Eleazar Díaz Rangel, the director of Venezuelan newspaper Últimas Notícias, examines the country’s political situation and the internal politics of the opposition at the beginning of 2014.
2014 will look nothing like the years we’ve had since 1998. This year is to be different for one simple reason: there will be no elections. This unique circumstance will allow, or to use a more adequate term, force the country’s political parties into deep internal discussions that include a revision of mistakes made, the causes for specific setbacks, or the victories of certain adversaries.
At the same time, 2014 will also permit a more critical look at the national government’s policies, allowing for the greatest amount of reason to prevail when reviewing successes, failures, or omissions. In the case of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), time will surely be spent working on structure and function as well as on policies relating to coalitions with allied forces.
Considering the fact that its leadership will be absent at the start of the year, let’s first take a look at the opposition and both the criticisms and self-criticisms in the news. The first thing to consider is how they fought over mayoral candidates as they prepared for the December 8, 2013 municipal elections. While the party of Leopoldo Lopez (Voluntad Popular) claims to be the big winner within opposition wins, followed by Primero Justicia, official statistics place AD (Democratic Action) and COPEI (Christian Democrats) as the real winners. As these claims to victory played out, Executive Secretary of the opposition’s Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) Ramon Guillermo Aveledo recognized their overall defeat when he referred to “the existence of internal conflicts”, offering up his position if the MUD finds a better replacement – something the winner of an election never does.
Let’s consider some of the greatest differences that currently exist in the MUD:
Opposition lawmaker William Davila (AD) recently affirmed that the order given by Henrique Capriles to make the December 8 election a “plebiscite” against President Maduro was an “error”. Instead, Davila argues that the campaign should have focused on municipal issues. From an ideological standpoint, Davila now insists that the opposition should try resembling the center-left or, in his own words, social-democrats. This is something right-wing parties Voluntad Popular, Primero Justicia, and COPEI surely reject.
Henry Ramos Allup, AD’s top leader, recently shared his thoughts with journalist Elvia Gomez, rejecting the idea floating around that suggests the MUD call for a Constituent Assembly. In reference to that proposal, being pushed by both Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, Allup affirmed that “the results of December 8th mean that any attempt at calling a Constituent Assembly would be our demise”. With respect to the wider ideological debate, Allup added his critique of those who defend merchants that engage in price speculation and those who promote an economy with no rules or regulations.
“It’s as if they forgot what happened to President Carlos Andres Perez (CAP)”, he said. Carlos Andres Perez, President of Venezuela from 1974-79 and 1989-93, was removed from office during a second term mired in corruption scandals, economic crises, and neo-liberal policies that led to a popular revolt.
Allup also affirmed that no one speaks with sincerity in the MUD and that when serious proposals are made “people just pass on the responsibility to whoever else is around”.
In a conversation with journalist Pedro Pablo Penaloza, COPEI President Roberto Enriquez said “being in the MUD is like being at a poker table where everyone has their cards hidden”. Enriquez also rejected the idea of making the 2013 municipal elections a “plebiscite” and said that when he proposed an internal debate “it was as if we all spoke different languages”. Enriquez also criticized those within the MUD, and opposition outsiders, who proposed the Constituent Assembly in an open letter to the public signed and published prior to December 8th.
Certainly others have been even more audacious, be it on television or radio, but the reality is that no one risked stating these things sooner. Nothing was said until now, not because severe contradictions didn’t exist, both political and ideological differences that are nothing new, but because such statements would have affected the very unity that brings the opposition together. Their opposition to President Chavez, and the movement he inspired (chavismo), is what makes them an electoral coalition. However, in this, the 14th year of the Bolivarian Revolution, no elections are scheduled and opposition activists are now free to express their internal criticisms.
Free of the fear that they might produce fissures in an electoral coalition, opposition media is also less constrained by momentary commitments to protect unity. This explains the growing number of interviews that include questions that weren’t asked before, and the certainty that answers will be forthcoming that would have been impossible just weeks ago.
These changes can only be explained by the fact no elections are to take place. “Strange thing for Venezuela”, said Brazil’s Lula to Chavez, “since when one isn’t scheduled, you invent one”. This is sure to make 2014 special, open to debate and dialogue, as was successfully initiated at the end of 2013 by President Maduro in his public meeting with opposition mayors and governors.
One used to think that Venezuelan merchants were just like their international counterparts, looking to obtain comfortable profit margins that might reach as high as 40 or 50%, within certain limits. But in the context of economic actions carried out by the Maduro administration aimed at putting a stop to speculation, merchants were found earning 700% to 1,000%! Absolutely unheard of, not only in Venezuela but in the entire world. Venezuela now holds the record for the most expensive refrigerator on the planet: Bs 900,000 ($143,000) – the price of a modest home. What should surprise us all is that two months into the campaign against speculation we continue to find stores with exorbitant earnings and, even worse, cases in which merchants are also importers, distributors, and in extreme cases, owners of the very companies that illegally export overpriced goods from Miami. There are also cases in which merchants are dealing in regulated products (powdered milk, meat, etc.) imported for MERCAL (publicly-operated markets tasked with selling low-cost foods), with the obvious complicity of public employees.
But why speculate and hoard? The first response is simple voracity. But one should ask if other reasons exist? Is it possible, for example, that some aim to create political discontent? There is a clear link, no doubt, to the consumers in the wealthy neighborhoods of Eastern Caracas that protested government inspectors tasked with lowering prices. It is as if they wanted to say “don’t mess with my high prices”. If that wasn’t enough, a committee now exists calling for the freedom of the 384 price speculators currently in detention.