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Venezuela: Where is the opposition?

By Michael Rowan, El Universal

Venezuela is starting to resemble Italy or Germany in the 1930s. As an elected leader with charismatic force and a radical worldview rose like a Phoenix to dominate the country, thoughts about how to put Venezuela back on a track of inclusion virtually disappeared. Consumed or appalled by the power and glory of the new leader's insane hatreds, every conversation turned on questions about him: Could he last, how can he be stopped, can he be recalled, how can I get away from this madness? This is exactly as the tyrant wants it.

Chavez has a very simple political message that seems to appeal to the opposition. His view is that Venezuelans are good or bad, poor or rich, revolutionaries or oligarchs, patriots or traitors, loyalists or conspirators, people of God or people of Satan. The opposition basically accepts the proposition but reverses him on every count. Long lost in a trail of disappointing leaders who were not able to cope with national failure, Venezuelans have caved into this either/or paradigm, as did the people of Italy and Germany 70 years ago, without realizing the national consequences.

The only way to stop a despot from doing whatever he has in mind - if that's the right word - is to provide another vision before the despot starts a war. Hitler could not be stopped by an opponent who said, "I am not Hitler, vote for me," and the same can be said about Mussolini, Fujimori, Pinochet and the rest. What is needed - what has always been needed - is a vision of how to put Venezuela together on an inclusive track toward liberty and democracy.

In the Democratic Coordinator the overwhelming view is that 'We must do first things first, and that means getting rid of Chavez.' The strikes and protests, the violence and death, and the recall, were aimed at getting rid of Chavez. Of these, the only tactic that is truly democratic is the recall, and Chavez, after winning a handful of elections, is not likely to let that happen. Meanwhile, Chavez has poured money into the barrios to buy votes, very effectively, while the opposition has been silent about a democratic, inclusive vision for the nation, which has reduced its credibility greatly. Venezuelans are not stupid. They are not going to vote in the blind just to get rid of someone they don't like - they did that with CAP and it didn't work. They need to know what is going to happen next.

Here's what's next with Chavez. After he suppresses the opposition, he will work to influence or rule Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia - realizing Bolivar's dream. Panama he will get by working with China to take over the expansion of the canal, and by shipping oil thru it to China. In Brazil, Mexico and Central America, he will foment revolution by the poor and indigenous. Worldwide, he will become the supreme leader against one superpower, aided by China and the Group of 77. The OAS he will attempt to suborn with oil deals. The only obstacle left standing will be the U.S., which is indifferent to Latin America, and which won't wake up in time before he conquers the world's minds with his New Moral Economic Order, demolishing globalization in a stroke of genius. Those who don't believe this is possible have not read history. Those who don't believe Chavez will try it have not read Chavez. Virtually everything he has done in the last six years were known in 1997, and everything he plans to do between now and 2021, when he may leave office, are right there to see.

Here's what's next for the civil society. They need a declaration of grievances and redress voted democratically in meetings big and small all over the country - many Chavistas will agree with them. They need democratic primaries open to any voter or candidate, run by and for civil society with international support, which they can get if they go about it democratically. They need a run-off election to select one candidate endorsed by all or most of the others, centered around a government program that is inclusive, and is not the same old neo-liberal notion that is failing the poor everywhere else.

"Preposterous," some opposition politicians say, "He'll never let us do that." Exactly, is the response. He will not. But this time, civil society could be sitting side-by-side with the Organization of American States, the European Union, the United Nations, institutions that may just come of age to help while there's still time. Better, polls show that half the Chavistas appear ready to abandon Chavez for an inclusive, constructive, and civil solution that is no longer about winners and losers, but where everyone has a fair chance. In the choice between civilization and militarization, the poor of Venezuela today, like the victims of German inflation or Italian inferiority in the 1930's, can make the right choice, if they are given it.

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