2004 Was the Worst Year for Venezuela’s Opposition

Ever since 1999 the opposition has not begun a year under worse circumstances. They have no easy task ahead of them for this year. Hopefully they will retake the path of the reconstruction of their parties and that they immerse themselves in the social fiber where they have a large space.

If of the six years of government, the one that has just ended was the best of the so-called “officialdom” [Chavez supporters], it is logical to deduce that it was the worst year for the opposition.

Let’s see…

In April 2002 the opposition gave a successful even if ephemeral coup d’état and none of its organizers was punished. The directors of PDVSA, who were fired just hours earlier, were put back into their old positions. The Supreme Court absolved the accused officers. None of the institutions that supported the coup: Fedecamaras [the chamber of commerce], political parties, the CTV [union federation], the Bishops’ Conference, NGOs – nothing happened to any of them.

President Chavez moved pieces in the Armed Forces, displaced the pro-coup forces, and consolidated his position. This was the only loss of the opposition, which did not give up and continued conspiring.

The months that followed were used to prepare the general strike and the oil industry sabotage, which lasted 62 days. Their calculations failed them. There were neither lootings nor was there chaos, nor did the situation become ungovernable. They never believed that the public’s conduct would reveal an elevated degree of consciousness, knowing what was at stake. This was another defeat. They lost control over PDVSA [the oil company].

The government now controlled the oil industry and the Armed Forces.

Then the mobilization for a consultative referendum began, which claimed to be a recall referendum. They did not even listen to the voices coming from within their own movement. Another defeat.

Their union movement [the CTV] presented its weakness during the May 1st mobilization, in contrast to the mobilization of the UNT [the union federation sympathetic to Chavez].

On May 29 of 2003 they had to sign the agreement that would hold their actions within the limits of the law and towards the recall referendum. This was not easy, as the dissension within the opposition was evident, where two lines were being fought over – one which sought violent solutions, shortcuts, which sometimes flirted with democracy.

Finally, following a long process of collecting signatures, of verification, and of accusations of irregularities on both sides—a process loaded with tension. During this process the opposition never wanted to recognize the electoral commission as the arbiter, despite exhortations. It then admitted that it would accept the results supported by the OAS and the Carter Center.

In a new demonstration that they had not renounced violence, between February and March, the most destructive acts of violence came about that had ever been seen in the East of Caracas: the guarimba.*

There was not a single opposition voice that condemned this activity. Only when it became evident that the ones most affected were the inhabitants of Caracas’ east, did the action stop, which caused millions of bolivares in damage to public and private installations.

This is how we got to the 3rd of June, when the electoral council announced that there would be a recall referendum. The results are now known. Just as all the last surveys predicted, the NO vote won, with nearly six million votes. The opposition obtained its best result since 1998, with four million votes and its highest percentage: 41%. This demonstrated that they continue to be an important force that has not diminished in five years. But they threw this capital overboard with their accusations of fraud that they could never demonstrate, neither here [in Venezuela] nor in the OAS, to which they took their rough document.

What came after that was logical. In the midst of the opposition there were some who foresaw it: a defeat in the referendum would be a certain defeat in the regional elections. In addition to the logical reasons for this conclusion one must add another factor: the abstention campaign.

In the process they lost eight governorships they had and more than 100 mayor’s posts, including that of the capital.

In 2004 they lost two battles – one that was very hard fought, where they demonstrated their force, and another that was like an army in disorderly retreat. They ended up without their main leaders, without any organizational structure, the remainder of the Democratic Coordinator disappeared, without program, without strength and with enormous difficulties for recapturing this 40% that was loyal to them until August 15.

Ever since 1999 they have not begun a year under worse circumstances. They have no easy task ahead of them for this year. The union federation CTV undone, Fedecamaras negotiating with the government, the Catholic Church silent, changes in the media, and without embassies where they can find respite. With such battered forces, the support of two governorships, and 40 mayors, they could conserve a part of the municipalities, but the real battle will be at the end of this year, for the parliamentary elections.

Some, demoralized and desperate, do not seem to be animated to revise and restart the struggle of a defeated force, which had committed so many errors, without stopping to examine them, clouded by the generous and self-interested media space where they had their apparent strength. Among others one can observe symptoms of reflection in the political parties.

Hopefully they will retake the path of the reconstruction of their parties and that they immerse themselves in the social fiber where they have a large space; that they connect themselves again with the people in the barrios and in the middle class, and that they do not fall for the temptations of the devil.

Eleazar Diaz Rangel is the editor of Últimas Noticias, Venezuela’s largest circulation newspaper.

* The “guarimba” was the name given to the street blockades that were organized mostly in the city’s eastern half.