In a meeting last Monday, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) reached only one agreement: to evaluate the relevance of the alliance supporting the Citizens' Congress, organized by Maria Corina Machado. The rest of the meeting consisted of skirmishes and recriminations. Old wounds unhealed now become mistrust. This is the story of the last session presided over by Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, who recently resigned as executive secretary of the opposition coalition.
The expected meeting where the MUD attempted to mend its internal wounds was not a rose garden, though the name of the hotel where the July 28 meeting took place -- The Garden Suites of Altamira, Caracas -- would have suggested otherwise. The meeting proved thorny. The fact that just 48 hours later, the party's Executive Secretary, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, and his deputy, Ramón José Medina, resigned from their posts is just an outward sign of the party's irreconcilable tensions.
However, it is not a paradox that on that Monday afternoon it was Aveledo who issued a nondescript statement, written by Antonio Ledezma, mayor of Greater Caracas and leader of Alianza Bravo Pueblo, full of platitudes about defending democracy, but without news.
Aveledo, known to adhere to conventions of civility, intended to give material to reporters waiting by the hotel doors and at COPEI party headquarters in La Campiña, where they were officially located. The only significant part of the statement concerned the obligation of the MUD to "leade civic struggles that demand an urgent change in direction of our country." But sometimes the messenger outweighs the message. Because it would have been impossible for distinguished figures of the party's warring factions to attend to give an image of "unity despite difference," the former MAS parliamentary official and current Executive MUD Sub secretary, Cristóbal Fernández Daló, read out the statement.
Fernández arrived at COPEI headquarters -- chosen as the site for the statement because of its backdrop with MUD logos -- around 5:30 p.m. Reporters immediately decoded his presence as a signal that there was nothing good to say. Without white smoke, Fernández tried to put on his best face, adding two catchy but empty phrases, to affirm that "there is unity, for a while," and that the meeting had taken place in a "cordial and productive" environment.
It was the false end of a day about to conclude, a day which had begun at 9 a.m., an hour after the indicated start time. The beginning had not been as auspicious as it should have been. Freddy Guevara, the representative of the Voluntad Popular party (VP), arrived at the meeting with Luis Florido, also a leader of the party, founded by Leopoldo López. With its presence, the duo broke the agreement made shortly before that only one representative would attend from each party within the G7 organization (the opposition parties with the highest electoral popularity) and María Corina Machado, as the voice of the independents.
This procedural point cost nearly two hours of the meeting. Guevara defended his actions, noting that the Acción Democrática (AD) and Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) parties had second representatives in Edgar Zambrano and Stalin González, respectively. Their presence, however, did not indicate a party assignment, as they were delegates of a parliamentary faction of the opposition.
For a moment the debate became heated. Guevara managed to ask Aveledo: "why don't you go, chico?" But the one who ended up leaving the meeting was Henry Ramos Allup, the AD Secretary General, who noted that Guevara's attitude showed a clear signal that there was no political will to do things seriously. Later Edgar Zambrano also retired, so that the old hegemonic party of puntofijismo lost its voice. Still later, Luis Florido, the second in disagreement with VP, opted to leave the meeting.
Days before, Aveledo had circulated a document with guidelines for the meeting, asking those gathered to overlook the differences between those advocating an electoral strategy and those advocating the "la salida" approach. Instead, he proposed that the attendees begin thinking about how to restructure the party, and the possibility of unifying the two strategies. There were those who took Aveledo's agenda as an attempt to silence a necessary debate; others saw it as a methodological framework for a discussion that would otherwise fall on deaf ears. In any case, the conditions were approved. "The problems were not for a lack of agenda," one of the participants aid in retrospect. "We had to be prepared to say what needed to be said," noted another. Guevara's original rebellion seemed to give the green light to other skirmishes.
It was Julio Borges, the National Coordinator of Primero Justicia (PJ), who started the fire. He reviewed the events which had, in his perspective, led to the failure of "La Salida." It was a failure, he added, that had an important affect for the unity of opposition forces. "Just two days before the December 8  regional elections, they made a very costly statement to the press in favor of the constitutional route," he said. So with the beginning of "La Salida" -- on January 23, 2014 -- it had only been heard within the MUD after it was already launched and disseminated in the press. "That January 23, there were two press conferences, one by the MUD commemorating the fall of [Venezuelan dictator Marcos] Pérez Jiménez [in 1958], and the other for 'La Salida.'" He claimed that these inconsistent and unilateral actions had put the MUD in a trance of "supporting a strategy in which we don't believe."
María Corina Machado then took the floor to refute him. She said that those who promoted "La Salida" -- among whom included herself, VP, Proyecto Venezuela (PV), and Alianza Bravo Pueblo (ABP) -- had spoken of their plans in advance. In addition, she beat out several pieces of evidence to show that "La Salida" had not failed: as a result of the protests, for example, the popularity of Nicolás Maduro's government had fallen to 30-35%, the repressive face of the regime had become clear, and the united States had activated a number of sanctions against Venezuelan officials for human rights violations. She insisted that the collapse of the current government remains imminent, although she added: "I have never met with the military to plan coups." Turning toward Juan José Molina -- representative of Avanzada Progresista -- and Henri Falcón she said: "nor in 1992" [the year of Hugo Chávez's failed coup]. Then she turned to Julio Borges: "nor in 2014."
