The conversations promoted by Unasur between the Government and the opposition are bogged down, which is a cause for concern.

The conversations promoted by Unasur between the Government and the opposition are bogged down, which is a cause for concern, especially since the opposition announced at the beginning of the year that their primary objective would be the removal of Nicolas Maduro from the presidency, proposing different ways of reaching this objective, such as resignation, amendment, constitutional reform or a recall referendum, which has become for the moment the principal initiative.


On the last day of July, Pope Francis indicated that the Vatican could be the fourth interlocutor in a group of mediation in the Venezuelan situation, alongside ex-presidents Martín Torrijos of Panama, José Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain and Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic. The Vatican foreign minister, Pietro Parolin, former Nuncio in Caracas, pointed out that they are waiting for the official invitation from President Nicolas Maduro.


“The dialogue, about which the opposition has a lamentably ambiguous and reluctant attitude, among other reasons because they have different alternative plans, is the only option. This would make it possible to rationalize the exercise of politics and dispel the phantasms of violence. Chavism should also act in awareness that its role consists of building bridges and seeking normality within the crisis”, according to former vice-president José Vicente Rangel.


The Vatican has taken a distance from the extremist attitudes of the opposition and also has reservations with the positions of certain members the Episcopal Conference 


In spite of the media campaigns, none of the political factions can claim hegemony, therefore, whether or not a recall referendum on the presidential mandate takes place, it will not change the picture. For many analysts, this circumstance makes the search for agreements imperative, which would allow for the normal functioning of institutions and production and would avoid the temptation of an appeal to violence. This is not a matter of creating a government of consensus, but rather of establishing the limits and forms of coexistence among factions that will continue to be antagonistic.


There are various possible scenarios for a negotiated understanding: an agreement to not realize the referendum and move towards the election of governors in 2016 and the presidential elections in 2018, in an agreed framework of concessions, or an agreement to celebrate a recall referendum establishing a scheme to guarantee a future cohabitation, as the analyst Leopoldo Puchi, ex minister of Labour of the first cabinet of Hugo Chávez has pointed out.


Ernesto Samper, General Secretary of Unasur, clearly stated: “The Venezuelan opposition should understand that the only way to a solution is dialogue”.


The “humanitarian crisis”


One of the strategies of certain sectors of the opposition is to invoke a humanitarian and human rights crisis, a position which has been broadcast worldwide by the commercial press and even by high government officials from the region, without a clear knowledge of what is going on.


They speak of a multidimensional and profound humanitarian crisis that demands humanitarian aid, since there is a danger that this will unleash a human catastrophe. They attempt to impose in the collective imagination the idea of responsibility of the government and its management, in order to justify international involvement.


But the argument is not new.  It is already two years old. For these sectors, this is a mega-crisis that is happening as a consequence of the procedure of a “political-military hegemony, that is increasingly depraved and therefore destructive”. During last year, the media cartel repeated with dramatic insistence that Venezuela is at the edge of a humanitarian crisis that is impossible to resolve internally, for which reason it is necessary to appeal to multilateral bodies, NGOs, or the intervention of other states.


This is the same thesis raised, among others, by Paraguayan chancellor Eladio Loizaga to prevent Venezuela from assuming the pro tempore presidency of Mercosur: a strategy “made in Washington”. 


This year the National Assembly — where the opposition has a majority — declared the healthcare system in a humanitarian crisis due to the shortage of medicines and medical supplies and the precarious conditions of hospital infrastructure and requested the FAO and Unicef to send experts to evaluate the risks.


The government rejected the humanitarian aid offered to the country because it “hides an interventionist intention”, and alleges that the crisis is a wide scale political and media operation. The representative of FAO in Venezuela has affirmed that the country is not in a condition of needing humanitarian aid.


For his part, ex-foreign minister Roy Chaderton indicated that the situation of supply shortage is due to the influence of the US government, actions promoted by the Venezuelan right, different representatives of the private business sector, as well as mediocrity in some levels of government, such as bureaucratization and corruption.


The financial boycott


Jorge Rodríguez, the mayor of Caracas, the last week of July, denounced the prohibitions by Washington for multinational financial institutions to lend money to Venezuela. “The international market has not given us the option, (…) the problem is political, since they believe that if they strangle us economically, they will bring us to our knees and (Nicolás Maduro) will resign and Chavanism will disappear”.


