María Corina Machado, on September 6. LEONARDO FERNANDEZ VILORIA (REUTERS)
The primary process of the Venezuelan opposition reactivated the spring of electoral participation and a hope for peaceful change. Of the many challenges to seize this moment, it is essential to gauge very well whether it is possible to promote an orderly transition. On this could depend not only the fate of Maria Corina Machado, the most recent political phenomenon in the country, but also the opposition and a sector of Chavismo.
September has been a month of intense movement of different factors that seek some understanding between Venezuelan decision makers and pressure groups. In international circles there is much talk about the fatigue of the opposition, but little is taken into account that Chavismo is perhaps equally exhausted.
The primaries, although they are advancing, are as fragile as a person with glass bones. Machado's growth turned her into a hot potato for the opposition and for the ruling party. Some perceive that their progress, with a leader-people strategy, reduces the space for eventual negotiation.
There are those who believe that Machado's popularity is like an alka seltzer and will happen just as it happened with Juan Guaidó, who in 2019 emerged as the leader of an "interim government" and like many others ended up in exile. I have the impression that the rise of Machado is the expression of a great need for change and a generalized discontent that is reflected throughout Venezuelan society, including the bases of Chavismo.
Last August a poll by the firm Delphos placed María Corina Machado with 74% of voting intention for the opposition primaries. She takes village baths in every mass act she does. In a recent one, in eastern Venezuela, she was seen as Shakira at the MTV awards, surfing between the arms of the attendees who raised her, like a goddess, until she was raised to a stage where she would give a speech.
Opinion polls also show that the government is not only unpopular but that an opposition candidacy, generic, reaches a vote intention of more than 55 percent in the event of a national election. When it comes to names, Machado tops all queries.
Being ineffective in governance while resorting to human rights violations to stay in power also has an upstream cost. Unlike Hugo Chavez, who in political terms was an aircraft carrier, Maduro is like a submarine with ballast. So far, the Chavista leadership has conveyed the idea that it is willing to stay under its waterline. But that leadership knows that at this moment it is impossible to win an election with him as a candidate.
The followers of Chavismo have been affected by the humanitarian emergency, the economic crisis, migrations and disenchantment with the group that leads it. In addition, like the rest, most of them blame the government for the country's crisis.
The Maduro government has made the usual moves to remove the opposition from the electoral route: disqualification, change of the National Electoral Council, intimidation, cooptation, intimidation. Failing to do so, it has gone a step further. The fledgling CNE agreed to provide a "comprehensive, constitutional and legal technical service" for the primaries. Last June, the National Primary Commission, the governing body of the opposition consultation, made this request to the previous CNE. When the rectors were defenestrated, the CNP decided to continue with a self-managed process. Although the current offer seems more like a threat, in a few hours the leadership of the opposition body met with the new electoral rectors and agreed to create a mixed commission.
Everything happens when there is less than a month left for the celebration of the primary and with three of the candidates disqualified, among them, Machado.
With this recent move, the government seems to seek that it is the opposition leadership that is responsible for deterrifying the leader. In this way, he bets on killing two birds with the same shot. If the opponents activate the guillotine to decapitate Machado, they run the great risk of throwing overboard the opportunity for a change through the electoral route.
In Venezuela we have coined the metaphor of a film called Groundhog Day as a summary of all the frustrated attempts there have been to achieve change. This time, with all the opposition heading down the electoral route, there may be a new opportunity to modify the end of this tape.
Out of the limelight, partial agreements are sought in which the role of the United States is paramount. Efforts are focused on Chavismo accepting an electoral agenda with a view to 2024; while on the side of the Maduro government, work is being done, even unsuccessfully, for the lifting of sanctions.
Recently, Francisco Palmieri, chief of mission of the US Foreign Office for Venezuela, reiterated at an event of the Atlantic Council in Washington DC the conditions for easing sanctions. It mainly insists on the release of political prisoners, cessation of disqualifications and a credible electoral process in 2024.
For Geoff Ramsey, specialist for the Adrienne Arsht Center for Latin America, Palmieri has given signs that while the negotiation window is open, the opportunity is not indefinite. Ramsey believes that the ball is in the court of the Maduro government and believes that, if they do not act in time, they will lose this opportunity because the United States will immerse itself in its own electoral agenda.
I think the key is an approach made by Tamara Taraciuk, director of the Peter Bell Rule Program on the Rule of Law at the Inter-American Dialogue. She wonders how to provide a golden bridge to people in power to allow a transition to take place.
Any real change must go through those in power, but what to do if the logic is not to cede it. It is in that space where perhaps it is worth the effort to continue exploring ideas that help a peaceful exit. How long will the Chavista elite remain willing to remain in its own hamster wheel?
Everyone has an opportunity to do it differently and the best example continues to be given by Venezuelan society that, in all opinion studies, reiterates its commitment to the electoral route. The leadership can change at once the ending of this film that repeats itself over and over again.
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