CARACAS, Saturday December 29, 2012 | Update

A Time to Talk, released on December 23

Reports by Andrés Velásquez in Bolívar State have made it possible for opposition to broadly and openly admit for the first time that there was fraud (Handout photo)
Saturday December 29, 2012  12:00 AM

On the new defeat

Defeat is monumental. Nothing is ever final, but it is a huge setback. Causes are multiple; everyone will make his own interpretation and a shared notion will emerge from contrasts.

Some explanations are less fortunate than others. The prevailing behavior inside the opposition, aimed at increasing their percentage of votes, has been trying to win the "light" Chavezism. To this sector that votes for Chávez and his candidates in a militant and convinced manner, most opposition leaders talk -as they should- with prudence; they do not insult them; they speak softly to them; they explain to them why the opposition is better than their Caudillo; they offer something preferable but not radically different. You may not agree with this approach, but it is the one that prevails. Surprisingly, this polite and almost diplomatic treatment to Chavezism becomes untamable fury toward those who abstained. For them there are not good manners but insults. They are blamed for the failure; they are the dregs of society. If moderate Chavistas are considered mistaken, those who did not vote are accused of traitors; the former ones are pampered and the latter are insulted. The frenzied silliness gets out of control against those who abstained without trying to understand their stance, particularly when there is not any organized sector promoting it.

ELUCIDATIONS. Two large lines of explanations can converge into this outcome. The first considers that Chávez' regime, rather than a mode of government, is a firm, albeit not immune, system. Social systems experience cycles of establishment, expansion, consolidation, crisis, eventual decadence, and death. These processes can be accelerated or delayed, but cannot be controlled at will. Chávez' health has given rise to a situation in which the current regime cannot continue; however, that same regime could be replaced with democratic opposition or Chavezism without Chávez: just plain Chavezism. This first explanation would imply that democratic forces, even properly behaving, could accelerate the end of the red empire, but not decreeing it.

The other explanation is more contingent and refers to the consequences of the wrong vision that would have dominated the opposition behavior. These mistakes would be attributable to the existing political leadership: since it has not properly characterized the regime, it has not been able to face it. The thing is not about a lack of courage or civic bravery, but rather understanding how an authoritarian regime can be replaced in the 21st century. Of course they know that Chávez is an autocrat and that there are traps, frauds, tricks and every kind of opportunism, but they believe that, little by little, by gathering forces, one election after the other, the time will come when the majority will not be robbed. The point is that forces are not necessarily gathered from one event to the other; you do not always go from minus to plus, like complacency perceived 10/7 election (we increased in number and will continue to increase). It was not true: we dropped, again. Increases turned into decreases.

Maybe both explanations are compatible: a system that still has strength (and throes) along with a misguided democratic leadership; the former does not depend on will, the latter does. In this regard, the existence of an analysis team within the Unified Democratic Panel (MUD), headed by Arístides Hospedales and consisting of renowned intellectuals and analysts, is a relief. I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with them and I found there a laudable critical and self-critical spirit. I cannot speak for its members, but if they are heard, things could change.

PREJUDICES. The opposition believed that candidates "anointed" by Chávez were unpopular by default, or at least they should be. It was not necessarily true in most cases, as it was shown; precisely because in a personalist regime, what matters for the forces that sustain the autocrat is the reproduction of his personal domination. The fact that red candidates were marked because the Caudillo had personally chosen them, and vested them with the magical touch of his not transferable representation, instead of rendering them weaker, perhaps made them stronger.

The analysis has to be made on a state-per-state basis. Although covered by the scarlet wave that left this defeat in its wake, some setbacks have additional regional roots. Signs of exhaustion of the opposition proposal are seen in several states: group, sectarian schemes and decisions imposed by the leadership downward, which did not mobilize the number of democratic voters required to win. The government's opportunism was exacerbated with certain fatigue with the formulas presented in the states. Is it possible that in some states people are more tired of local opposition leaders than of Chávez nationwide? Did the bribery strategy applied by the ruling PSUV party, whereby if you wanted your state to have resources allocated, you have to vote for the President's candidate, work? Either both explanations, or just one?

CANDIDACY. A presidential election is coming, provided maneuvers to prevent it due to internal clashes between the government's Cuban and military groups do not prosper. The panorama will be extremely complex. Some believe that this issue is settled with Capriles, which is not as obvious as it looks. I should say that I have voted for Capriles many times: two for mayor, two for governor and one for president; the only time I did not vote for him, I could not do it because he ran as candidate of Copei party in Zulia state. Having said this, I do not rule out the fact that he has an unquestionable option to run for president again; but the issue has to be carefully considered. He has just been elected governor of Miranda State and the question is whether an individual can take and leave at will a post elected by the people's vote (by the way, I agreed with his running for governor, because I considered that he was the candidate that best guaranteed the opposition victory in Miranda).

However, the most important problem for the opposition in a new presidential election is whether they will compete under the same election conditions or will fight to change them. Reports by Andrés Velásquez in Bolívar State have made it possible for opposition to broadly and openly admit for the first time that there was fraud. That is how they have called it.

The fundamental problem is not the candidate, but the strategy, and the question is whether with a strategy based on contesting, which aspires to be successful, the candidate should be the same. It should also be asked whether conditions exist for exclusion that was imposed on some sectors for 10/7 election can give way to a broader unity.

All these decisions require statesmen and stateswomen...Please, volunteer.


Translated by Álix Hernández

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