Venezuela is up to date in the payment of interest on their external debt and the amortization that corresponds to it, but nevertheless does not find funds. The qualifying agencies, as well as the banks, adopt the political positions of their governments and decide to attempt to strangle Venezuela. The financial siege was carried out through the actions of Citbank, that announced the closing of correspondent accounts with the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and the Bank of Venezuela (owned by Spanish capital) “that aims to strangle Venezuela so as to promote an intervention”, said Chaderton.


Perhaps the US strategists think the same as the Venezuelan opposition, that they have Maduro cornered, that if they favour a dialogue (in Venezuela) or agree to loans (in Washington) this will help him to survive, to get a second wind, as is the case with boxers who are about to fall, according to the director of the daily Ultimas Noticias, Eleazar Díaz Rangel.


This policy of severe restrictions on loans, imposed on Chile under the presidency of Salvador de Allende, had been applied earlier against Cuba and later Nicaragua. It is now applied against Venezuela with the same objective: to weaken the Maduro government financially, in an attempt to contribute to his downfall.


Referendum, the path of war and afterwards


In Venezuela, the recall referendum is a constitutional right.  The opposition has gathered signatures to call one, and on August 1 the National Electoral Council (CNE) indicated that the 24 states of the country have complied with the collection of 1% of signatures to authorize the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) as a party to request the recall referendum.


With the support of 200 thousand signatures, MUD can request the activation of the consultation. They will have two days to make the request, to which the CNE must respond within 15 working days and then, within 15 more working days, fix the date and the points of collection of 4 million signatures, equivalent to 20 per cent of the register, necessary to call the consultation, that the opposition wants to take place before January 10, 2017.


This date is key. If the referendum takes place this year and Maduro loses, elections should be called. But if it is done after that date, the two years left of the mandate would be assumed by the vice president. To revoke the mandate of Maduro, more than the 7.5 million votes with which he was elected in 2013 would be needed, a figure that would be difficult to- achieve.


In the exercise of his permanent interference, the US Secretary of State John Kerry, called on the Venezuelan electoral authorities to not play with delays in the process of the recall referendum that the opposition is pushing for. In this war of microphones, the governing-party legislator Diosdado Cabello affirmed that the government forces will employ all legal means to avoid the referendum taking place.


If it does take place, no matter who wins, the problem of hegemony will not be resolved. Thus a decision to undertake it or not should be framed within a wider dialogue, creating conditions such that opposing factors can find mechanisms and forms of relationship that will allow for the functioning of institutions and productive activity, not only now, but in the eventuality of the opposition coming to govern, according the analyst Leonardo Puchi.


Luis Vicente León, director of Datanálisis and strategic supporter of the opposition, points out that the opposition camp must choose between going to battle to defend the rights through force, or recognizing that their capacity for pressure is not sufficient to win the battle. 


“Or something more sophisticated: realize that the way of war is infinitely more costly for the country, for the people and for them, because, even if they win, it will leave them in a critical situation of future instability, since the adversary will remain on the other side, with money, arms, strength and rage, ready to destabilize them as soon as they take the rational decisions necessary to save a vital economic equilibrium, but very costly politically”, he indicated.


León points out that those who think in terms of war need to respond to certain questions such as who is the leader, with what resources they will engage in the battle, with what arms, with what money. The other way implies recognizing that there is no way to win without negotiating, sitting down with the adversary to seek certain openings to democracy, that will help in the future, though they will not lead to the desired change in the short term, nor the effective possibility of obtaining the referendum in an adequate and convenient period.


This is not only an option, because solving the dilemma between war and negotiation could lead to a fracture and irreparably divide the opposition, and then “nothing would happen and the government will simply keep on surfing, crisis and all, with violations and everything, with international rejection and all that, until next year or later, without negotiation or struggle,” he concludes.



(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)



Aram Aharonian is a journalist and Uruguayan-Venezuelan teacher, director of the journal Question, founder of Telesur, director of the Observatorio Latinoamericano en Comunicación y Democracia (ULAC).