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Opposition Has Internal Problems and Fighting, According to U.S Caracas Embassy Cables

Mérida, April 15th 2011 ( – Diplomatic cables written by the U.S. Embassy in Caracas between 2006 to 2009 and released by Wikileaks state that the opposition leaders here asked for financing and favours from the U.S. government. The cables also reveal some of the opposition’s internal problems, struggles over leadership, and lack of vision and strategy.

In the cables, published by Spanish daily El Pais this week, the U.S. Caracas Embassy analyses what it considers to be serious internal problems in the opposition, causing it to be ineffective and lose support.

A 2009 cable titled “Opposition announces newest unity effort” discusses the move by the various opposition parties to form a “Unity table”. The cable says the move was successful on the one hand because almost all opposition party leaders are involved, but the success was “offset... by the absence of many younger generation political figures” and that there are internal struggles in the opposition parties between older leaders and the younger generation, many “of whom hold office and can claim an electoral base of support.”

The U.S embassy says that the opposition, at the time, didn’t have “the will to sacrifice personal ambition for the sake of unity” and that the New Time party (UNT) was suffering from a “major schism” between its leader, Manuel Rosales, who fled the country to avoid court, and another leader, Leopoldo Lopez.

According to the cable, other opposition parties are happy about the UNT’s distress because it means they can increase their own stature within the opposition.

There are also internal leadership battles in COPEI and Democratic Action (AD). Party President Victor Bolivar told the Embassy he was struggling to convince the party’s general secretary, Henry Ramos Allup, that the party needed a "renovation" and the "retirement of its older leadership -- which is widely perceived as discredited."

AD and Copei were the two parties that shared power for decades until Hugo Chavez won the 1998 presidential elections. Now, the UNT and First Justice (PJ) have become significantly large opposition parties as well. Most opposition parties, alone, rarely manage to get more than 10% of the vote.

Meanwhile, the cable says, “Governor of Carabobo State Henrique Salas Feo, who is president of the small opposition Proyecto Venezuela party, told [us]... that the unity effort is a waste of time. He said opposition leaders are too busy jockeying to be the next president of Venezuela, rather than focusing on the needs of the people.”

At the press conference, according to the U.S Embassy, “The lethargic and at times indifferent attitude of the opposition leaders in attendance (some of whom paid more attention to their Blackberries than to Planas's speech) stands in marked contrast to Chavez's enthusiastic, color-coordinated PSUV rallies.”

Similarly, another 2009 cable titled “As Chavez expands control, opposition implodes” argues that the opposition party leaders are still “a long way” from coordinating their messages and actions and that instead, there are even more fractures since the February 15 referendum to eliminate term limits was won by the pro-Chavez forces.

According to the U.S Embassy, the opposition forces lack strategy, vision, cohesiveness, grassroots strength, or public support to really oppose the acceleration of the “Bolivarian Revolution”.

The cable says the opposition is in “poor shape” and their party structures “remain top-heavy and media-focused with little grassroots reach” and in one case a Podemos party legislator, Juan Molina, told the embassy that some opposition leaders have negotiated with and sold out to the government.

A 2006 secret cable titled “Accion Democratica [AD]: A Hopeless Case”  calls Ramos Allup “unimaginative, overconfident, and even repellent” and described him as a man who rather than “seeking unity”, insults other party officials.

The cable describes AD as “dictatorial” with overly hierarchical decision making and argued that because the party is “extremely centralised”, alternatives to Ramos Allup end up marginalised, and that the voter base of the party, “which consists of people who vote for the party out of tradition” is quickly dwindling.

Ramos Allup’s strategy has been to explicitly seek funds and favours from the U.S Embassy. The cable notes, with an annoyed tone, the AD party’s persistence in this respect, making their requests in English after the Embassy, according to the cable, tried to change the subject when AD first made the request in Spanish.

During this meeting with AD, the cable reports, “Asked whether they were planning to engage the public on important issues, the officials said they intended to go to the OAS to complain about Chavez's handling of the National Assembly election instead.”

Finally, the cable expresses concern that “strategic thinkers within AD are even rarer. Alfonso Marquina, AD's haughty former parliamentary bloc leader, told [us] in late 2004 the opposition needed to shift its rhetoric away from political issues and address the problems of the majority poor, but his own party has not yet taken his advice.”

A 2007 cable titled “Opposition severely challenged, looking long term” makes similar observations about the state of AD and the opposition. "Still stinging from its tenth consecutive electoral defeat since 1998, the opposition is plagued by infighting, the need to rebuild, disillusioned supporters, and an inability to effectively confront President Chavez's plans to push his "socialist" agenda," the cable says.

Rosales, who was then still in Venezuela, was “the only national opposition politician capable of uniting and leading broad segments of Venezuelan civil society,” the cable says.

It refers to a lack of opposition motivation and cohesion following all the defeats and to many fractures within the opposition parties, including one fraction even vandalising its own party’s headquarters, those of First Justice.

The cable concluded, “Despite almost 10 consecutive years of decreasing political influence, many in the opposition remain unable to sacrifice their personal agendas to confront the larger threat.”

Published on Apr 16th 2011 at 6.15pm