Archive for December 8th, 2007

What now for the Venezuelan opposition?

December 8, 2007

The Venezuelan
opposition should do its own thing and try to ignore Chavez, as he will
do whatever he decides to do and it has been clear that he will not
limit himself in anyway, just because someone in the opposition is
against it.

The opposition has many problems, one of them the fact that it
has no obvious leader to counteract Chavez. Some think this is not a
problem, but in fact last Sunday’s vote showed that Chavez can be
beaten and one of the reasons he has never been beaten directly is that
no opposition figure has been able to grab the attention of the so
called Ni-Ni’s like the reform did on Sunday. (Ni-Ni’s are those that
are not the hardcore supporters for Chavez and who mostly abstained or
voted No on Sunday.)

I believe there is an opportunity right now for those that
want to lead the opposition in the future, it is very simple: Don’t go
on vacation!
Yes, you can bet most opposition leaders are getting ready
to take off for Christmas vacation, but not Chavez. Much like last
year, he will stay and work hard through the New Year, trying to figure
out what he will do next.

In fact, General Baduel has already mentioned this in one of
his press conferences. After all, he understands it from within. He was
Minister of Defense last year when after Rosales’ defeat, all of the
opposition leaders disappeared until mid January, days after Chávez had
already made some dramatic announcements, such as nationalizing the
electric companies and the telephone company, the Enabling Bill and the
proposed Constitutional reform. You can be sure this year will be no

At least General Baduel understands this and says he plans to
spend the holiday season going around the country promoting a
Constituent Assembly. Baduel clearly made a very calculated decision to
split from the revolution and attempt to become the leader of Chavismo
without Chavez. The opposition runs the risk that he will back into
being their leader, out of sheer attrition by what people call the
traditional opposition, which has little of traditional, as by now it
includes everyone that opposes the autocrat, including dozens of groups
from extreme left to right, as well as dozens of others that backed Chavez at
one time or another.

Chavez is likely to continue pushing Constitutional Reform.
Deputy Carlos Escarra, a constitutional lawyer has already spelled it
out clearly, Chavez will go the route of a Constitutional reform
promoted by the “people”. This is at this time the safest route for
Chavez. Another proposed reform may be defeated, but will not imply the
end of Chavez’s Presidency. By contrast Baduel’s proposal of a
Constitutional Assembly could end up like in 1999, forcing Chavez to
run for President again, a huge risk despite his still high popularity
at a time when economic problems are increasing. That is why Baduel
proposes the reform and Chavismo has so far clearly stayed away from
that idea.

While the Constitution bars the presentation a proposed
reform more than once, sufficient changes can be made to some of the
proposals made and rejected Sunday to be able to say that the new proposal
is quite different and does not
represent a revision, which is what the Constitution bans from being
presented twice.

To understand that, think about Chavez’ main objective with the
proposal rejected last Sunday: His indefinite reelection. A new
proposal could simply say that no President could be elected for more
than three terms in a row, allowing Chavez to run one more time in
2012, be President until 2020 and use that Constitutional period to
propose a new reform that will allow his indefinite reelection, if
conditions allow for it. Clearly such a proposal could not be legally
blocked because it is a revision of the old one. it is not indefinite reelection anymore, and it could be
accompanied by some other proposals using different names.

Baduel’s position in favor of a Constituent Assembly is
somewhat inconsistent, as he continues to defend the 1999 Constitution
but sees a Constituent Assembly as a way of balancing the National
Assembly and even getting rid of Chavez if economic conditions
deteriorated sufficiently before a final vote came to pass on its
proposal. This would take close to a year total, more so if the
opposition had a significant representation in the Assembly, which can
not be ruled out given the results of Sunday’s referendum and the
attempts by the Government to create a new discriminatory list by
finding out which members of Chavez’ new party PSUV abstained from
voting. This combined with Chavez lack of grace in accepting defeat may
create in the end a bigger backlash that he may imagine.

But is not clear what the opposition plans to do, unless you
find yourself in Baduel’s camp, as he is clearly part of the opposition
now, and while I applauded the role he played in helping the No win on
Sunday, he does not represent the future I want for my country.

Who does? Really nobody so far, since so little is being said of
substance in terms of alternative programs for our beleaguered country.
Most opposition groups are saying little different than Chavez is, as
they feel people want populism, which while correct, does little to
improve the level of debate in Venezuela. Thus, at the time, I may have
to be content to have a leader whose economic an political ideas
disagree with mine, as long as he has a track record, however short, of
respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

For now, that would be a giant leap in improving conditions in Venezuela.