The longest election

capriles_denuncia_fraude_elecciones_l1One year ago today, Nicolás Maduro was elected President of Venezuela.

One year ago, Henrique Capriles was elected President of Venezuela, and Nicolás Maduro stole the election.

It’s safe to say that each and every Venezuelan believes one of those two things. Venezuela’s drama is that each one of the camps of believers is extremely large.

With everything that has gone on since, it is easy to forget what preceded the April 14th election. After Hugo Chávez died and millions participated in a cathartic funeral, an election was called. It was supposed to be a mauling for the opposition.

Henrique Capriles had to be convinced to even participate. In a rousing speech, he accepted the nomination, and with few resources, he embarked on what seemed like an suicide mission. We weren’t convinced by the campaign, but Venezuelans sure were.

What followed was a bizarre campaign where chavistas went crazy – and we mean red-balloons-and-a-big-check-up-to-the-sky crazy – while the opposition, playing with nothing to lose, practically won. It was the tortoise and the hare, with the hare winning by a hair by moving the finish line right at the very end.

Its official result, a razor thin margin of victory for Maduro, was completely unexpected.

Elections are supposed to settle things, and this one settled something alright: politics in Venezuela would never be the same again.

The opposition lost its fear of calling chavismo’s bull, yet it didn’t know what to do with its newfound confidence. Capriles claimed he won the election, but then backtracked on calling people out into the streets. As Leopoldo Lopez put it to me this past December, “we were ready to fight the election, but we were not ready to win it.”

Venezuela has been reeling ever since. The opposition is basically split between two camps: those who believe we were robbed, and those who believe we were robbed but we shouldn’t say so too loudly.  As Quico put it, the opposition had to decide “between being cannon fodder and passive acquiescence.” Right now, they are both.

The close, disputed election meant that the opposition felt emboldened. The election gave them the energy to take the fight to Maduro, and we are seeing its consequences now. More than the theft of the election itself, the fact that chavismo could not steal it for more than a percentage point or so made the opposition believe, for the first time, that chavismo had reached a terminal state. The barricades we see on the streets are a direct consequence of an election that settled absolutely nothing – except the end of Venezuela’s long cold civil war.

None of what we see now would be happening if Maduro had romped to a twenty point victory, as was expected. None of this would be happening if the election had been close, but if both sides had accepted its results.

The media talks about the upcoming elections in India as the longest, most complicated democratic election in the world. Funny – we Venezuelans have been trying to elect a President for a year now, and we’re still going at it.

On April 9th, Emiliana hailed how the campaign simply felt different. She talked about the newfound confidence in the opposition, about how it was no longer afraid to take the fight to Maduro and chavismo.

In summing up the “legacy” of the campaign, she said, “[f]or the first time in a long time, rather than circumstantially banding together a group of individual interests, this campaign might just outlive the coming election day.”

Oh Emiliana, how right you were.

39 thoughts on “The longest election

  1. It has certainly been a very long year. Even for us living abroad for long time, even though some people tend to think that we don’t’ care/have the right to say anything about what’s happening in Venezuela.

    OT, why Capriles feel the need of dressing awfully to engage with the Venezuelan people. I find it hard to take seriously anything that comes from someone dressed like that….

    But that’s only my opinion…

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  2. Huh, barely one year? Feels like a lot longer than that.

    “Cannon fodder” is a small view. One point thrown around on the protests, is that the scarcity of medicines and surgery equipment already takes more lifes than the National Guard and para-military groups.

    On the recent events, the group therapy circus would have been worthwhile if the political prisioners had been released. But the only one that talked about that was Andres Velázquez. Add 40+ deaths for said group therapy circus and people are fucking pissed at both the goverment and the MUD. Myself included.

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  3. There is a kind of tragedy associated with a country all of which time efforts and attention are dedicated to perpetually and obsessively preparing for elections and or to running elections because those elections represent a kind of magic weapon or miracle wand which allow one side to continue in its efforts at totally destroying the lives of the others and the latter a chance of surviving such constant threat and restore a system where what matters is letting people lead normal lives and dedicate themselves to improving conditions for themselves and for the country .

    Elections are important solely because they allow the measurement of Popularity where Popularity represents a kind of sacred criteria to determine not only who should rule , but the right of the ruler to totally shape the lives of people and define their fate. Where Popularity no matter how obtained or deserving is God .!! The God of Politics. The God everyone worships .

