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Strategies and Plans of Venezuela's Opposition for the short and medium term

By Gustavo Coronel

March 31, 2004 - I want to follow up on my last article dealing with the Venezuelan opposition (Venezuelan opposition needs more teamwork, not a messianic leader). In that article I said that one of the prevailing perceptions in U.S. circles about the opposition in Venezuela is that it lacks strategies and programs to guide the country through a post-Chávez transition. In this article I propose to show that this perception is not accurate. Let us consider first the short-term strategies being put into practice by the opposition. I am greatly helped in this respect by the summary presented by Leonardo Carvajal, a member of the Democratic Coordinator collective leadership. Carvajal is one of the most lucid minds of the opposition and would have probably been the Venezuelan Minister of Education in a non-Chávez government. He writes about the six strategies currently being developed by the Venezuelan opposition:

* To denounce the Chávez regime in the international community. While Chávez plays his propaganda film, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” all over the world and pays millions of dollars to mercenary journalists and assorted political figures, the opposition has obtained the clear support of the OAS, the European Union, Latin American leaders such as Kirchner, U.S. leaders such as John Kerry and of individual figures of moral prestige like Lech Walessa and the widow of Andrei Sahkarov. The U.S. government circles and the U.S. media have become clearly repelled by the Chávez government's increasingly autocratic manners and by his vulgar speech. The tide of international opinion has now turned against Chávez.

* The opposition controls the streets of Venezuela. During the last two years, the Venezuelan opposition has generated the largest and most continuously active mass movement ever seen in Latin America. Chávez's attempts to minimize the importance of this activity are no longer taken seriously by any observer of Venezuelan reality. The march in Caracas, in February 24th, ended with a brutal show of force by the Chávez regime, a barbaric action celebrated by Chávez's special guest Robert Mugabe, but one which has contributed decisively to show him as what he is: an apprentice dictator.

* The opposition continues making all efforts to reach the presidential referendum, in spite of all the government’s tricks and dishonesties that the whole world has witnessed and which will be, no doubt, duly documented by the international observers when they render their reports. The conversations with the National Electoral Council continue and the efforts of the honest members of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice are slowly bearing fruit.

* The opposition is making great emphasis in the violation of human rights by the regime. The visual documents, which prove these violations, are there, for all to see. The demands of the opposition have finally forced the dishonest Ombudsman and the Attorney General to admit that the Armed Forces have “exercised excessive force” in the repression of the protesters.

* A group working from within the Democratic Coordinator has generated a Plan for the post-Chávez transition (see below).

* The opposition is making great efforts to unify their candidates for Governors and Mayors. About half of these candidacies are already the product of inter-party agreements while the work to unify the rest of the candidacies proceeds. By election time most, if not all, of the candidates will represent the majority choice of the opposition.

These strategies are being applied simultaneously. There is no doubt that they are working, some more rapidly than others, in their purpose of weakening the Chávez regime. We must remember that the opposition is much more vocal than the Chávez camp in airing their disagreements. The Chávez regime presents a monolithic front to the outside world. But the reality is that the opposition is not so disjointed as it might look and the Chávez regime not as monolithic as it pretends to be. A recent analysis by Seth Antiles, titled “Hanging by a Thread,” suggests that the control of Chávez over the Venezuelan political situation is “always just a step away from . . .” disappearing, since his hold on those institutions which will decide his political future is very fragile, often depending on one individual, who could be swayed by principles or by considerations of political convenience. This is the case of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, of the National Electoral Council and, even, of the National Assembly. One can only imagine what goes on daily within the Chávez camp: the intrigue, the jealousy, the distrust which is rampant among people who have no firm ideological bonding but the most diverse reasons to be in power, be it money, revenge, resentment or desire for notoriety. The Chávez alliance is a very weak one at best and it includes people of the most dubious moral quality.

The plan for the post-Chávez transition was put together by a group of the Venezuelan opposition led by Diego Urbaneja. Some years ago, Urbaneja coined a memorable phrase: “The only strategic businesses of the Venezuelan State are Education and Health,” at a moment in which the Venezuelan State wanted to define most business and industrial activities as “strategic.” The plan he coordinated was the distilled product of the inputs of some 130 organizations represented in the Venezuelan opposition.

The plan is called: “A National Consensus.” Their main themes are national reconstruction and reconciliation. This plan calls for every citizen to do his/her part. It aims at obtaining sufficient national unity and support to accomplish eight major objectives:

* A united country.

* An organized and active society.

* High levels of employment.

* A satisfactory system of justice.

* A country that has adequate levels of health, security, education, cultural progress and sports activities for all.

* A country with effective regional governments and local governments in the context of a decentralized system of government.

* A country internationally respected and open to private, international investment under clear and stable rules of the game.

* A country with a petroleum industry really able to serve as a catalyst for the development of the national economy.

The country has to be reunited. Venezuela has been torn in two, uneven, fragments. Chávez's politics of exclusion, where the rich, the middle class, the educated and the “white” have no place in his “revolutionary” scheme has produced a society based on hate and resentment. This course is suicidal and has to be reversed. Society must come together to undertake the tasks, which are really required in the country and replace the empty and hateful rhetoric with hard, focused and productive work. Today, more than 22% of Venezuelans are unemployed and 65% of those “employed” are street vendors (buhoneros). A new government has to make emphasis in the creation of jobs and not in a policy of handouts like the current regime has been doing. Health and Education should become the only strategic industries of the government. Housing should be constructed for the poor. During the last five years the construction of housing for the less privileged has systematically dwindled from 90,000 units in 1998 to 22,000 in 2002 (statistics of the National Council on Housing). Establishing professional, non-politicized security forces should enhance personal security. The country should regain the 24 places it has lost during the last five years in the Human Development Index of the United Nations (ranking 45 in 1998 and 69 in 2000), a task that will not be easy. The country should retake its course towards decentralization which had already produced excellent results during the 1990’s, as illustrated by the satisfactory progress of highly decentralized states such as Carabobo, Miranda, Anzoategui, Monagas, Yaracuy, Aragua and Zulia, in contrast with less decentralized states such as Trujillo, Barinas, Nueva Esparta and Amazonas. The country should regain its international credibility by appointing honorable Ambassadors, aligning itself with democratic countries and respecting international law. It should vigorously promote private investment by offering clear and stable rules for investors and the elimination of artificial exchange controls.

And last but not least, a new government should return PDVSA, the State owned petroleum company, to the administration by a professional management team, decontaminate the company from politics and make it again, if this is at all possible, the company it was only five years ago.

The components of this program are not “revolutionary.” They are simply common sense. Venezuela is a small country that has many resources that have to be utilized in an optimum manner for the benefit of all Venezuelans. The democratic governments of the last 50 years did much wasting of these resources but the country did develop, as shown by all available statistics. The Chávez regime has thrown the country back several decades, in spite of enjoying very high oil income and has increased the national debt in a criminal fashion. Today the Venezuelan population is poorer, the crime rates are higher, there is more hunger and despair, more filth and physical deterioration, more social hate, more aggressive behavior against political dissidence.

This unfortunate reality cannot be disguised by propaganda or compensated with more empty promises by an increasingly mentally unbalanced leader.

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