The main question in Venezuela isn’t about any lack of democracy in this country, nor restrictions on freedom of expression.
Regarding the supposed “democratic deficit of the Venezuelan regime”, the facts speak for themselves. Since 1998 there have been four national plebiscites, four presidential elections, and eleven parliamentary, regional, and municipal elections. Venezuela is the Latin American country with the highest number of elections and it also has an automatic electoral system (much more modern than Chile’s one), described by Jimmy Carter, who has observed 92 elections in all continents, as “the best system in the world”.
Then on the second argument that is being constantly repeated, the supposed lack of freedom of expression and press in Venezuela, once again the numbers speak for themselves. 80% of the media is private. The three national newspapers (El Universal, El Nacional and Ultimos Noticias) are opposed to the government, especially the first two, and they bring together 90% of the readership. Of the four television channels with national coverage, three of them (Venevision, Globovision, and Televen) are opposition, and likewise bring together 90% of the audience, according to information provided by the company AGB. In that sense, and according to the criteria of the United Nations, freedom of information in Venezuela is, without a doubt, greater and better than in Chile, as in the Caribbean country the diversity of property, the diversity of types of media (public, commercial, community) and of discourse – which are the three main criteria that UNESCO measures – is superior to Chile. Anyone who objectively compares, that is, with data (indicators, measurements, scales, etc), the Chilean media reality with the Venezuelan one, will see that our country [Chile] is in a much more precarious situation and not very democratic.
What is currently at stake is the type of opposition that the Venezuelan right wing (grouped into the MUD) will be over the next few years. What relation the MUD have with the government of President Maduro after the elections in December, is not at all clear yet, and that has provoked internal tensions that explain, largely, the violent mobilisations over the last few days.
To understand the current situation it’s important to remember that ten weeks ago (8 December), Chavismo achieved a strong electoral victory in the municipal elections. Despite a voluntary vote and the historical tendency of abstention in local elections, there was 60% participation. Chavismo got 10 percentage points more votes than the MUD and won 242 mayoralties, while the right got 75 mayoralties. These unexpected results for the opposition meant the failure of their strategy that begun in April 2013, of not recognising the legitimacy of President Nicolas Maduro.
The MUD didn’t manage to dispute electoral hegemony, or even question the legitimacy of the government, as they had made this event a plebiscite and they clearly lost it.
Shortly after this election President Maduro convoked all the mayors of the opposition to a dialogue in the presidential palace, two times. Even the right wing leader, Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state, showed up at the second meeting, and he and Maduro shook hands and the photo was passed around the whole world. This handshake symbolised a mutual recognition of each other, in that way ending the strategy of questioning legitimacy of the president, a strategy that Capriles himself had promoted and lead in 2013.
The possibility of starting a new and unprecedented phase of opposition-government dialogue remained. Actually, the majority of opposition mayors and governors had begun dialogue, participating in, for example, the mission for citizen security, or coordinating activities with the internal affairs minister, involving themselves in quadrants as part of the Secure Homeland Plan. All this mutual effort of dialogue and coming together provoked tensions with the far right wing of the MUD that isn’t open to dialogue, nor to accepting the fact that the Venezuelan people vote in their majority, again and again, in favour of a government which questions the capitalist model.
It’s about a similar situation that the Christian Democratic Party faced during the government of Salvador Allende. On the inside, the positions in favour of dialogue with president Allende (lead by Tomic and Leigthon) clashed with those who openly supported a coup style exit (lead by Aylwin and Frei).
In that sense, what we are seeing today is largely the manifestation of an internal problem of the Venezuelan opposition whose most extreme wing, with the clear support of the United States and the media chains, is trying to make any attempt to build a new relationship between the opposition and the government fail. Because in a year like this, which, unusually, is a year without elections, the scenario for this new relationship was very favourable.
Pedro Santander is the head of the Communication Observatory, Pontificial Catholic University of Valparaiso, Chile.
Translated for Venezuelanalysis by Tamara Pearson.