    Elections are the top of an iceberg , beneath it is something bigger heavy massive which we might call the War for Popularity at any cost , the govt does nothing but engage in that war , civil society does nothing but engage in that war , a war that is virulent , acrimonous, destructive and touches on each tiny aspect of the countrys existence.

    The result is a destroyed country as the regime focuses all its attention on building the foundation of a tyranical system that suffocates its opponents paying no attention to standards of rationality and good judgement to take care of collective problems in their root essence but only in so far as it gain or lose them a slice of popularity . The crazed frenzied pursuit of Popularity has become a demon that feasts on whatever is left of our lives .

    If the govt had spent half the efforts its spent in destroying its opponents and maximizing its popularity by whatever means possible we probably wouldnt be in the mess we are in today , but the regime has not mind for anything else .

    We can see this in the situation of countries like Ecuador and Bolivia which even if they follow the same authoritarian agenda as our own have allowed competent officials to run the country with some measure of rationality and efficienty with results that mutatis mutandi we should envy . . .

    I for one dream of a kind of Politics which would be less dependent on the vagaries of Popularity , on waging of a savage war for Popularity as the sole measure for determining how a country should be ruled regardless of the irrationality and destructiveness of such rule .

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  4. And the moral of the story is that the regime-in-charge is so incompetent that it can’t even steal an election convincingly, and the opposition is unable to get its act together enough to steal it back. I suppose that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in.

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    • Exactly,

      Though I would qualify that it is ” SOME ” of the opposition…because not all of us were in agreement with the majority opposition opinion.

      The majority is rarely the most intelligent anywhere.

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        • Exactly Kepler.Thanks not only to me but to many others in the opposition as well.No thanks to those who have been dictatorial, and totally confused( or maybe just enchufado) – so if the shoes fits wear it.I didn’t name you so remember it is you who must feel ‘ aludido’ here.

          I know for a fact that there are quite a few opposition who have special interests as well.Let’s not be naive.

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          • If the opposition has not been unsuccessful it should take stock,and change courses.Even a stupid mouse doesn’t go the same route over and over when there is no cheese.

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            • Even if others are more stupid than a mouse, you should not be now that humble, let’s recognise how incredibly intelligent and humble you are, Firepigette. Every time you show your intelligence here. It’s simply amazing!

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    • The close, disputed election meant that the opposition felt emboldened. The election gave them the energy to take the fight to Maduro, and we are seeing its consequences now. More than the theft of the election itself, the fact that chavismo could not steal it for more than a percentage point or so made the opposition believe, for the first time, that chavismo had reached a terminal state. The barricades we see on the streets are a direct consequence of an election that settled absolutely nothing – except the end of Venezuela’s long cold civil war.

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  5. Roberto Patiño of PJ has been a frequent speaker in the last Venezuelan forums held here in Boston. A couple months back, he gave the sort of closure and justification to Capriles’ logic behind 14A in a way Capriles has never done before.

    He didn’t necessarily say anything new, but it was so compelling and convincing how he put in words that the government threatened Capriles with potential bloodshed if they fought the elections and Capriles decided to put Venezuelans’ lives first instead of making it to Miraflores.

    It is beyond me why Capriles has never addressed the country in a sort of confessional mode and told the true events. There’s much more to it than what he said in “el dialogo,” Patiño was much more explicit and effective. Did they actually threaten Capriles too? He could’ve salvaged his political career by just… being honest.

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    • It was a tough choice. Maduro would have unleashed his complete forces on the people, methinks in a more vicious way than now. Did Capriles want those lives on his hands? What would have been accomplished? Would it have made ultimate return to democracy harder?

      I’m sure someday we will learn how and why he came to the decision he did.

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      • He might be purposely holding it off until the right time, but man, I think there’s been plenty of right times throughout the year that’s passed. Especially now.

        He made the right choice to save those lives, but isn’t it the right time now? With all the repression and violence, he could do more than shedding a negative light on Leopoldo by saying “no sean carne de canon de ambiciones personales” but saying something like “this is why I held back, this is the governments true nature. We won, but this would’ve been the cost of cashing in on that victory.” I think something along those lines would not only be morally empowering for those out protesting but it would put Capriles in a much stronger position than where he is now.

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        • Many people have died last year anyway. And I believe that the death would have been on the government hands, not Capriles. Also, to change this regime blood will have to run.

          That beign said, it was a tough situation for Capriles and I respect him a lot! He still is the leader of the oppo in my eyes, but MCM is closing the gap really fast!

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  6. I agree overall. My only observation is that the following paragraph does’t portray the audit bait-and-switch “properly”.

