"Institutions have been largely destroyed"
"In 2004, the opposition did it wrong. Today, politicians played the game and have generated an option." "I have a historical vision and one should note that it has always been a challenge for Venezuela to create solid institutions"
The book is more exciting than its title, International Mediation in Venezuela, suggests. The two authors, who represent the Carter Center, were mediators in one of Venezuela's cyclical national issues. They have put together a methodical and precise story that starts with the broad political framework and hones in on the most revealing details of the intricacies in the deliberations of the opposition alliance known as Bureau of Negotiations and Agreements: the medium of understanding between Chavezism and the opposition that culminated with the 2004 Recall Referendum.
Jennifer McCoy and Francisco Diez came back to Venezuela to publicize the book, whose foreword is by Jimmy Carter. Although they both admit that phenomena such as polarization and crime still exist, they also come to recognize the progress that the opposition has made. Diez argues that institutional deterioration is very large, while McCoy stresses that the consolidation of institutions and a way to improve government efficiency are both challenges still pending.
-There are ways to measure the success or failure of mediation efforts. If we think about the way violence was avoided in Venezuela (back in 2004), we could say that you guys have succeeded in Venezuela. But if we evaluate based on the necessity to unify the country, we could say that polarization not only remains, but has been extended in time.
-(J McC) These are the exact terms in which we wrote the book.
-(FD) Our focus centered on preventing violence. But as to the de-escalation of polarization, we were unable to generate the necessary space and initiatives to sustain and extend some of the things we did. We worked a lot with the idea of the Third Side, as a space that can contain visions from both sides but that can respect these visions in conjunction with the community in order to generate a common ground. This work was extended socially, and although it was not well known in a time dominated by confrontation, the seeds were sewn and appear to have created a small platform to build off of. It begins with the basis that Chavezism and the opposition will continue to exist and must find ways to co-exist.
-Both groups were very radical, and, at the time, it was evident that not only did they not want to co-exist, but that their objectives were not totally democratic.
-(FD) The government was elected democratically and was one that (most of all during Chavez's first election) respected the mechanisms of the democratic election.
-I am referring to their objectives.
-(FD) Goals are a matter of judgment that an individual makes. Our mission was never to judge any of the two sides. Yes, we did make a judgment against the sectors that thought violent methods should be used to end the government. We did not work and did not remain in contact with those people. We wanted to help the individuals willing to find solutions within the framework of the democratic elections: a democratically elected government and an opposition made up of political and social forces, many of whom were willing to participate in elections.
The key was finding a way to work through their differences to avoid violence.
-Another way to measure the outcome of the efforts is by looking at the fulfillment of the agreements between the two parties, which they signed in a ceremony. Did they act on these agreements and stay true to them?
-(FD) The only goal that was fulfilled was the Recall Referendum, which was almost exclusively pursued by the opposition. It is one of the analyses we do in the book. One feature of the conflict was the absolute concentration on Chávez's symbolic presence. Their goals focused on the possibility or desire for Chávez to remain or leave presidency. At least from the side of the opposition, their view was reductionist. They did not pursue many separate objectives. This had such an effect that the opposition ended up leaving the National Assembly in the hands of Chavezism, as they refused to participate in parliamentary elections. In the same way, the military revolt allowed those who were not with Chávez to be legally excluded from the National Armed Forces (FAN), leaving the field open to Chávez's centaurs. The oil strike caused the legal dismissal of 18,000 Pdvsa employees, and thus, the government took over. Such political mistakes by the opposition made them lose spaces.
-All that has changed.
-(FD) That is why it is important to do these analyses now, because it appears that there is an intention to run things in a different way.
-(J McC) Off principle, we analyzed the situation. We then met with all the stakeholders, noting the complaints of the opposition. Then, we did our best to build an agenda for dialogue based on these complaints, but the opposition had no interest in the specific issues, but focused on casting away the President. Issues such as the judiciary, which reportedly was in the hands of Chávez, disarmament, or a Truth Commission, aroused no interest on either side.
-You were accused of being naïve and/or soft. Did you resent the criticism and even the rejection against former President Carter, who was the victim of a disrespectful whistle at a restaurant?
-(J McC) That was after the referendum. Some said we were in a conspiracy with the government. I felt threatened and was afraid of appearing in public.
-(FD) Before the recall vote, it all fell on me, but from the government side. I left the country for awhile. It is all in the book.
-(J McC) But we have always stood our ground. We did not change our opinions.
-Did not the government delay the referendum to wait for the tables to turn?
-(FD) Of course. They resisted the recall vote as much as they could.
-Was that not an unacceptable way for them to get an advantage?
-(FD) At one point (during the collection of signatures), when Carter had also told him, ("You should measure yourself, we all know that the firms are there"), Chávez ceased to resist so doggedly and eventually developed a proactive attitude. He changed his campaign team and became the leading advocate of he benefits of recall vote. On the other hand, the Group of Five never worked and failed to plant a strategy of confrontation. They lost their chance soon after an agreement on the recall vote was achieved. They fought amongst themselves, mistrusted each other, and eventually could not stand being in the same room with each other. It was a completely different situation from what is happening now with the Unified Democratic Panel and the primaries. It seems that politicians have played their part and have created an option that unites everyone. It took 8 years for this to happen.
-After 8 years, do you not feel that Chávez became what the opposition feared?
-(FD) Of course he did.
-(J McC) With his influence, control, and dominance over several aspects of the government, he did.
-(FD) I no longer work for the Carter Center, and I am speaking for myself. With that being said, I think there has been a huge amount of institutional deterioration. That is not to say that there were great institutions before. If one steps away and looks back to the times before Chávez, you will find that poverty had increased from 25% to 65%. This was under a democracy. Then in 1999, a new Constitution became the starting point the vast majority seemed to agree with. So much so that the only election Chávez has lost was a referendum through which he tried to amend the Constitution.
-He uses other methods now to achieve such a goal.
-(FD) Exactly. In the book, we analyze the government strategy from the perspective of an archipelago, where Chávez himself is an archipelago. Now he thinks of a way, he might act otherwise tomorrow. He rises, every day on a different island, at his own convenience.
-(J McC) Because he has different audiences.
-Do you agree with Mr. Diez's opinion on the country's deinstitutionalization.
-(J McC) I started visiting Venezuela in 1983, always as an academic studying the country. I have a historical view of it and express my point that it has always been a challenge to build strong institutions and governments to ensure public services here. That was the goal that has not been met yet. Now we note that issues such as crime have worsened.
-(FD) While others, like health, have improved.
-(J McC) True.
-Do you think it will be necessary for you to mediate in the future, considering Chávez could be defeated?
-(J McC) There have been elections with victories and defeats on both sides and the people have accepted both results. We will see what will happen this time. But mediation is only possible when both parties invite mediators. That is up to the Venezuelans. We will never appear here in any other way.
Translated by Alejandro Osio
José Vicente Rangel clearly said: "We are not conducting negotiations threatened with a gun in the head." He warned behind closed doors in the midst of the social upheaval occurred during the oil strike in 2002 and 2003. Dissenting Timoteo Zambrano answered back that no other option was available: "The thing is that otherwise, you do not negotiate."