Friday, November 25, 2016

Dialogue in Extremis: Venezuela and Political Dialogue Among the Ruins of Economy and Society

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

The indulgence of extremes in politics  invariably has a terrible effect--not on the political classes that profit from cultivating these schisms, but on the people on whose bodies these ideologies are etched--in hunger, deprivation, and forced migration. When they are not busy appearing at times to stoke those flames in the United States, American newspapers will sometimes chronicle the deterioration that is the indulgence of extremism within national political elites.  Venezuela provides the most egregious example.

This post considers fracture and dialogue in Venezuela's political scene.  It serves as a reminder that the indulgence in politics of the extreme, of ideological rigidity, can have disastrous effects on the internal operation of a state--no matter how wealthy and powerful it might have been.  It is also a reminder that these factional battles among elites will inevitably count as its principal victims the people in whose names these power-ideology conflicts are undertaken.  It is those victims of the enormous resources devoted to social, economic and political engineering, who are forced to endure the drama at the shortest distance from a stage which has been built on the ambition of national structural power and directed, in turn, by those great international forces to which all holders and aspirants to national power are obliged (e.g., here) including the United States (e.g., here). 

One starts a consideration of this type by a reminder of those who underwrite the drama:

as Mr. Chávez’s Socialist-inspired revolution collapses into economic ruin, as food and medicine slip further out of reach, the new migrants include the same impoverished people that Venezuela’s policies were supposed to help.

“We have seen a great acceleration,” said Tomás Páez, a professor who studies immigration at the Central University of Venezuela. He says that as many as 200,000 Venezuelans have left in the past 18 months, driven by how much harder it is to get food, work and medicine — not to mention the crime that such scarcities have fueled.

“Parents will say, ‘I would rather say goodbye to my son in the airport than in the cemetery,’ ” he said.  (Nicholas Casey, Hungry Venezuelans Flee in Boats to Escape Economic Collapse, The New York Times, Nov. 25, 2016).
For Americans, this is a human interest story.  It is about the aggregation of stories of courage and tragedy that together can be cobbled to serve  some policy driven purpose. There is poetry in the analysis: "But perhaps most startling are the Venezuelans now fleeing by sea, an image so symbolic of the perilous journeys to escape Cuba or Haiti — but not oil-rich Venezuela." (Ibid). And, like other forms of high brow theatre, it is meant to be a passive exercise, at least for the U.S. (e.g., here) and not without reason, if only for the heavy handed misapplication of policy and its clumsy application (e.g., here). Yet its drama appears to be a useful morality play against which U.S. political contestations are played (here, here, here, and here).  And it has been useful for the Venezuelan ruling group as well (here).  In extremis, even the corruption inherent in a fractured state--the nacrotrafficking of the relatives of the current leader (e.g., here), appear as political attacks by imperialist forces (e.g., here).

As in most cases of this sort, where elites have fractured, and the control of the governmental apparatus  by one is threatened, the usual  impulse is to broker dialogue (e.g., here). Dialogue is resisted by the party in power as well as its opponents, unless the party in power has lost the support of the people and is seeking  breathing space (e.g., here) and the opponents sense that dialogue is a more sure and efficient way to power than the alternatives, or otherwise as a means of cobbling together warring factions against a common enemy.
Trapped in an economic, social and political crisis, Venezuela’s opposition has been trying to cut Maduro’s term short through a presidential recall. Last month, when the courts indefinitely suspended that measure, it galvanized the often bickering opposition, said María Corina Machado, the head of the Vente Venezuela party.

“There was an enormous amount of agreement around the idea of removing [Maduro] through the congress, the march and pushing for the recall referendum,” said Machado, who’s considered an opposition hardliner.