    “None of what we see now would be happening if Maduro had romped to a twenty point victory, as was expected. None of this would be happening if the election had been close, but if both sides had accepted its results.” (emphasis mine)

    It would better reflect it if it said something like: “[…] but both sides had been able to audit the results in a proper recount, which would have allowed them to dispel any doubts on accuracy of the official results.”

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  7. Agreed. The positive campaign vibe of 7O/2012 was long gone and now it was a barrage of attacks. And you know what? That yielded results. I believe if Capriles had done a bit of negative campaign in 2012, the margin would have been closer. He was campaigning against a popular president, so you’ve got to show why you are a good alternative, and with that also comes showing why your opponent is a bad choice.

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    • There was nothing Capriles could have done,that is the error the opposition had in their thinking.On one hand they realized the elections were not free and fair, and that the Venezuelan regime was shockingly corrupt and aligned with Totalitarian movements and thinking, and yet they thought they could win this fair square.When foreigners observed this all most could think was

      ” It must not be so bad down there if they have elections and the opposition thinks it will win :) ”

      exactly!

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      • It’s shocking how it took Capriles the entire 7O cycle that he wasn’t getting anywhere by completely avoiding confrontation, especially when the entire country knew the ten-headed mafia of corruption he was up against.

        Then again, his whole attitude during the 7O cycle might have had to do with the chavista votes he won on 14A. Which now… Went to waste.

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        • IF (and that is a big if, for me) disillusioned chavistas voted for Capriles on 14A because of his “triangulation” strategy for 7O as opposed to his frontal approach for 14A, THEN I don’t think those votes have necessarily gone to waste.

          Following that premise; the recent LL-MCM-AL / HCR-HF-HRA-RGA split (or differentiation) that put HCR squarely in the “moderate” camp (the one who can just “sit down and reach and agreement”); should give him further street cred with those disillusioned chavistas he had convinced.

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  8. Capriles and his team had a very bad communication strategy. But then I have said this a zillion times: they didn’t do their homework when it came to showing exactly what we could prove beyond doubt and to express to the international community exactly what we wanted for the audit and why.
    These are not easy issues. I have tried to express here why e-voting sucks even here and I have had to spend more time than expected trying to explain that to a lot of educated people.

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  9. as far as i know the two biggest holders of vzla’s debt are china and brasil.
    i suspect these debt holders need to groom a candidate in case chavismo collapses, a candidate
    who will guarantee the payments of that debt. they might be clearing the path for HCR
    while neutralizing MCM and LL whom most certainly would refuse to recognize the debt once in power.

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  10. This is my most precious memento of 14A. JJ Rendon’s full confidence that Capriles won the 14A elections, three days before they happened.

    “No es optimismo, es realismo.”

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  11. First off, I appreciate all the coverage you give on my country of birth and I don’t mean to diminish it because running a blog like this is hard work. This is going to sound a bit mean but…

    This thesis of yours could be taken completely the wrong way. It’s almost as if you’re implying that all that we see is the result of a disputed election and not the result of everything that has happened since! It plays right into the hands of Chavistas and their academic handmaidens screaming to an ill-informed english audience that all they see is the result of a petulant minority unwilling to accept the democratic process, and so on. Your piece here underplays (or worse diminishes) everything else Venezuelans have experienced: Shortages, runaway inflation, epidemic crime, mismanagement of oil, expropriation to Cuba, a cynical currency exchange system, worsening outages, suppression of speech, parallel local governments being set up to dilute the authority of elected popular officials, and then SUDDENLY an administration, when given a historic opportunity to address the previous one’s shortcomings, covers its ears and proceeds to suppress, murder, ridicule, incarcerate, and double down on some of the most egregious aspects of Chavismo’s legacy. Don’t you think this more than anything is what’s fueling the fire we see today? Even if the election itself was the kindling?

    Sometimes I read your blog and I wonder who it is you’re talking to. Are you talking to other Venezuelans in the English language, or are you talking to the world? SPELL IT OUT. Don’t assume other people just know what’s going on.

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    • We could already witness plenty of these problems in 2012 Venezuela (inflation, crime, scarcity, etc).

      If Maduro had won with the same margin Chavez beat HCR, we wouldn’t be where we are. Maduro is acting like he won the presidency fair and square with a strong mandate of 67-33, instead of dialing down their program to something more moderate, in reflection of the small margin (less than 2%) that he allegedly got, since we got no audit.

