It is no secret to anyone that democracy in Venezuela has been kidnapped by Chavismo for more than 20 years. During that time, the decision-making power of Venezuelans over their leaders has descended into a ravine that has led the country towards an authoritarian regime.
Lucho Suarez // lapatilla.com
For some citizens, suffrage as a constitutional right to achieve political changes has lost all value, and regaining confidence in the electoral process stands as one of the opposition’s greatest challenges.
Throughout the last two decades, and exhausting for most Venezuelans, we have only seen two faces in the presidency of the republic: the late Hugo Chávez and his heir Nicolás Maduro. Apparently, today the picture looks a little “different” for some.
With the arrival of Interim President Juan Guaidó plus the pressure mechanisms of the international community through economic sanctions and the lack of recognition of Nicolás Maduro as president, Chavismo has found itself between a rock and a hard place. This forced it to adopt a “disguise of democracy” and begin to yield in certain spaces (instances) of power.
The most obvious example occurred in the emblematic State of Barinas during the elections of November 21st, 2021, when a regional leader like Sergio Garrido, even with the unfair and abusive advantage of Chavismo, managed to win the governorship of this plains state, “heart of the Bolivarian revolution” and homeland of Hugo Chavez Frias.
Inconclusive dialogues and desperate measures have been the gestures of a regime that seeks “by force” the popular approval when trying to pocket (take away) the decisions of the people, already snatched away years ago through organizations such as the National Electoral Council (CNE), today chaired by the Chavista politician and historian Pedro Calzadilla.
Although it is true that there has been a slight improvement in the situation of some economic sectors as a result of the implementation of measures such as price liberalization and some foreign exchange flexibility, all of which has given the impression of timid stability in the country, it is also a reality that there is great distrust of Venezuelans towards those who lead public powers. The question that is heard in the streets is whether there is a possibility that fair and transparent elections will be held in Venezuela.
To answer this and other questions, lapatilla.com spoke with Carmen Beatriz Fernández, an urban planner with a master’s degree in electoral campaigns and director of the political consulting firm “DataStrategia”, about the International ‘Day of Democracy’ that is commemorated today, and who also analyzed the moment that the country is going through before the next presidential elections to be held in 2024.
-How do you see the current situation of the regime and the opposition in the context of the next presidential elections in 2024?
I think you have to start from a diagnosis that can be hard: the world is different, very different from the world of 2019. In this different world, first drawn by the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine, Maduro won the round, and the opposition must accept this to know where it stands.
The State Department was the first to certify this and it is ratified when there are clear indications that Maduro is already negotiating directly with the U.S. and (transnational) oil companies.
Furthermore, the ruling party starts with an advantage looking forward to 2024. To a large extent, society is forced to play under the rules that Maduro establishes, and I feel that the people understood this before the political class. This does not mean that it is something permanent, rather I think it is a mechanism of adaptation and survival of society, like a lizard when it plays dead.
-Analysts say that Venezuelans have lost faith in those who currently “represent” them, so they are focused on surviving the crisis.
There has been a string of frustrations in a society that yearned for political change and did not get it. It is natural in the face of this frustration to want to look for culprits, and the one closest at hand is the opposition leadership. The interim government developed a maximalist strategy that did not work. They bet on all or nothing, and when that happens you can be left with nothing.
Additionally, the democratic opposition has its differences and has shown at times not to have the maturity to be able to resolve them. It is ideologically diverse, covers a very wide (political) spectrum, and sees different strategic approaches.
The dilemma about how to participate electorally is one of these differences. In addition, they compete with each other in their natural aspirations to command the leadership. This happens in any political space and in all parts of the world. The democratic factors arrive 2022 more fragmented than ever.
It must be remembered, however, that there have always been important differences, but at key moments they have been able to overcome the differences before a common adversary who is very powerful and cruel.
– In this scenario, how could the opposition create strategies to attract voters after losing popularity among Venezuelans?
The “Unity” must see the horizon of 2024 and 2025 as an opportunity to re-institutionalize itself and rebuild political muscle. Learn from the mistakes and recognize past successes, not so long ago, where there were more clear and agreed rules among the actors. Only by doing so will it be possible to avoid fragmentation of the vote that aspires political change, which precisely is the main enemy of the materialization of that change.
In the end, a (political) party is a platform to empower ambitious politicians with potential, if that ceases to be the case and becomes a placement agency for “buddy” candidates, then it fails in its reason to be, and that has a political cost.
Gaps are always filled, and the democratic Unity has failed to define clear rules and consistent attitudes in the recent past. The “MUD” (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática) lost “institutionality” because it did not have clear (internal) rules, it became a space of privileges and endorsements without consensual procedures.
– How do you view the issue of the opposition primaries?
I see the primaries in 2023 not as destiny, but as a process, not as an end, but as an instrument. The primaries are irrelevant if there is no collective understanding of what the primaries are for and common goals are established. More important than holding a primary process is reaching agreements and creating an architecture/methodology of consensus.
The 2024 presidential elections will be complex and full of obstacles. There will be a mixture of the worst tricks seen between Barinas and Nicaragua. If the trust between the actors has not been rescued by that time, it will be much more difficult to make quick decisions about the stumbling blocks that are going to arise on that complicated path.
The objective must be the rescue of democracy in Venezuela. Create the conditions for democracy to flourish. Democracy is not reached by decree, it is a process of reconstruction of the institutions, of the capacities of the parties, of the culture and democratic coexistence. As Madison said: only ambition controls ambition. That applies in the definition of checks and balances in the State, but it also applies to the opposition primaries.
– Is the outlook favorable for a Chavista re-election?
The re-election of Maduro is clearly possible. Venezuelan society, including the country inside and outside, is divided in a 20%-80% relationship of forces. 80% are looking for political change and 20% oppose it.
Obviously, no election is expressed in those figures. In the first place, there is still a fracture with powerful arguments for and against going out to vote under a dictatorship.
Then there is the discredit of the opposition class, which in its harshest expressions tends to equate it with Chavismo itself. Besides, you have the other fissures that we have seen between the democratic forces of society and that translate into hyper-fragmentation as a very probable scenario. That puts the battle quantitatively much more balanced, and even favorable to Maduro.
-Regarding the current CNE, do you think it will be a transparent referee in the next presidential elections?
The current CNE is a reasonably good arbiter when you compare it to the composition of that same institution in previous periods. Obviously this is not enough. Elections are going to take place in a kidnapped democracy and the conditions are never going to be fair enough. They’re not going to be optimal, they’re going to be sub-optimal, we know that.
There is a long list of pending elements: there are political prisoners, there are disqualified (banned politicians), there are exiles. We must create a diaspora registry, facilitate the right to vote for Venezuelans in exile, eliminate “protectorate” figures, the Republic Plan that kidnaps a purely civil process and a long etcetera (of factors, elements). The suboptimal of 2024-2025 conditions may improve on some of them, but most likely not on others.
It must be understood that elections are a process that goes beyond election day: it includes a before, during and after. There are democratic spaces in Venezuela that must be occupied, and the vote continues to be the greatest asset of the democrats.
Re-democratization will not be a straight-line roadmap. No election is the end point, but rather part of a process of reconquering electoral conditions that may ultimately lead to free electoral processes.