Juan Manuel Zerpa
The Venezuelan government is currently engaged in talks with minority sectors of the opposition in the so-called National Roundtable for Peaceful Dialogue. The talks began in September and are centered around issues including renovating the country’s electoral authority, guarantees for upcoming parliamentary elections, jailed right wing activists, and strategies for bypassing US sanctions.
For the opposition, 2018 presidential candidates Henri Falcon and Javier Bertucci are leading the delegation. Falcon was previously a pro-Chavez governor before switching to the opposition in 2010, while Bertucci is an evangelical businessman. Other veteran opposition politicians are participating, including Movement Toward Socialism’s Filipe Mujica, Cambiemos party leader Timoteo Zambrano, and former Caracas Mayor Claudio Fermin of the Solutions for Venezuela party.
The larger opposition parties are not taking part, despite being invited, while smaller pro-government parties including the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), Homeland for All party (PPT) and Venezuelan Popular Unity party (UPV) have revealed that they were not extended an invitation.
In what follows, Venezuelan new outlet Supuesto Negado reports on rank-and-file Chavista views of the dialogue and prospects for a negotiated settlement to overcome the current standoff.
One of the most contentious issues in Chavismo today is the dialogue with the opposition. Although government spokespeople express a common stance regarding the progress of these negotiations before the cameras, many rumours about the content of the agreements are circulating. Likewise, there are sectors of the Chavista grassroots which are not willing to cede any more concessions to the opposition.
How far are people willing to support pacts with the opposition? What are the fears that exist in the middle and lower strata of the population that still fight for the social causes of Chavismo? Local activists from three major Chavista parties explained their positions to the Supuesto Negado team.
Split in two
She’s on time. “What didn’t I do today!” she answers when we ask what she did during the day. Olga Mendoza speaks with her big eyes gazing at the vehicles and the people passing by the obelisk of Caracas’ 23 de Enero sector, right at the entrance of the iconic Mountain Barracks (1).
We began the conversation as rain threatened, and as the sound of dominoes and the rhythm of salsa took over the area.
Mendoza is a member of the Venezuelan Popular Unity Party (UPV), founded in 2004 by Chavista social leader Lina Ron. Ron was often embroiled in controversies with her own party members and others. “We are the first political party founded by a woman in the history of Venezuela,” Mendoza tells us, staring with a gesture of victory on her lips.
Following Chavez’s call in 2007, UPV was one of the groups that merged to form the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). This marriage lasted only a few months before UPV’s members quickly decided to return to the ring with their own brand. However, this split did not mean a divorce from Chavismo or the political work in the 23 de Enero community, a populous hill in Caracas that some do not hesitate to characterise as the cradle of the Bolivarian Revolution.
“Thank God for people like Timoteo Zambrano and Claudio Fermín, people who are not so radical in the opposition,” Mendoza says, assuring us that the National Roundtable of Dialogue has averted a global conflict.
The social fighter is convinced that “imperialism will come for you and me. It comes for each and every one of us, and with dialogue we buy time for popular power to organise itself further.”
Night falls and it starts raining. We moved to a table with an awning across the street. Olga removes some layers. Although she rejects the stances taken by some of Chavez’s former ministers who are today opposed to Maduro, she considers that this sector of dissident Chavistas is “essential” to the negotiations.
She also does not rule out the feasibility of a consultative referendum [on Maduro’s mandate], but as a politician rejects the possibility of a new presidential election in 2020. However, “as a woman” she confesses that she could accept a hypothetical election, as suggested in Oslo and Barbados. “As a mother, as a grandmother, I would agree, if it meant curbing violence in our country,” she said.
Luis Armando Frías is a professor at the Caribbean Maritime University and a member of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV).
He is not so flexible on the subject of presidential elections. “Maduro, with all the criticism we can make of him, won the election cleanly, with recognition from opposition sectors,” he says.
We are at Caracas’ Caño Amarillo metro station. Luis is dressed in an ironed navy shirt and carries a black bag. A few minutes late, he passes through the turnstiles a little hectically, almost in apology, but smiling. He is a “foot soldier of Chavismo” because he defends Chavez’s project despite the mistakes that his successors are making, in the opinion of the professor.
“Even though there are people in this process who have paralysed themselves [politically], and have done a lot of harm, I cannot throw in the towel. The fight goes on and you have to continue,” he says.
The university educator is sceptical of negotiations between the government and the opposition.
“Of course it could be beneficial, but it seems that [those involved] are looking for an agreement to maintain their power. I honestly don’t think they are talking about the people,” he laments, after a long pause.
Frias never forgets his pedagogical talent. Intertwining the fingers of his hands from time to time, he seems to prepare a master class in the corridor close to where the metro trains pass by.
He acknowledges the havoc caused by the internal struggle within the government in recent years, and is convinced that the way out of the crisis is to retake the constitutional road and return to the path of participatory and protagonist democracy.
Raúl López is a member of the political leadership of the PSUV in La Guaira State [on the coast north of Caracas]. He also emphasises his criticism of sectarianism within the top Chavista leadership.
“We see how in some regions, in some states, there are significant contradictions through the exclusionary practices of certain sectors of the party that at times prevents the actual exercise of government,” he says.
There is good weather on the coast. Raul expresses himself serenely and without improvisations. He considers that the dialogue with the opposition is positive, but states that it is necessary to involve the different factions of the PSUV, as well as the whole of society.
“The negotiation process should not just be between the government and the opposition, it has to be with the people and even with the different sectors that make up the PSUV,” he tells us.
It is, from his perspective, a “process of building a socialist society,” where peer-to-peer discussion and recognition is necessary.
On the other hand, López states that the conditions are not in place to hold either early presidential elections or a consultative referendum.
“An election during a crisis resulting from the disproportionate, criminal attack of the United States government would be an election where there would be no guarantee of winning,” he warns forcefully and without hesitation, with the gravity of someone who is pointing to a crossroads between life and death.
As we speak, a TV on in a back room in the distance with the state TV channel announcing that 24 people accused of crimes during protests have been released as part of the agreements with the moderate opposition.
But in the catacombs of Chavismo it’s just one more piece of news. No matter where they are, and whether they still support Maduro or not, Chavistas wait for the day when solutions to the crisis will start making headlines.
(1) The Mountain Barracks is the mausoleum of Hugo Chavez located in north Caracas. Previously a military redoubt from where Chavez commanded the February 4, 1992 insurrection, it now holds a museum dedicated to the late president, a photographic exposition, the ‘parade of flags’ and the ‘eternal flame.’
Translation and Introduction by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis