We are three weeks into the race for the parliamentary elections (scheduled for December 6th) and the Venezuelan government has already imposed three over-the-top hurdles for the opposition.
First, the Elections Council (CNE) issued a set of rules establishing a gender quota which they knew the opposition didn’t have. This was a genius move, because the discussion drifted away from the evil and ilegal action itself, and fell over the lap of the sad sausage fest in our ranks, reminiscent of the cast of The Full Monty. Sad, stupid, illegal, and it sent the opposition back to the drawing board.
Then, they barred María Corina Machado from public office for a year. MCM was the congresswoman who stood before President Chavez and called him on the illegal expropriations on national television: “expropriation without payment is stealing.”
That offense to the revolutionary dogma turned her into one of the most abused public figures in Venezuelan politics. She’s had her nose broken, her phones tapped, and her private communications exposed by government officials. She’s been accused of terrorism and conspiracy, and was thrown out of office on a whim – to be replaced by that sad excuse of a spider-pig that is Ricardo Sánchez. She is the counterweight to the misogynist practices of the Venezuelan opposition, those which the CNE first targeted. You may not agree with some of her postures, but she’s come a long way.
Just a couple of days before MCM’s barring from public office, a post by Alejandro Tarre directed me to this interesting interview with political scientist Miguel Angel Martínez Meucci, author of Apaciguamiento (2012) [the book gives an account of Chavez’s consolidation of power during 2001/2004].
In his views of the challenges the Venezuelan opposition faces, he explains that politics have been left out of the game, and that, apart from participating in the elections, we have to deliver a message of rigidness against abuse. As Tarre concludes in his post, “the opposition must be prepared to provide testimonies and postures and clear messages of resistance, because it’s likely that the government will soon initiate the dirtiest and most treacherous electoral campaign of the last 16 years.”
And yes, they have.
A few days after this post, MCM and Enzo Scarano were barred from public office. A measure as clean and transparent as Iris Varela’s hair: the Comptroller General imposed both penalties based on their failure to include non-salary meal tickets in their sworn declarations of patrimony which, as nuts as it may sound, is not even relevant, and it makes sense that it was done this way because it was the fastest way to get it done.
But at the same time it’s absurd, because in these cases they would be barred from being appointed as Ministers or office boys at a Notary Public, but not of being elected by the people to represent them at the National Assembly. You see, the Comptroller doesn’t have the faculty to ban them from popular election posts, as José Ignacio Hernández explains. In theory, they could still run, but we’ll have to see what the CNE and the TSJ have to say about that.
This is yet another taste of what chavismo has done with Venezuelan institutions and division of powers. As Martínez Meucci says, this melding of public powers may be a guarantee that these abuses will not go unpunished in the future. MCM alone may have a human rights case, at least, against ten high-ranking government officials.
There is hardly one person in the whole country who doesn’t believe that the road to overcoming this hung-over version of populism comes by some sort of mixture between elections and strong postures by the opposition (be them protests or just stubbornly running when the government is illegally forbidding you from doing so).
The dilemma the opposition is facing, perhaps, has more to do with a shared opinion between two parties that understand they need each other, but believe the other one doesn’t understand it, and that none is willing to budge. Pretty much like kindergarten, and likely a situation that the opposition and chavismo will eventually have to face as well.
There is no use in losing it just yet, because we’ve got a long ways to go and there are no shortcuts ahead. The government is used to run with more advantages than what it has shown up until now. They will swing with everything they have. And they will make mistakes. There is a good opportunity, but this time around the opposition may need to assume a more aggressive stance (or at least keep its gloves up!).
As always, it’s all or nothing.