But over the weekend, under international pressure — including from the Vatican and U.S. envoy Thomas Shannon — the administration and factions of the opposition began closed door meetings. (Mariana Zuñig and Jim Wyss, Venezuela’s opposition struggles with strategy. Dialogue or demonstrations? The Miami Herald, Nov. 3, 2016)

Read more here:
And, indeed, it seems that the Venzuelan government now sees in this dialogue a life line through which it can buy more time, with the support of international elements loathe to see more violence or revolutionary change (e.g., here).
The Venezuelan government says it will continue pushing for dialogue with the country’s opposition, despite right-wing leaders announcing talks were frozen.

On Wednesday, the opposition coalition, the MUD, said it was temporarily pulling out of talks.

“The government, in an irresponsible manner, froze the dialogue process by not showing up to two technical meetings last night," MUD leader Jesus Torrealba told Reuters at the time.

Maduro has denied talks are at a standstill.

"The dialogue is advancing ... and by January, February or March, it will be strengthened," he said. (Ibid).
The promise and difficulties of dialogue appear in a slightly different light from Cuba.  Indeed, Cuba, like the Vatican and to some extent the United States have joined others in seeking to frame the political contests for control of Venezuela--not within the constitutional structures of the Venezuelan Republic, or even within the assertion of popular power in the streets-- but through a dialogue in which political accommodation at an extra constitutional level is meant to avoid decisive victory to either faction. "The ongoing dialogue between the Venezuelan government and its right-wing opposition has received a pledge of support from all 25 member states of the Association of Caribbean States, ACS, which held its seventh summit this weekend in Havana, Cuba." (e.g., here ("Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles criticized Maduro's trip to Cuba, however. ")).

In this respect the perspective of the Cuban opposition might be useful. René Gómez Manzano is an independent journalist and critical outsider in Cuba. He has for many years reported on changed within the Cuban state and its ruling Communist Party. Educated in Havana and Moscow he began defending dissidents in 1990 and has served time in prison for his actions. He remains active in Cuba and tolerated by the state ad PPC. Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience in 1998 after his arrest and imprisonment in the late 1990s. (More on Gómez Manzano here).  His consideration of the dialog is worth consideration.

Diálogo en Venezuela: ¿Victoria o derrota?
El actual proceso podría tener consecuencias muy serias
Lunes, noviembre 7, 2016 | René Gómez Manzano |

LA HABANA, Cuba.- La pasada semana, la noticia más importante en Venezuela fue sido el inicio del Diálogo Nacional entre el gobierno de Nicolás Maduro y el grueso de las fuerzas opositoras agrupadas en la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). Aunque durante meses los antichavistas se mostraron renuentes a admitir la mediación de expresidentes extranjeros que no les inspiraban confianza, en definitiva aceptaron sentarse a la mesa de negociaciones a instancias de la Iglesia católica.

Como suele suceder, el inicio de las tratativas resultó auspicioso. Hubo el gesto clásico en este tipo de eventos: el tradicional apretón de manos entre Maduro y el jefe de la delegación de la MUD, “Chúo” Torrealba. Este último se sintió obligado a explicar a sus seguidores por qué había obrado de ese modo. Este solo hecho demuestra a las claras el grado de crispación en que las políticas chavistas han sumido a Venezuela.

Se anunció que las partes “se comprometen a disminuir el tono de agresividad del lenguaje utilizado en el debate político”. Lástima que, pocas horas después, las autoridades hayan arremetido de modo virulento contra Voluntad Popular (VP) —el partido del encarcelado Leopoldo López— y contra su actual coordinador, el diputado Freddy Guevara. “Es un grupo terrorista fuera de la ley”, afirmó Maduro, quien agregó: “Espero que los tribunales tomen cartas en el asunto”. Un llamado peligroso, si tenemos en cuenta el grado de sometimiento al poder de las actuales cortes venezolanas.

Pese a la aparente unanimidad oficialista, es de suponer que, al igual que dentro de la oposición se observa la postura discrepante de VP, María Corina Machado y algunos otros, también en las filas del gobierno haya elementos opuestos al nuevo empeño conciliador. Pero, aparte del diálogo, no parece existir otra opción sensata.

