Perceptive as usual…

…Erica Stephan writes in to let me know I totally missed the point in my last entry…

From “Erica Stephan” Date Sat, 20 Dec 2003 9:03 PM

To “Francisco Toro”

Subject Re: Why am I blogging?

for the record, I don’t think your latest entry really addressed what for me is the key venezuelan question these days: Realistically, if an opposition candidate were elected president, would that regime be any better than Chavez’s as far as respecting the equality of all persons before the law? Would that regime treat “deposed” chavistas with scrupulous fairness, would it change the constitution – if it did so – respecting a truly democratic process, would it give substance to the Chavez-era programs to help the poor like schools and credit schemes rather than tossing them out as retrograde populism? Would it institute land reform that worked? If your answer is yes, you’ve got some convincing to do, since the dominant voices in the opposition seem – to my amateur eye at least – seem mostly interested in booting Chavez at any cost. And if your answer is no, why should people interested in democracy support a recall effort?

FT sez:

In a sense, of course you are right. I can’t guarantee that the post-Chavez era will come any closer to realizing the vision I set out than the pre-Chavez era. Certainly, any number of opposition dinosaurios give little room for hope. From Rafael Marin to Medina Gomez to Antonio Ledezma to Salas Romer himself, the opposition is full of “leaders” who don’t really seem to get it at all, in my view. So the uncomfortable bed-mates problem is a real one, of course it is.

However, for every Rafael Marin in the opposition we have a Teodoro Petkoff, for every Ledezma we have an Elias Santana, or a Jesus Torrealba, or an Andres Velasquez, or a Manuel Cova. The opposition obviously has something of a split personality, yes, but one side of that split is made up of people of impecable democratic credentials, of considered views, of a deep commitment to tolerance.

Other than Greg Wilpert, I challenge you or anyone else to come up with a corresponding list of Chavistas who are willing to stick their necks out for the basic principles of the rule of law and the republican form of government. It will be a short list, an exceedingly short list, for the simple reason that all those who at one point dared to question anything that Chavez has said or done – from Jorge Olavarria to Pablo Medina to Javier Elechiguerra – were all promptly kicked out of the chavista movement, banished for what amount to thought-crimes against the carismatic leader’s total control of his movement.

I do think that the opposition has changed, and continues to change and evolve. It’s been a steep learning curve. In April 2002, at the time of the coup, the movement was barely five months old. We had no historical guides, no rule-book, no pre-fabricated idea about how to proceed against a democratically elected autocrat. And we made lots of mistakes, all of us, in thinking that Chavez’s constant flouting of the constitution somehow excused us doing the same.

Two horrendous political train wrecks later, we’re the wiser for it. The coup and the 2002-2003 general strike were, everyone now understands, truly disastrous failures, not only of tactics but of principles. It has taken a lot of time and debate and internal wrangles and angry diatribes for the opposition to come to understand that you can’t protest the flouting of the law by flouting the law.

But today, the movement is closer to understanding that than it ever has been. The recall strategy in itself – scrupulously constitutional and carefully monitored by both sides, international observers, and CNE – is a powerful symbol in itself of this change in mentality. Teodoro Petkoff writes beautifully about this (Read Tal Cual, I beg you!) The fast-tracks and shortcuts and extraconstitutional hanky-panky strategies are really out of favor now, and the opposition’s new maturity has been demonstrated again and again in its handling of the flood of chavista provocations on the days preceeding, during, and following the signature gathering drive. My point is that people do change, and so do political movements. They evolve, they learn, slowly, collectively, they do learn. In my view, this is the single most heartening sign in Venezuelan politics today.

Can the movement backslide? Of course it can. Do I have a crystal ball that allows me to guarantee that it will do the things you ask of it? I don’t, and I can’t. All I can do is guarantee that if it does backslide, I will be lining up behind Teodoro and Manuel Cova and Andres Velasquez and Elias Santana and Chuo Torrealba to fight for the same principles that we have all been fighting for since we started looking at the world in political terms.

What the opposition offers is a possibility for moving forward, a chance to solve a 173 year old problem. Chavismo, through its actions, has demonstrated again and again that it cannot, will not, and does not want to cut the gordian knot of arbitrary state power. If, like me, you think that solving that problem is really the key to solving all the rest of Venezuela’s problems, then I think it’s imperative to support the opposition, this opposition, warts and all, all the while keeping the eye firmly on the ball, reiterating again and again the point of this entire exercise.

With the opposition, success is far from guaranteed. But with Chavez, failure is guaranteed.