A Time to Talk, released on May 6
"Chávez has left the stage progressively and, maybe, irreversibly"
The empty Chair
For all practical purposes, the post of President of Venezuela is vacant. Hugo Chávez is not fulfilling his post and a replacement - the Vice-President according to the Constitution- has not been appointed. Leadership performance, the symbolism of a defeated caudillo is not the same as the exercise of the demanding post of administratively and politically ruling the country. Believing that to rule something, having the ability to remotely fix a signature is enough is so naïve that it is almost an imbecility. Even a humble barman in the farthest town of Venezuela has to see people face to face, know who owes him and who pays him; he should have contact with his providers and is obliged to prepare the balances. The president of a country must receive reports, visit different sites and institutions, know the ups and downs of the civilian-military situation; monitor expenses and the treasury. A president cannot govern from a sickbed; in Venezuela, the lack of the presidential exercise has brought about an abstinence syndrome.
The omens of the caudillo's eclipse are ominous. Venezuela has been ultra polarized by the Bolivarian mess and the dry straw that covers the country perhaps does not withstand a spark unscathed. The idea of many, according to which the Revolution (or getting rid of it) needs a baptism -or better a Confirmation- of blood, is a terrifying possibility that should not be assumed as unavoidable.
Chávez has left the stage progressively and, maybe, irreversibly. Without predicting anything about his life, the truth is that fighting cancer requires gathering all strength, existential energy and time and this takes Chávez out of the scene. Nobody, not even Chávez himself, knows if it will be tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. The fact is that his power is fading.
The absence of the caudillo has unsuspected repercussions in a one-man regime. In more than 13 years, gears, routines, manners, mafias, styles have been constituted. Chávez has been and is the center of all those balances. Not only inside government, but inside the State and beyond: inside a large part of the society. The disappearance of this center of multiple balances that Chávez has represented brings about rearrangements that, if left uncontrolled, can be extremely violent, like those that can be produced between government and opposition, but also inside each one of the two blocs.
THE DANGER. Venezuela is living dangerous times. Divides are so large, angers so intense, losses so painful and hatred so easy that some of the conditions for a bloody outcome are being incubated. Paramilitary forces inside the regime are preparing to get rid of -that is their intention- opposition leaders, when the time comes. Even though there is no fire power on the opposition side, some believe that an outcome in which establishmentarian sectors of the Venezuelan Armed Forces are going to have to retake control also by fire and sword is unavoidable. When the violent solution is internalized and gets into the minds of a significant portion of leaders, the odds of its occurring increase.
Those who know the high cost -in lives and assets- that peoples that have played with fire have paid must avoid a similar outcome. At this time, Chavezism does not have enough force to crush the democratic opposition, much less without the presence of Chávez. The democratic opposition does not have strength enough either to expect the full disappearance of Chavezism. That reality entails an intermediate way that includes an electoral solution but also understanding. Some are alarmed when this is said, because -they wonder- how can you negotiate with people that have behaved so terribly.
The fact is that when things get to the point they have gotten in Venezuela, negotiation, explorations have to take place among people who consider horrible each other. Those are the ones calling the shots.
THE COUNCIL OF STATE. The appointment of the members of the Council of State, apart from the constitutional powers that nobody cares about in a country without Constitution, shows the purpose of generating an alternative center of balance. It is not a government junta, but a moderating entity that tries to steer a ship that is adrift. The most part of the characters in the Council have the peculiarity of having one foot on the so-called Fifth Republic, but another, quite firmly, on the Fourth Republic. José Vicente (JVR) is a close friend of Chávez and this latter more than respecting him, fears him. JVR was one of the more successful politicians of the old establishment; a personal friend of Carlos Andrés Pérez (CAP), Jaime Lusinchi and Luis Herrera, and had a cordial relation with Rafael Caldera. He has maintained links with people from past and present times. Roy Chaderton was also a much respected figure in the Foreign Ministry in the administrations of Caldera, Herrera, CAP and Lusinchi; after the revelation that turned him into a Chávez's follower, his friends multiplied, although he experienced important losses in terms of affections; he knows many people and is very skillful. German Mundaraín was a successful professional in the old system; he has an extended network of relations and Chávez trusts him a lot. Luis Britto García was one of the most outstanding intellectuals of the classic old times and now of the Bolivarian aurora borealis. These four men exemplify a kind of leaders that could be hinge-figures inside the Chavismo and also toward the opposition, if necessary.
YOU HAVE TO TALK WHILE YOU CAN. In an extended process intended to avoid a violent and bloody outcome nobody is expendable. Without trying to give a word of advice, the idea of an outcome that does not take into account, say, the strength that Diosdado Cabello has developed inside Chavezism, is absurd. Expecting that Nicolás Maduro or Elías Jaua, who have been left out several times, may be expendable in the government equation is not realistic. The Council of State, as a referent, has a task; above all to prevent armed units from acting; the same armed units that are led by that hero who says that he would rather die fighting than being jailed in Guantánamo.
Communication channels with the opposition must be opened up. There are obvious topics like freedom of political prisoners; but there are others more complex that have to do with respecting the electoral conditions and elections as a pacifying instrument, as well as the creation of conditions for the participation of those sectors excluded from national decision making.
It is time to talk. Neither the government nor the opposition is going to have everything they want, but it is necessary to talk before it is too late. There is not much time.
Translated by Álix Hernández
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."