The De-unification of the Venezuelan Opposition

This week Venezuelan opposition forces demonstrated a false showing of unity against President Hugo Chavez in preparation for next October’s presidential elections.

Holding a rushed press conference in an upscale Caracas hotel on Monday, the US-backed Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) formally announced the release of their “new” platform, a program of neoliberal policies for what they call a “National Unity Government”.

Though the six pre-presidential MUD candidates were expected to sign the coalition’s program, one of the candidates, Diego Arria, broke ranks before the 30-minute event ended, demonstrating, once again, the failure of efforts to unite the Venezuelan opposition. A second candidate, Pablo Medina, signed “with reserve”.

The following day, another candidate, Leopoldo Lopez, dropped out of the race and announced his intentions to back right-wing candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. The pact caused a frenzy amongst other runners and opposition members, who considered the decision an attempt to undermine their candidacies.

Lopez and Capriles, who represent the extreme right-wing of the MUD were criticized by candidate Pablo Perez, supported by “social-democrats” from the AD and UNT parties. “You can’t endorse the votes of the people”, warned Perez. “In politics, 2 plus 2 doesn’t equal 4”. Omar Barboza, spokesman for the UNT party accused Lopez and Capriles for attempting to sideline the other candidates. “Their pact just shows the fear they have for our candidate Pablo Perez. They are trying to run him out of the race”.

The MUD held its final pre-presidential “debate” late Monday night in which internal fissures were left ever more evident to viewers.

A “New Way” Backwards

Ignoring facts and figures recognized both in Venezuela and abroad, the MUD´s recently released

“Program of a National Unity Government (2013-2019)” asserts that the government of democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez (1999-present) has “stepped all over participation, inclusion, and plurality”, made Venezuela “one of the most vulnerable and unproductive economies in Latin America”, and contributed to the “weakening of national sovereignty”.

Failing to consider the mass mobilizations responsible for the elaboration and approval of the country’s Constitution (1999), the consolidation of grassroots people’s power through communal councils, communes, communal cities, and the numerous democratic elections held since Chavez first took office, the MUD platform did not elaborate on its own definition of “participation”.

In contrast to what the MUD calls the “treasonous” governance of Venezuela’s Chavez, the opposition grouping proposes, rather vaguely, “good government, a productive society, improvements in quality of life, and a wider range of international relations”.

To achieve “good government”, for example, the MUD proposes Venezuela’s public administration be “modernized and made professional” so as to “adjust to the requirements of a modern state” – a common neoliberal description of how to reduce the number of public sector employees to a bare minimum.

With respect to the national economy, the MUD promises to “guarantee the right to private property and economic freedom”, thus “freely developing private initiatives”. Privatization is the bottom line of the economic policy for the Venezuelan opposition.

On foreign policy, of course, the MUD promises to promote “friendly” relations with “all countries” – especially the United States – and calls the Chavez policy of global multi-polarity “disrespectful of international norms”.

According to the MUD’s Pedro Benitez, one of the few allowed to speak at Monday’s press conference, the coalition platform “offers a radical change in democracy; a commitment to a new regime that serves as guarantor of life, property, and liberty”.

Though the vagueness of the MUD platform allowed five of six pre-presidential candidates to sign on, one of the most rightwing and senior candidates, Diego Arria, declined to do so. Frustrated by the exclusion of his campaign’s call for a constitutional assembly, Arria complained that the MUD program “fails to get to the root of the problem” – the Bolivarian Revolution, its Constitution (1999), and the participatory democracy it depends on.

Seeking to dispel rumors of internal division, Aveledo stressed to reporters that all possible opposition candidates vying for the chance to face President Chavez in this year’s presidential election know they must “govern together so as to not govern alone”.

The MUD coalition, he affirmed, is “united” in its commitment “to govern well” and that, he argued, is sufficient to avoid the coalition’s pre- or postelection demise.

Toying with History

Not surprisingly, Venezuela’s anti-Chavez forces timed the release of their “new” 175-page program to coincide with national events and discussions celebrating the 54-year anniversary of the end of the Marcos Perez Jimenez dictatorship (1945-1958). Forced to flee the country on 23 January 1958, Jimenez was overthrown by a coalition of popular forces and democratic members of the Venezuelan armed forces.

The fall of Jimenez marked the beginning of the Fourth Republic (1958-1998), a forty-year period in which Democratic Action (AD) and the Christian right-wing (COPEI), now major players in the opposition’s MUD coalition, shared the power and privilege that came with governing an oil rich “representative democracy”.

Frustrated by the grassroots, participatory process that is the Bolivarian Revolution, the opposition’s MUD coalition is counting on reactionary forces within Venezuela, and abroad, to return Venezuela to the pre- Chavez period. According to the MUD’s Pedro Benitez, the “historic” release of the coalition’s platform is “the most important event to have taken place since 1958”.

A Final Look at the MUD

Seeking to take full advantage of the day’s historical significance, the MUD’s pre-presidential candidates sat together Monday night for what was their final “debate” before primaries scheduled for February 12th.

Claiming it to be the “beginning of the end” for the Chavez administration, the discussion hosted by privately owned radical opposition media outlet Globovision evidenced obvious differences between the candidates and a sense of frustration in the run up to the primaries.

With polls predicting a landslide victory for President Chavez, the opposition candidates openly disagreed on how they might govern in a hypothetical post-Chavez Venezuela. Candidates Pablo Medina and Diego Arria, for example, argued that the only viable way of governing post-Chavez would be by calling together a constitutional assembly to rid them of the burdens imposed by the Constitution of 1999. Not doing so, they affirmed, would force them to balance an opposition executive with a pro- Chavez, Bolivarian legislature.

Aware that Medina and Arria were openly discrediting opposition calls for greater “separation of powers” in Venezuela, candidates Henrique Capriles Radonski and Pablo Perez stood by the MUD’s supposed defense of the current magna carta.

In another telling example of opposition frustrations, rightwing US favorite Maria Corina Machado stressed that her opposition competitors “mustn’t be naïve” in thinking that this year’s presidential elections “are some sort of democratic celebration”.

Hinting at a possible US-backed intervention, Machado argued that the opposition must consider alternative options come October, including the use of undefined “mechanisms necessary to defend the people”. Machado later said in a press conference Wednesday that she would not allow the election to be “stolen” from her by President Chavez, claiming she would unquestionably be Venezuela’s next president.