The Internal Fractures of the Venezuelan Opposition

Marco Teruggi Venezuelan government and a sector of the opposition have established a National Dialogue Table that has reached its first agreements. What about the majority opposition that did not join and what will it do? In an interview with Sputnik, Venezuelan journalist William Castillo constructs an X-ray of the right to better understand the panorama.

The formation of the National Dialogue Table between the government and a sector of the opposition changed the map of possibilities of the conflict and exposed a division within the right. The signatories agreed on two central points: a possible electoral scenario and the rejection of the U.S. economic blockade.

The four parties that form the Dialogue Table are Avanzada Progresista, of former presidential candidate Henry Falcón, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), Movimiento Soluciones and the conservative Esperanza por el Cambio party, of evangelist Javier Bertucci.

The five initial points agreed upon are the reincorporation of Chavismo deputies into the National Assembly, the formation of a new National Electoral Council (NEC), working with the justice system to address the situation of detained politicians, the rejection of U.S. economic sanctions, the defense of Guyana Esequiba – an internationally disputed territory – and the implementation of an oil-for-food exchange program.

The signing coincides with the growing international threat through the activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), the situation on the border with Colombia and the crisis of Juan Guaidó.

This last point is central to Castillo’s analysis, considering that all the parties that signed the agreement with the government “bet on Guaidó’s triumph, supported him, either actively or silently”.

“When they see a crisis and the possibility of ending Chavismo, they lined up in silence or openly supported the conspiracy proposals, but when they see the whole business mounted around Guaidó’s conspiracy, they opened a space for dialogue,” said the Venezuelan journalist.

Castillo utilizes this key analysis to understand a matrix that has traversed the Venezuelan opposition over the last 20 years: “In Venezuela there is only one opposition with two legs, one legal and the other illegal, one under the Constitution and the other under conspiracy. When it is possible for them to participate in electoral processes they are legitimized through elections. This is how they obtain mayoralties, governorships, deputies. And when they see political moments of Chavismo’s weakness, they support violent action, destabilization, paramilitarism, assassination, attempted coup d’état.

The construction of Guaidó as a coup mechanism created from the United States opened that moment of alignment of all the elements of the opposition. Its current crisis produced the expected fracture of parties that, although they are not the majority in the opposition, open the possibility of looking for a way out in a labyrinth that has novel as well as repeated elements.

To understand this, it is necessary to examine the Venezuelan opposition.

Two Stories and an Anti-Chavism

The opposition is built on two principal lines. The first comes from social democracy and Christian democracy, centrally in the Democratic Action (AD) and COPEI parties, which alternated in government between 1958 and 1998, and which in the 1990s led the neoliberalization process.

“They formed a political mass whose ideological frontiers were not clear, they all aligned with the policies of the West, of the United States, the neoliberal proposal, although in their public discourse they expressed differences between them,” says Castillo.

It was the crisis of these parties that allowed Hugo Chávez to emerge at the end of the last century. In the 1990s, the second dimension of the opposition was born – what Castillo calls the “neo-right”. It began with Primero Justicia (PJ), with Henrique Capriles Radonski.

From there came Voluntad Popular (VP), with Leopoldo López, now Juan Guaidó, and several minor forces, such as María Corina Machado. Among its features are leaderships that were financed and formed by institutions such as USAID, the U.S. state agency for international development.

Both sectors “have coexisted with differences, moments of disunity, but united around a common objective that is the overthrow of Chavismo, the impossibility of coexisting with Chavismo,” Castillo points out.

This convergence in ends allowed them to unite in recent years in a “radical anti-Chávez line,” according to Castillo, blurring their ideological frontiers and forming the matrix of the dual strategy: law and the coup.

In synthesis, they have participated in elections when they considered that tactic feasible, at the same time that they deployed a range of actions that included, among others, oil sabotage, the denunciation of electoral fraud before each defeat, the withdrawal from elections, and even the request for an economic blockade and international intervention.

The golden moment of the opposition was the victory in the 2015 legislative elections. This allowed Henry Ramos Allup, of Democratic Action, to claim that the president of the country, Nicolás Maduro, would leave after six months.

Since then, “we have had only one conspiracy policy, with guarimba, sanctions,” the “full application” of the “hard regime change” tactic, which we are still in, Castillo added.

Political subordination

One of the central characteristics of the anti-Chávez opposition has been its loss of political autonomy, in the case of the traditional parties, and the formation of organizations that are the transmission belts of U.S. directives, especially recently.

An early example was the electoral abstention in the 2005 legislative elections, when the opposition withdrew because it was divided between those for and against participating. But “there was an order from the U.S. not to participate, and the opposition withdrew,” Castillo recalls. The result was an absolute majority of Chavismo in the National Assembly and a retreat of the opposition.

The same thing happened in the presidential elections of May 20, 2018. “There was a U.S. order not to participate and 80% of the opposition complied,” Castillo says.

The tactic was to clear the area, denounce the illegality of the election result, then ignore Maduro and to construct the parallel government with the Guaidó façade as of January 23, 2019.

For Castillo, the leadership is led by Voluntad Popular, de López y Guaidó. The other opposition figure, Capriles, “has accepted the U.S. order to take Leopoldo López’s party as the leader”.

The rest has folded. Moreover, according to Castillo, “the opposition’s internal functioning mechanisms were dismantled” and the leadership passed to the U.S. command from 2015, when the then president, Barack Obama, declared Venezuela to be an unusual and extraordinary threat. Since then, “there are few dividing lines to find,” the journalist explains.

Public fissure and opportunity

After 20 years of anti-Chávezism, the results are negative, both in terms of what they achieved as victories and in terms of the damage done. The turning point was on May 20, 2018, when they decided not to participate in the presidential elections in which Maduro was elected.

This decision caused a fracture in the opposition when, against the tide of the Washington directive, candidates Henri Falcón, former governor of the state of Lara, and Javier Bertucci, with the characteristics of an evangelist outsider, stood in those elections.

For the first time opposition parties are asking for the dismantling of the US blockade. According to Castillo, they see a widespread rejection of the sanctions in Venezuelan society. An example of this are the almost 12 million signatures collected to oppose U.S. asphyxiation, which are not all Chavistas.

“The pressures they are going to receive from the U.S. are going to be very severe, both political and economic pressures,” predicts Castillo.

The U.S. State Department has already ratified that it will not remove sanctions while Maduro continues in the presidency.

“The State has an electoral system, it has been tested, it can be observed by anyone, it is solid, and it is a good thing that the electoral authorities of the CNE are being brought up to date as the country goes through a normalization process that necessarily has to be electoral, but it must also be economic, which is why it is important to eliminate the blockade as part of the condition for going to elections in a normal situation,” explains Castillo.

The U.S. and its subordinate parties in Venezuela announced that they will continue, for now, to seek a way out by force. The stakes are that the National Dialogue Table will continue to bring more parties together to reach an agreement. To achieve this would be a victory for achieving a democratic outcome and to develop other strategies after 20 years of opposition.

Translation by Internationalist 360°