaidó. They criticize the leadership of Leopoldo López’s strategy, guarded since May of last year at the residence of the Spanish Embassy in Caracas. They repudiate some of the most notorious errors of recent months, such as the attempted military incursion into two beaches near the capital with Venezuelan soldiers and two US mercenaries.
A suicide plan that ended at least seven dead and dozens of detainees. Henrique Capriles Radonski, winner of the 2015 parliamentary elections and far from the front line since 2017, launched some harsh criticism of the path taken days ago and called to rebuild not only the country but also the opposition. López responded in his own way, reappearing on the occasion of the 209th anniversary of independence in a telematic act to ask for the unity of the opponents.
However, the internal criteria are very different and the options for political negotiation. The government does not negotiate in good faith. Maduro is willing to stay in power at all costs, regardless of the position of the Chavistas and of the international community.
The arrival of Guaidó was not immediately going to lead to a change, and now we are seeing a consolidation of the regime, which is betting on surviving between now and December.
Legislative elections are scheduled a month after the presidential elections in the United States, and Washington’s position is crucial for Guaidó. He was from the first moment, despite the ups and downs and the outbursts of Donald Trump, who called him a “kid”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also recognized the difficulty of maintaining the cohesion of the opposition. However, although many doubt Trump’s real commitment from the beginning, his support and the sanctions imposed on the regime were decisive in sustaining Guaidó so he could at least face Maduro.