There’s not the least doubt that the support of Hugo Chavez, mainly through the oil cooperation money, was the decisive factor that allowed Daniel Ortega to impose his authoritarian regime. According to official data, approximately five billion dollars were channeled into private accounts that Ortega administered at his discretion.
The funds served to build a powerful family economic group; to buy consciences and loyalties; and to cultivate his political clientele. They managed to corrupt religious, business, and political figures, as well as the top police and military commands. Forging an alliance with the most prominent economic groups was also part of the strategy.
When the fountain of petrodollars dried up, this model of power went into crisis. Although the economic cooperation with Venezuela came to an abrupt halt, the political alliance was preserved. This continued even when Chavez passed away and Maduro assumed power.
This political alliance has different aspects. One of them is the evaluation and application of strategies. In fact, if we examine the evolution of both regimes, we can see they’ve applied similar tactics. These have included contrived dialogues, deceitful campaigns, electoral frauds and corrupting the country’s institutions. As well as pure and hardline repression. And they’ve learned from one another.
I mention the above because in recent days I had the opportunity of participating in an interchange with a very lucid Venezuelan political leader. Although each country has its own particular realities and contexts, a good part of the challenges we face are similar. Likewise the episodes experienced along the road of the struggle for democracy. Therein lies the space for mutual learning. For that reason, I felt it was an opportune time to share the most relevant things I learned from our interchange.
To begin with, lets review briefly the situation in Venezuela. In 2015, parliamentary elections were held, and the opposition – grouped as the Table for Democratic Unity – inflicted a telling defeat on Maduro, obtaining a wide majority in the National Assembly.
The Maduro regime sought every possible recourse to annul the faculties of the Assembly. First, they utilized their control over the judicial apparatus. Next, taking advantage of their domination of the electoral apparatus, they called for a Constitutional Assembly to strip the opposition majority of all their functions. Nicolas Maduro also impeded the realization of the recall referendum established in the Constitution and had himself reelected president in fraudulent elections in 2018.
The opposition, with support from a large part of the international community, refused to recognize Maduro’s mandate, and elected Juan Guaido as provisional president. In that way, there came to be two legislative assemblies in coexistence, and two presidents. Guaido was recognized by more than fifty countries. However, the reality is that Maduro hung on to the effective power, principally with the backing of the armed forces.
It’s noteworthy that the opposition also registered internal divisions, to the point where the Table of Democratic Unity didn’t survive its own victory.
Next December, new legislative elections will be held in Venezuela. This time Madura isn’t waiting to be surprised.
What has he done?
He unilaterally appointed the magistrates for the electoral tribunal, modified the electoral law by gerrymandering districts, changing the rules of the game, and he increased the number of deputies, among other arbitrary actions. And – note the coincidence – he copied the maneuver that Ortega applied in 2016 with the Independent Liberal Party: he deposed the legal directive boards from the four main opposition parties and imposed people under his wing as the new party directors. Just as Ortega did.
In this way, the majority parties – Democratic Action, New Times, Justice First and Popular Will [Acción Democrática, Nuevo Tiempo, Primero Justicia and Voluntad Popular] – are no longer headed by Enrique Capriles, Julio Borges, Leopoldo Lopez or the other Venezuelan leaders we’re familiar with, but by Maduro’s henchmen.
In these conditions, after proposing, demanding and denouncing, 27 political organizations, including the aforementioned parties, announced their decision not to participate in the electoral farse, amid a debate on the convenience of participating or not. A debate that will certainly be coming our way soon.
The Venezuelan political leader shared a number of experiences. I wish to highlight the following:
1) The destiny of the struggle for democracy must not rest only on the actions of the international community. International pressure and sanctions are necessary to weaken the regime, but if nothing happens internally, quite simply, nothing will happen.
2) In the end, it’s counterproductive to generate expectations in the population around key dates or decisive outcomes. When the dates or the announced events don’t turn out as planned, the impact on people’s morale is translated into discouragement, demobilization and distrust.
3) There will always be different ideas about the objectives and ways of defeating the regime. These ranging from those who put their trust in an armed intervention, to those who place their bets on an internal rebellion. Or those who argue that the only form of struggle is to participate in elections. Beyond the high-minded phrases, the fundamental thing is to accompany the ideas with proposals for strategy and above all for actions. An idea without a strategy and without action ends up being nothing but a phrase or a proclamation.
4) The political and the electoral struggle must be accompanied by the social struggle. It’s essential to focus closely on the people’s problems. With everything going on and the atmosphere of repression, the population can’t be left defenseless in the face of the pandemic, the economic crisis and their basic needs. The social struggle is also the political struggle.
5) Anticipating arguments and forcing definitions in an extemporaneous way, without a roadmap, poisons the atmosphere and generates divisive tendencies.
6) Lastly, permanent contact with the international community must be maintained so that they are appropriately informed. To avoid having the national emergencies triggered by the pandemic push the struggle for democracy in our countries off the agenda of governments and organizations.
I wish to clarify that these are my personal notes from the interchange. They’re not literal, so that they don’t implicate anyone. The intention is to help us learn from other’s experiences and mistakes.