      The current protests are a result of people smelling the government’s vulnerability, due to its own incompetence, its troubles connecting to the chavista base, and its perceived illegitimacy in the eyes of large sectros of the population.

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      • I have to disagree. It is more than that. You can win with 80% of votes and yet you have to respect the 20% of those who didn’t vote for you. In Venezuela there is absolutely no rule of law.

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        • I don’t disagree with you at all. Maybe I didn’t explain myself properly.

          I’m strongly opposed the tyrannies of the majority (oclocracy) like Chavismo being treated as democracies. I think is all comes down to the big fuzz people make around “mandates”.

          Chavismo derives its legitimacy from the strong “mandates” Chavez kept winning, which except for the 1998 election, were highly dependent on abusing state resources for political gain. Maduro enjoys no such legitimacy, because he barely won, according to the unaudited CNE results. And that “lack of mandate” is the biggest weakness of the Maduro administration, which has emboldened the opposition constituency and some of the opposition leaders.

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  12. With the strength of Chavismo a year ago and the time-bomb the state of the country was and is, the Chavistas could have washed their hands of the disaster laying all blame at the feet of the newly formed, probably factious government that it would have brought forward. I doubt the MUD could have held to power. We would have a reprice of “con los adecos se vive mejor” only replacing adecos with chavistas.

    Peoples memory would be frozen to something similar of CAP 74-79 versus Luis Herrera 1983. Do remember this memory allowed reelection in 1998.

    As harsh as it is, having Chavistas deal with the egg they’ve laid will bring down Chavez memory and his government in the collective mind of the people.

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  13. At one level the april elections gave an outcome (minimally tight ) which indicated that although the govt could game or distort part of the results it could not totally falsify them so that even if playing at a disavantage, the opposition could come up with a strategy that gave it a more substantial mayority then the regime would be hard pressed to avoid a change in govt short of ‘kicking the playing table’ . It wasnt enough to win an election by the hairs , you had to do it so cleanly and clearly that the govt would be left with no manouvering space to manipulate the results and feign it had won them .

    In a game of violence people who are trained and organized to engage in it are almost certain to win , specially if the electoral results even if distorted were so very close . If you follow the strategy of pure violence you are going to get clobbered by the professionals , by those than have all the guns and trained professionals who wield them . To stage an uprising is the stuff of heroic legends but for every succesful one there are hundreds that fail bathed in blood . and….once you stage it you can be sure that it will be used as a pretext by a despotic regime to supress the chance of any further elections.

    For protests to gain the traction needed not only to make a big fuzz but to change a govt you have to gain a clearcut mayority of popular support , Capriles believes that can be achieved given enough time . Not that protests shouldnt happen , they can be useful as can be seen by recent events , but their usefulness has a its limits which must be realistically recognized . They get you ahead but under current conditions they dont allow you to reach your target. Things are going to get worse for the whole population, thats a given which will only increase the loss and erosion of govt popularity and support . It wont happen in a day but it will happen soon enough. This tide of discontent is a mother lode of promise for the opposition which it must turn in its favour using every means available .

    The oppo is playing a difficult game , with many unertainties , with a very unscrupulous enemy , mistakes will be made , again and again , some mistakes future circumstances witll convert into great decisions , as always happens . I say lets give our leaders a little slack, lets not expect perfect scores from them , lets not fall into the human taste for moral canibalism , for pillorying people for heresies that simply exist to make us feel righteously great about ourselves , for glorifying our own enraged righteousness and infability , no body bats 1000 , not even kids believe that. !!

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  14. i will never forget that they took like, 16 hours to officially proclaim him as dict- i mean president.

    And now,we have this. The protesting oppo,the vast majority of indifferent people,and the silent chavistas.So so silent.

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  15. Last April 2013 could be the last presidential election in Venezuela for decades. Maduro will still fake elections like Castro but any opposition candidates that have a chance at winning will be deemed disqualified. We already know that Chavistas can and will alter vote count. As a last resort Chavistas can simply cancel an election due to a national emergency.

    Tibsay Lucena knows too much about past CNE fraud to be replaced. Expect the fraud to continue.

    Venezuelans must continue to contest the April 2013 presidential election. Another election may never happen.

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  16. I also want to add something: Chavismo’s method of fraud isn’t flawless. Otherwise, Jaua would have defeated Capriles back in 2012.

