Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recognizing the Venezuelan Opposition

[This is a letter to David Smilde in reaction to his parliamentary election post in WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Blog. David graciously asked me to revise it into a blog post].

Estimado David:
I am an avid reader of this blog and I appreciate the quality and depth of its content. Today, however, I write to you about your post “Venezuelan Election Take-away.” I felt that the post was mezquino—somewhat ungenerous—towards the opposition. Yes, the Venezuelan people should be applauded. Yes, we’re all delighted that the government has conceded. But to go into an election that you know you’re going to lose isn’t “courageous.” It’s democratic behavior. It worries me that we keep applauding the Venezuelan government for conduct that should be the norm in a democracy–especially, when the president’s campaign discourse included threats of  “no entregaremos la revolución”, “un proceso de confrontación social de calle” and “tiempo de masacre y muerte,” if oficialismo lost control of the National Assembly.
But, more importantly, in your post you don’t give any credit to the opposition. You don’t mention the very unfair conditions of this campaign and election, and how the opposition was able to overcome them. I agree that el voto castigo is a significant part of the results. But, there were within la Unidad people—unsung heroes—that got an army of testigos y miembros de mesa educated and organized to withstand the abuses that we’ve seen in the past (and that, to be sure, weren’t totally absent this #6D). 
As you know, the opposition was made mostly invisible on national TV—the most consumed media outlet in Venezuela. (I’m only mentioning TV. But we know the strategies that have been deployed to minimize the presence of dissident voices have been used in the country’s media more generally). Hence, door-to-door campaigning was a key element for the opposition. And that, in an environment of verbal and physical intimidation as the one we saw in this campaign, takes courage. That the CNE and government conceded (yes, the CNE also concedes, given its behavior as an arm of the government), is also due to the way the opposition organized its own counting and reporting of the votes. And because previous experiences taught them the particular vulnerabilities of the country’s electoral system.  
I wholeheartedly agree with you that la Unidad faces important challenges now. Some are structural (sharp internal differences), but most are due to the urgency of finding solutions for the country’s dire socio-economic situation. These solutions will require unpopular, hard to swallow measures. (And, of course, we can’t forget that the President is still Nicolás Maduro). But, I believe that one of the important take-aways from this election is that the non-radicals won, proving to the naysayers that important changes can happen via the ballot box, and that an avalanche of votes can overcome ventajismo, media invisibility and intimidation. 
For all these reasons, I wish your post would have given some credit to the opposition. 
Un abrazo, 
Carolina.

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