Symbolism, meaningful dialogue and the 2006 Presidential election

December 18, 2005

The Government
continues to call for a meaningful dialogue with the opposition, but the
symbolism is all wrong. By this, I mean that if any form of dialogue is to take
place, the Government has to give a sign that it really means it this time
around. To do this, the right person has to propose the dialogue and the
Government has to cool its customary confrontational style as well as using the right kind of symbols in the way it

But what
is happening is exactly the opposite. To begin with, the main character calling
for a dialogue is the Vice-President, Jose Vicente Rangel, the same one that
hosted the failed dialogue after April 11 2002, the same one that sent the opposition
to hell (pa’l carajo) when it decided to withdraw from the parliamentary
elections ad the same one that makes in your face statements against half of
the Venezuelans any day he feels like it. Thus, for a dialogue to take place,
it has to be someone different that proposes it and promotes it. It will not be
Chavez because he will not stake his image on something that may fail or
backfire, but it simply can not be Rangel.

And the symbolism
is also very important. But all of the symbols since the Pyrrhic victory by Chavismo
on Dec. 4th. have been quite negative. Two days after the elections, the prosecution
of Sumate leaders in that charade of a trial continued. The audience was
delayed simply because the Government noticed that this was being done while the
international observers were still around and some of the foreign embassies had
even bothered to send someone to follow the proceedings. But what is clearly a
political case, was not only continued, but threats were made against some of
the Sumate leaders, as their right to due process continues to be violated any time
an audience takes place.

The same
can be said of the trial of union leader Carlos Ortega. Carlos Ortega was not simply
a union leader, he was the elected (in 2002) leader of the federation of unions
that called for a general three day strike that has been ruled legal by
international labor organizations. (Just think what would have happened if Lech
Walesa had been jailed in Poland
when he led the strike that ended with the change of the Government in that country)
But to make matters even worse, Chavez himself said publicly that he created the
conditions to have that strike extended so that he could purge PDVSA. But, days
after the recent parliamentary election, Ortega was sentenced to over 15 years
in prison for civil rebellion, a vague term that does not exist in Venezuelan legislation
in what was clearly another symbol that the Government will continue
persecuting and harassing its enemies. So much for dialogue.

But the
most negative symbol we have seen in the last few days was the invited speaker
to commemorate the anniversary of the new Constitution last Thursday. The
Assembly invited none other than CNE President Jorge Rodriguez to give that
speech, in a clear demonstration that a dialogue is the furthest thought of the
now 100% Chavista National Assembly, sending a clear insult to the Venezuelans
whose rights have been blatantly violated by this arrogant man, who has shown
his partiality for the Government and total disregard for the law.

There is probably
no other Government figure that better represents the abuse of power and total
control of the Government by Chavez, than Jorge Rodriguez. The Comptroller may
be invisible, the People’s Ombudsman may act as the Government’s Ombudsman and
the Supreme Court may rule in the direction Chavez wants. But Jorge Rodriguez
has been a one man show of arrogance, violation of the rights of all
Venezuelans, violation of the laws, wasteful spending without supervision and blatant
partiality towards the Government. To choose him as the speaker to celebrate
the anniversary of the Constitution he has trampled over and disregarded
constantly, is simply another very clear symbol that the Government does not
care about a large segment of the Venezuelan population, even if they are a

And the
Venezuelans who do not trust the electoral system and the people who run it are
indeed a majority. Polls said it, the voters said it by not showing up and the
OAS and EU observers said it. But rather than taking this as a criticism, this
has enraged the Chavez administration and reportedly the man himself. Because
the EU observers report, with all of its damning comments about the elections
and the electoral system, made a very strong statement when it called for the
naming of a new Electoral Board composed of people with “professional prestige,
independence, diverse and with the trust of all sectors of society”. Can it be
clearer than that? Jorge Rodriguez does not represent any of those values.

And that is
the first symbol that the Government has to give in order to think that there
may be a dialogue: Announce that it will name a brand new CNE which will be
diverse and be composed of people that everyone will respect. And then go and do
it. Without conditions.

this step, no call for dialogue, peace or trust among Venezuelans can result. There
can be no Presidential election in 2006 under the supervision of Jorge
Rodriguez and the current Electoral Board. The alternative is for Chavez to
have a true plebiscite for his mandate, the outcome of which does not bode well
for him at this time and may prove to the world that he is just another
militaristic autocrat, with no love of democracy.

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