The phrase Salida Democratica, used increasingly by Venezuela’s opposition, and echoed by foreign governments, the international media, international observers, and even reporters on assignment to Venezuela, is being misconstrued. This could be due to an imperfect grasp of Spanish but it is more likely due to the lack of a true understanding of Venezuela and the consequent assumption that both they and the opposition have a similar concept of democracy. What this means is that all talks, meetings and facilitating sessions have been at cross-purposes.
The word Salida has been interpreted as Solution. It is an indication of the complexity of the situation in Venezuela that this translation holds true, but only in specific instances. It holds true if President Chavez were to lose the Referendum, or if one is not held, he were to lose the Presidential Elections in 2006. It falls flat if he were to win both.
The word Salida also means Exit. It is in this sense that the Opposition is using it.
To put it in a nutshell, Chavez has to go. We are not talking about popularity, general acceptance nor even about the number of votes or voters that back him. The central concept of democracy, that it is the majority of the population that decide in which direction a country is to go is only valid if it coincides with the wishes of the opposition. To the hardcore opposition, Chavez is simply unacceptable.
The vicious media campaign by the four main private television stations, with their flood of propaganda, which the single government TV station has not been able to stem, has been directed at eroding the government’s popularity. What we are talking about is a well-ensconced minority, aware of its marginal electoral standing, using all its means to revert the situation by the use of lies, half-truths and omissions. After months of this blatant manipulation, they now have the gall to claim, according to their polls, that the government is now in a minority and therefore to all intents and purposes illegitimate.
Hypocrisy or bloody mindedness?
If we add the cynical sabotage of the economy, with the gleeful recounting given to the unemployment figures on the news programmes and by opposition spokespersons, we are left with little doubt.
It is said that Venezuela has the longest tradition of democracy in Latin America, barring the little hiccup on the eleventh of April 2002. This view is widespread and like a lot of things neither true (white) nor untrue (black) but grey. Few would disagree with the theory of democracy, still less with the genteel definition: the rule of the people by the people. The reality, here as elsewhere, has been somewhat different.
Two political parties, which a series of circumstances pushed to the forefront, and whose differences owed more to media posturing than fact, apportioned the oil wealth between them and their friends. This concentration of the oil wealth left the majority of the population amid relative and abject poverty. Sops in the form of handouts and partial reforms without substance were handed out regularly in order to maintain the status quo. It is a measure of their greed that if they had been just a little more generous with the people’s money they would probably still be in power.
Most of the opposition who are championing democracy today, and especially the hardliners, are harking back to this particular version of democracy. They are doing little more than paying lip service to a system in whose guise privileges were granted them the like of which have not been known since the Middle Ages. Since their object is to regain these privileges, democracy as such, if it does not lead to this goal is expendable.
That leaves us with a situation in which even if Chavez were to win the coming elections handsomely, with the endorsement of the Carter Centre and the OAS, though on past and present record it would be hard to imaging anything but a grudging approval from these institutions, the negative media campaign, the coup mongering and the sabotaging of the economy would continue. This is not about votes, about legitimately elected leaders nor is it about democracy, it is about power and those who refuse to relinquish what they once had.