The Venezuelan opponent Juan Guaidó, this Wednesday in Caracas.RAYNER PENA R / EFE
The echoes of a negotiation between Chavismo and the Venezuelan opposition sound closer and closer and no protagonist wants to remain on the sidelines. The certainty that the current situation does not benefit anyone gains strength and forces all parties to rethink their strategy. In the government of Nicolás Maduro, drowned by sanctions and exiled from the international community. In opposition, almost completely disappeared from domestic political life and with very low popularity ratings. In Venezuelans themselves, whom the pandemic and the informal dollarization process carried out in the last year have continued to plunge into a devastating economic crisis. And in the international community, already aware that the policy of sanctions and the closing of ranks before the leadership of Juan Guaidó, whom they recognized as interim president,they have not managed to undermine the power of the Executive.
The departure of Donald Trump, the epicenter of the strategy to fuse the Venezuelan Executive with economic sanctions, opens a new window of opportunity for Chavismo. The Government of Nicolás Maduro is not experiencing its worst moments in the country. The opposition's decision not to attend the last electoral appointments has allowed Chavismo to maintain its power well bolted, but tied hand and foot by an unsustainable economic situation. "Guaidó's popularity has fallen, as has the opposition's ability to mobilize, which has allowed Chavismo to gain ground in domestic and territorial control," explains Michael Penfold, global researcher at the Wilson Center. Maduro does not want to take political risks,but he knows the certainty that there will be no lifting of sanctions if there is no progress towards a process of democratization of the country. "I agree, with the help of the Government of Norway, the European Union, the Contact Group, whenever they want, however they want, wherever they want, to meet with all the opposition," he said this Thursday.
That was not the first nor the only surprise in a week in which, for some analysts consulted, Chavismo has made the greatest gestures and concessions in recent years.
Several signals to the international community and to the interior of the country that fertilize the terrain of a dialogue that until now has always been sterile.
Diosdado Cabello remains with the headquarters of the Venezuelan newspaper 'El Nacional'
Henrique Capriles: "The important thing is not which opposition they serve in Brussels or Washington, but where we are going"
The movements began knocking on the door of the new tenant of the White House, Joe Biden. Maduro allowed the entry of humanitarian aid from the United Nations after a year of negotiations and, among other gestures, changed the prison for the house arrest of six oil businessmen with dual nationality imprisoned in Venezuela for three years. “The big question is how the Biden Administration is going to react. If there is a way to incentivize the Maduro regime to make more concessions to achieve a restoration of democracy. They have said that they follow him very closely and support a negotiated solution, but there is a risk that if they do not give some kind of signal or incentive [lift any of the sanctions imposed by Trump], Maduro could abandon this new attempt at a possible openness ”, says Geoff Ramsey,Director for Venezuela of the organization for investigation and defense of human rights Wola.
At the same time, the National Assembly, controlled by the regime, appointed a new National Electoral Council - the CNE, the body responsible for the transparency of electoral processes - with three members related to Chavismo and two from the opposition. "It is the best CNE for the opposition in 22 years," says former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles. "It is a first step," said a statement from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which closely and actively follows all movements in the country. A few days later, the new body called regional and local elections for November 21.
Glances now turn to the opposition. The images of all the leaders united around the figure of Guaidó, when he was appointed president in charge in January 2019, boosted by crowds in the streets of Caracas and with broad international support, are now part of the past. In those days, 77% of Venezuelans would have voted for him in elections, figures that according to the Datanalisis poll published this March plummet to 11.4%. "The Venezuelan is disengaged from politics, he is trying to survive, the board has already changed," emphasizes Penfold.
“Eating and getting out of COVID-19 alive are people's main concerns,” explains José Gregorio Ochoa, an activist in the popular sector of Carapita, in western Caracas, a neighborhood that was once a stronghold of Chavismo. The acceleration of hyperinflation and its rebound in the informal dollarization process have increased the inequality gap. The daily struggle to find money to feed the family has been joined by the pandemic and the shortage of fuel and gas to cook for the first time in the country with the largest oil reserves.
The strategy of all or nothing that until now the opposition and the international community maintained against Maduro could change from now on. Guaidó, from the outset, opens a negotiation with the regime. "We must try this with all the skepticism and all the distrust towards the dictatorship," says Freddy Guevara, one of his closest collaborators and who last week built the first bridges of rapprochement with representatives of the ruling party, when he met with the Chavista deputy Francisco Torrealba.
“Just as we started from the fact that with the current circumstance we could not overthrow Maduro, they also start from the reality that with their plan they do not solve their problems. We are obliged to seek an urgent solution to the crisis for the people, which is the National Salvation Agreement, because in the end the situation is worse for everyone ”, adds Guevara. The Agreement is the proposal that Guaidó presented this week, in which he proposes a pact to achieve free elections, not only regional and municipal as proposed by the ruling party, but also parliamentary and presidential elections that allow the initiation of a transition mediated by the international community. "We are ready," the opposition leader told a news conference on Wednesday.
The strategy of returning to the electoral path, promoted above all by the figure of Capriles, is also a desire of various sectors in the interior of the country, explain sources consulted, who are eager to regain the political role given since 2019. The idea of defeating The one-shot regime has lost strength in the last two years, therefore, both internally and internationally, the strategy of recovering the political path and gradually gaining ground from Chavismo is imposed.
The unity of the opposition, divided around various leaderships, is the great unknown in the face of an election. "In the neighborhoods the opposition has a silent majority, because there is total fear of the levels of repression and the ability to blackmail or extort money with food, housing, daily life," explains Ochoa, who is also a member of the Frente Amplio, a coalition of organizations and unions that supports Guaidó. “People are realizing that this is an oppressive state, but also that there is no alternative for change, unless there is a truly secret vote and the opposition is united. If not, it is not worth voting, "he says.
The participation of the international community as mediators of a negotiation between the ruling party and the opposition and observers of the electoral process is key.
"The role of the international community was one of pressure, the dilemma now is not whether they will pressure more or less, but whether they will accompany this process," adds Penfold.
In the legislative elections that were held last December, the European Union tried to postpone the elections due to the lack of guarantees, but the Maduro government refused.
The elections, in which the opposition did not participate, were not recognized.
The abstention was 70%.
Some voices in Europe now recognize that a new opportunity is opening up.
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