La única alternativa es que se hagan realidad las ominosas palabras pronunciadas, tras la reciente invasión de un grupo de chavistas al recinto parlamentario, por Henry Ramos Allup, el opositor que preside la Asamblea Nacional: “O vemos cómo solucionamos las cosas o vamos a terminar matándonos. Si seguimos así, vamos muy mal”. A lo que hace unas horas agregó: “¡Ojalá pudiéramos librarnos de los extremistas!”.

Pero la sana aspiración a que los venezolanos encuentren una salida cívica, pacífica, a la honda crisis que afecta su país, no debe conducir a que los oposicionistas cierren los ojos ante cualquier intento manipulador del régimen.

La excarcelación por Maduro de varios presos políticos parece apuntar en este último sentido. No se plantea liberarlos a todos —medida elemental, ineludible en cualquier intento serio por solucionar una situación crítica—; no aparece beneficiado por la medida el ya mencionado Leopoldo López —el preso de conciencia más emblemático de todo el mundo—. La medida se aplicó únicamente a un grupito de cinco, seleccionados de modo arbitrario por las mismas autoridades.

No por gusto el diario oficialista cubano Granma del pasado martes, en un extenso trabajo de su enviado especial Dilbert Reyes Rodríguez, expresa su apoyo a lo que llama un “diálogo posible”. Los castristas, cuyo influjo es determinante dentro del actual gobierno de Caracas, expresan así su apoyo a una medida que no habría sido adoptada de no haber contado de antemano con su anuencia. Aplican, pues, aquella frase de “haz lo que digo, y no lo que hago”. Aplauden en Venezuela un intercambio con la oposición, algo que en la misma Cuba no quieren ni entrar a considerar…

Pero, más allá de cualquier intento manipulador, medidas como el recién comenzado Diálogo Nacional adquieren su propia dinámica. Parece razonable pensar que, en medio del desastre en el que está sumida la Patria del Libertador, la salida a la crisis pase por un convenio entre demócratas y chavistas. Si no con la generalidad de estos últimos, sí al menos con su sector menos extremista.

En ese contexto, la sensatez indica que el inicio de este proceso tendrá consecuencias irreversibles para las fuerzas bolivarianas. Incluso si no se alcanza un acuerdo constructivo con los representantes oficiales del régimen de Maduro, cabe esperar que el proceso ahora iniciado propicie un acercamiento entre los oposicionistas y los sectores más moderados del oficialismo. Si el presidente negocia con los que hace unas semanas llamaba “pitiyanquis”, ¿por qué no habrían de hacer lo mismo otros chavistas!

Por fortuna, todo indica que la Mesa de la Unidad Democrática se mantiene alerta. Previniendo que el gobierno quiera utilizar el Diálogo sólo para ganar tiempo, Ramos Allup ha alertado que si no se obtienen resultados en “pocos días”, el proceso cesará. El ex candidato presidencial Henrique Capriles ha sido más tajante, al fijar como fecha tope el ya cercano 11 de noviembre, día de la próxima reunión plenaria del Diálogo Nacional.

And yet for all of that dialogue cannot buy time indefinitely.  What dialogue has bought has been time both for the government to seek support and internal control, and for the opposition to gather itself together.  The end game of dialogue appears the same--winner take all. And the international community is placing bets.
The negotiation between the Venezuelan opposition and dictator Nicolás Maduro has failed totally according to María Corina Machado, Venezuela’s “Iron Lady” and leader of the Vente Venezuela party. Machado told the PanAm Post that she intends to create a new movement within civil society that doesn’t depend on politicos in order to fight for liberal democracy in the country.

Machado stated that the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the anti-Chavista coalition that now controls the National Assembly, should include civil society organizations which are not represented. She also assured that her intention is not to divide the opposition, but rather to offer a real solution to get rid of the Maduro dictatorship. (Sbrina Martin, Venezuela’s “Iron Lady” Calls for New Opposition Leadership after Failed Dialogue, Pan AM Post, Nov. 22, 2016).
Until the sides are ready to move, however, the dialogue will continue (e.g., here). 

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