Venezuela's disunited opposition

Hi Douglas. It's not at all clear to me what's going on in Venezuela, and I really feel an obligation to find out so I can try to explain it to people. I suppose you saw Steve Ellner's short piece in The Nation -- he makes the point that the opposition's only demand is that Chávez resign, which seems utterly irresponsible. What will they put in his place? And why not wait until August, when it will be constitutionally possible to hold a referendum?

I don't know answers to your specific questions about women's rights, etc. -- maybe I'll be able to find out something. About the larger question, what's going on, here are my guesses:

1) It appears that the opposition has no unified program of government, and if they should succeed in getting Chávez out of office, there will be further turbulence as Carlos Ortega and his rivals try to outmaneuver each other to become -- what? Provisional president?

2) Venezuela's "Bolivarian Constitution" is exceptionally democratic -- it's been called the most democratic in Latin America, and that may be true. That is, there are stronger guarantees in it for representation, dissent and recall. The opposition's demand to ignore or override that constitution can have very grave consequences for the country's institutional stability.

3) The opposition is too disunited to characterize them all as one way or another; I assume that there are many well-meaning, racially tolerant and maybe even socially liberal people in those masses that assemble for the demonstration. However, they're not likely to be the ones to dominate if the opposition achieves its immediate goal, the overthrow of Chávez. The struggle is about many things (personal ambitions, opportunism, offended dignity), but the one thread that is most important is social class, which is to a large extent color-coded in Venezuela. The rhetoric and the dramatic protests by the better-off and lighter complexioned is setting back the considerable progress that I think Venezuela has made in overcoming racial antagonisms.

4) The Chavista forces appear to be much larger than the anti-Chavista, even now and facing the economic disruption brought about by the PdVSA executives, Ortega and their allies. This is probably (almost certainly) why the opposition doesn't want to wait for a legal referendum in June -- they'd lose.

5) I think Chávez's government will be able to hold on until June, by which time the opposition will have evolved into something else -- I expect it to divide and lose force. But, who knows?

Gee, I wasn't expecting to give such a long answer. Think I'll put it up on my new weblog.

Happy new year!


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