Machado's words tried to address the rumors, spread by her opponents that accuse her of forming links with the military. The challenge was met with no response. Instead, the reply was that "La Salida had not only not achieved success internationally, but had created an additional problem: that currently there is no access to certain leaders within the international community, which does not identify a clear leader representing the democratic Venezuelan opposition.
While this and other skirmishes took place, it came to attention that Henrique Capriles Radonski kept quiet, with a face that a witness described as "with deep regret," with all his attention focused on his tablet. The governor of Miranda state and two-time presidential candidate did this deliberately. "It's a matter of Henrique's personality," a friend explained. He decided that his muted expression would demonstrate "with eloquence" his disagreement with "La Salida," with the meeting's previous discussions, and with impatient methods "that already failed in April 2002 [with an attempted coup of Hugo Chávez and with the withdrawal from the National Assembly [elections] in 2005."
Nobody could fail to notice the silent protest. Only once did Capriles fall into the temptation of interpersonal conflict: when Antonio Ledezma dated the origin of the MUD's internal division not in the emergence of "La Salida" -- as Julio Borges and PJ maintain -- but in Capriles' decision to call off the opposition march to the National Electoral Council (CNE) after the contested outcome of the April 2013 presidential elections, following the death of Hugo Chávez, in which Nicolás Maduro emerged victorious by just a little more than 1 percent of total votes. Upon hearing this accusation, Capriles jumped from his seat: "I do not regret that. I would do it again."
Roberto Enríquez, president of COPEI, took the floor to respond to Borges' initial words and to give another dimension to the dissent, and an old misgiving emerged from the parties regarding their alliance with Primero Justicia. Enríquez did not mean to disparage "La Salida," but he noted that long before it, Primero Justicia had also lacked a unitary voice when leading the presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2013. Although they never complained publically, the other organizations and independents always privately resented the few possibilities of being heard by Capriles when he was a candidate. And furthermore, noted Enríquez, the Miranda Governor had also broken an agreement to disclose opposition strategy to other allies before making public the idea of converting the December 2013 municipal elections into a plebiscite. Capriles and Borges remained silent.
The intervention of Omar Barboza, of Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT), attempted to regain the meeting's spirit. Barboza said that it was impossible to think of a united opposition with dissimilar strategies and for that reason the government could not be confronted. He implored that the sides begin a reunification process. But the calls of the veteran leader from Zulia were not enough to lead to a more substantial debate.
There was no discussion of the "Constituyente" or the resignation of Ramón José Medina, something that had not yet happened and that constituted a point of honor for VP. There was discussion of the Citizens' Congress convoked by Maria Corina Machado for late September or early October. Enríquez defended the idea as a means of connecting the MUD with sectors of civil society which neither considered themselves militants of either party or felt represented by the opposition. When this was mentioned, Capriles spoke for the second and final time: "You can proceed as you like with this, but Primero Justicia will not participate." Aveledo intervened to ask him if that was his personal position, or that of the party. Capriles responded: "the party's position." Julio Borges could not endorse Capriles because he had already left.
The anecdote with which the meeting ended shows how it served to deepen suspicions, rather than to assuage them. The representative of Proyecto Venezuela (PV), Carlos Berrizbeitia, who had positioned himself in public opinion with his constant monitoring of expenditures reported in the national budget, lived up to his reputation as a comptroller. Suspecting that Juan José Molina, the representative for Avanzada Progresista, sitting next to him, was surreptitiously recording the meeting, Aguijoneado resorted to a ruse: he clapped his hands to applaud out of place. The sound caused the monitors to rise on the iPad recording application.
Berrizbeitia confirmed his suspicion. "Are you recording?" he asked. As Molina looked surprised, Berrizbeitia confronted him with more determination. "Respond," Berrizbeitia pressed. According to testimony, Molina admitted that he was recording the event so he could later listen to and analyze it more carefully. "I don't know about you," Berrizbeitia said to those present, "but I feel very uncomfortable with him recording this meeting. That is beyond any rule." All agreed to ask him to erase the recording. And so it was done.
Molina does recognize that there was an altercation at the end, but he denied that he was recording the meeting. "I was taking notes. These meetings are serious, and you have to be sure about what everyone says," Molina said. "The funniest thing to me is that they say that I have links to Diosdado Cabello." The former delegate, who once embraced the chavista cause, believes that the real intention of labeling him as a snitch is to hurt Henri Falcón, Lara state governor. Many of those attending the meeting believe that Falcón, who was elected in 2008 with the PSUV, is the one delivering information to the government. Now there aren't only near-irreconcilable differences regarding strategy. Now the weight of distrust has increased for an alliance whose future may be in jeopardy.
Translation by Venezuelanalysis.com