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  17. Here’s a video that exposes the view of one of the actors of this conflict, Julio “Coco” Jiménez, about the “dialogue” and about Capriles’s decision last year:

    You can disagree with the finer points (Andres Velazquez did talked about the political prisioners, unlike….everybody else. Ok, bad example), but the fact that more than 40 people DIED for that sand and ankward spectacle is shameful.

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  18. The regime survives only by means of abuse of power. However, the repression and the denial of the basic laws of supply-and-demand cannot be sustained forever. The SICAD 2 is the first crack. The onerous price controls, if enforced, will close more businesses. The supply of debt will completely dry up, and the suffering and fear of the pueblo will become unbearable! Like the sinking of the Titanic, everyone will be frantic and the lack of rule of law, the lack of a civil police force will come to bare, and the vacuum will demand military force to expand its involvement from suppression to enforcing curfews, food distribution, punitive surveillance of opposition activities, increased numbers of detainees, concentration camps, total information blackout, killing fields, and a state of paralysis of domestic production of goods and services that necessitate labor camps, starvation and disappearance of medical supplies will ensue, and for all practical purposes, Venezuela will be a disaster zone! So, why are we fixating on the stolen election? It happened, and just number of dead voters was enough to steal the election! So, now what?

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  19. I think the last presidential campaign has morphed into a democracy movement. I think Venezuelans are no longer prepared to wait to have their concerns addressed. The National Assembly has been gerrymandered and self-neutered into non existence, so at least half the country is essentially without representation on the national level.

    I think Capriles and his supporters were smart not to make the election fraud issues the hill on which the opposition movement lived or died. The country was not ready yet. It must be the case that less than half of Venezuelans are concerned to any significant degree about civil rights, constitutional or human rights issues, or this regime would have fallen a long time ago. The trajectory of the economy is going to break this regime, and the opposition has to be a viable, united, credible advocate for peoples’ needs and concerns when the void opens up.

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  20. There are three kinds of complainst against the regime ,

    First : its mismanagement of the economy and its dysfunctional performance as the provider of public services ( which leads to the long lines , shortages , destroyed and broken infrastructure, faulty services , runaway inflation , record violent crime rates etc), all resuting in the deterioration of peoples quality of life .

    Second , the systemic destruction and abuse of the institutions which harbour the rights and freedoms of Venezuelas citizens be they economic , civic or political to further an agenda for the creation of an authoritarian or totalitarian state which concentrates all power in a small circle of people dedicated to a sectarian and exclusive view of society .

    Third : A discourse which lies , disinforms , is pompously self celebratory and finds purpose in the glorification and spread of vitriolic hatred and scorn , in destroying the dignity of all Venezuelans , not only of those that it victimizes through its defamation and insults but of those whose conscience is depraved and degraded by such message and which protects and hides the corruption of its own ruling cliques and their business allies .

    Not all three areas of complaint arouse the same kind of rejection in the same kind of people .

    Everyone is sensitive to the first area of complaint , no matter their social origin or status , its also the most arousing of all for the less fortunate in Venezuelan society .
    .
    The second affects the sensibility of much less people , those with some kind of educated political conscience , people who circumstances have given the chance of developing a truly democratic sense of the limits of mayority rule . (without judging on whether this government really represents a mayority which many doubt )

    The Third only discomfits people who have assummed the role of opponents or who have been forced into that role by the govts penchant for inculpating selected target roups for all that goes wrong in the country .
    In an election people sensitive to the first area of condemnation constitutes easily the greater mayority of voters , people who reject the second and third areas of condemnation represent a growing segment of the total population but not necessarily the greatest number.

    The task of the opposition is to make most ordinary people sensitive to the second and third areas of complaint.

    The fact that there have been so many people who have kept themselves blind to these breaches of democracys basic values is very worrisome because it does not portent anything good for the future of democracy in this country. to win a mayority of support based solely on the first class of complaints would not be a lasting triumph . people must be taught to become sensitive to the other two kinds of complaints for this democracy to survive .!!

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    • Thank you. This is a lucid and poignant analysis. It is clearly quite a concern for Miraflores that the vaunted literacy eradication in Venezuela over the past 15 years has not also eradicated the commitment of much of the country’s young people to building a society inculcated with the values associated with freedom and the rule of law.

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  21. actually I think that most people see the 14-a chapter closed after the disastrous december election, the 2014 guarimbas are a sort of new chapter in the long running series of unstability, the venezuelan people that won’t emigrate is divided between those who want to find a way to coexist with chavismo’s rules (if there are any) at least for 5 more years, the vast majority, and those who see violent rebelion as the only way out, neither side have a good plan.

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