EspañolSince last December, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has called for a national dialogue with the opposition. Before the municipal elections were held, he affirmed, “on December 9, I call all mayors, who were legitimately and peacefully elected, for a great social, economic, and political dialogue on the future of Venezuela.”
A national dialogue is more than welcome, especially in such a polarized, and violent country as Venezuela. Chavistas and opponents need to recognize and respect each other, and work together to pull the country out of its social, economic, and moral ruin. Joint efforts are necessary, despite the authoritarian, militaristic, neo-communist, and totalitarian nature of the regime. Even though this may sound overly optimistic, dialogues and national pacts have taken place before with great influence and with all kinds of dictatorial regimes — Marxist, fascist, militaristic.
The problem here is not the dialogue, but how it is carried out. First, it needs to be clear and sincere, and both parties must negotiate under equal terms. Then, all the efforts will be in vain unless participants commit to and fulfill their agreements.
In the case of Venezuela, the current, restricted dialogue is not enough. Maduro called for a limited dialogue, and the opposition accepted it under those terms, over the rejection of some individuals.
The dialogue has been limited since the beginning. Maduro asked for “all public authorities” to move beyond their differences and come together to pursue “joint actions” — to find a solution for “crucial issues in society.” However, this dialogue should have been open and inclusive for all political, social, and economic groups; rather than being restricted to one political faction (the MUD) and under the government’s own agenda.
Unfortunately, the opposition neither claimed nor demanded any changes, despite the disapproval from some of its leaders. On the contrary, their acceptance was clear when their governors and mayors attended the meeting. These terms were also accepted by other economic and social groups that did not push for a change of rules either. Only a few leaders from the Catholic Church requested an open dialogue that could lead to a true and new national pact.
This government-imposed dialogue hasn’t been honest or fair, and this becomes evident once we analyze the meetings that have taken place over the last few weeks.
The How of Venezuela’s Current Dialogue
On December 18, all mayors from the opposition were invited to the Miraflores presidential palace. In this meeting, there was an actual exchange of ideas, and most attendees were able to express their concerns to the president — though in a brief and informal manner. But it was Maduro who spoke the longest in front of the media, in a speech where he guaranteed inclusion, respect, democracy, and economic resources, and even aggressively rejected some of the concerns presented by attending mayors.
The onset of the legislative year was the context for the second meeting, held on January 6 in the National Assembly. However, it was quite different from the previous one. Despite initial promises to move forward with the dialogue and allow opponents to participate, Maduro was the only one who spoke. So the meeting turned into a monologue. However, he still asked for congressional support in his attempt to solve Venezuela’s problems.
The third meeting took place in early January as well, following the murder of former beauty queen Mónica Spear and her husband. This incident, which put the government in a tough spot, exposed the failures of all 21 national security plans, and the futility of the state militarization measures. Once the news got out, the president urgently called Chavistas and opposing governors from all 23 states, including mayors of the highest crime-rate cities, to meet him at Miraflores.
In this occasion, they only focused on security matters, without discussing specific tangible measures. After the head of state spoke for two hours, he left to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. However, the government didn’t miss the opportunity to take a picture (see below) of President Maduro with leader of the opposition and Governor Henrique Capriles barely shaking hands, as a proof of “dialogue” with the opposition.
Since this last encounter, some work meetings have taken place with top security officials, but with no President Maduro around. In these meeting, members from the opposition have been allowed to introduce their proposals, but always under the government’s parameters — to “continue coordinating the actions” of police forces, and “fight crime in the most efficient manner.”
So far, the meetings have not led to a real, open, and honest dialogue, at least not anything that any democratic society would recognize. There hasn’t been a real recognition between both parties, or any discussions leading to agreements or commitments.
Instead, the government has discussed specific topics of its interest to stay in power, to hold on to its remaining popularity. The government has merely included its political adversaries to allegedly start a common fight against the country’s main problems.
These are the same problems, however, that the government hasn’t been able to solve after so many years — but on we go with the same failed plans. The government has not even bothered to change its security experts, and Maduro’s last measure was another national peacemaking plan, which of course was not discussed with opposing governors or mayors.
Dialogue, Why Now?
Maduro may feel pressured to make amends with the opposition. After a questionable election, he may have remained in power, but he’s still interested in legitimizing his force, and improving his public image. Once he decided to radicalize the Bolivarian project — according to his Plan for the Fatherland 2013-2019 — he thought it would be best to make people believe he was taking the democratic and moderate road, even if he is not.
With no elections on the horizon for the next couple of years, Maduro would be wise not to push for strong political polarization. It is more useful to keep the opposition in his pockets, and scold them once in a while.
Finally, he needs to establish a dialogue — albeit limited and dishonest — with some of his opponents to face the bigger, heavier issues for the regime, such as citizen security, inflation, product shortages, and unavoidable economic reforms.
Overall, Maduro’s government has profited from this “dialogue,” and it will remain like this, until the democratic opposition pushes him to change the terms. At least some opposition leaders have already realized this fact. Capriles himself publicly admitted that Maduro’s approach to the opposition, after a decade of conflicts, “is just the president’s tactic to gain some time while he looks for a solution to the rampant crime and economic problems.”