Talk about talking

As the government starts calling for dialogue, you may get a distinct feeling of déjà vu. After all, isn’t this the exact same thing Chávez did the last time he was looking at horrendous poll numbers?

This got me thinking: what exactly came of the circus that was the Mesa de Diálogo between the government, the OAS, and the opposition held back in the halcyon days of 2003 vintage hyperpolarization?

I bet our younger readers can’t even remember that far back. As the foggies among you will recall, getting the two warring factions to sit down and talk required the physical presence of then-OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria in Caracas for months on end.

The end-product of this “dialogue” – one from which, it must be said, Hugo Chávez was absent – were a series of grandly verbose, horrendously boring documents that, as all schoolchildren learn, changed Venezuelan history forever, were totally forgotten from pretty much the second their ink dried.

The two most significant ones were the unimpeachable “Declaration against Violence, for Peace and Democracy” (what, not puppies and bunnies too?) and the bombastically-named “Agreement Between the Representatives of the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and the Political and Social Factors that Support Them, and the Democratic Coordinator and the Political and Civil Society Organizations that Make it Up“, or ABRGBRVPSFSTDCPCSOMIU, as it is more commonly known.

These agreements, signed in the early days of 2003, included pledges to:

As you can see from the links, dialogue with chavismo usually results in smashing successes.

This is not to say, however, that we shouldn’t talk with the dictatorship. What it means is that we should do it knowing full well it’s a diversionary tactic, and realizing nothing will come of it.

The government now faces a similar situation as it did in 2003. It is deeply unpopular and has little room to maneuver. The only reason it needs to appear interested in talking is because it has no other choice. Talking about dialogue means newspapers, TV shows, and politicians will have less time to talk about other things such as crime, scarcity, or blackouts.

So my advice to the opposition is: play along. Don’t fall off message. Set your conditions. And don’t pretend like this is anything but theater.

H/T: Thanks to Iruña for maintaining the document database.

18 thoughts on “Talk about talking

  1. Excellent post! Obviously, each of the achievements of the earler dialogue amounted to nothing in practice.

    There is something perverse about limiting elected members of the National Assembly to ten minutes of speech, reducing their role in committee, and then asking for “dialogue” after you have commandeered all the space for talking.

    • Excellent post, Juan. I would say as usual: dialogue yes, but do it publicly.

      They can try to say then “ok, but then on the streets” and turn it into a thugs-threatening-others show where alternative forces are excluded from what constitutes “the people”.

      So we need to voice out very clear demands specially target to the real people and to the foreign world:
      1) we want public debates on the AN completely available to the outside world
      2) we want any other debates to be carried out by independent mediators but NOT BEHIND CLOSE DOORS. Real, open dialogue (i.e. debate) is para los que tienen cojones.
      Chavismo will try to back away from this. We should use this to our advantage.

    • Wonderful post Juan! It’s amazing how quickly some people can forget the lessons of historical events dating… 8 years ago! Thanks for reminding us.

      Btw, do you have a link to the new rules governin the AN? I confess I tried their website but was discouraged by all that red.

  2. As far as objectives are concerned, the cards are face up and on the table and have been for some time now.

    The “Revolution” is up to instituting Socialism: meaning screwing everybody who is not at least a lip-service Socialista (those will keep “property”, the rich ones like property by grace of the President, the poor ones like sharecroppers of a sort) big time; no control over your economic life is NO control over your life, period. And keeping Hugo Chavez forever in power. The “Revolution” claims that it does this for the poor and for everyone.

    The opposition is out, insofar as this is the objective of the “Revolution” and Hugo Chavez’s pretensions remain the same, to end his “administration” and “government”. Peacefully and democratically, if possible.

    There’s a diametrical difference in worldviews (see Revolution vs. government and administration) and in objectives.

    But if there should be a full recant and abjuration, it should be on the side meaning to screw everyone else, of such an objective. We are still expecting Hugo Chavez’s abjuration of Socialism, as understood by him and us.

  3. I think the time for talking has long passed. You cannot negotiate with communists, it´s time for action, so far so good, we got more votes than these pinkos in the last elections, we are heading in the right direction, for now…

    It´s like talking to RB Chavista, these guys have nothing to talk about other than attacking and denigrating whomever dares oppose their beloved comandante.

    IMHO, these guys are all gay, [Quote=Seinfeld]not that there is anything wrong with that…[/Quote]

    • We know Chavistas are lying.

      The point is to show it. We need to establish the rules of the game. We need to challenge them to a debate.

      Venezuelans have no real democratic tradition but the little 40 years of very dysfunctional democracy. They do not know what a debate is, a real debate. Let’s show them what we understand for debate and how it is done in democratic countries.

      The military have two possibilities: either to accept and be blamed or refuse it and be proven as cowards.

    • “The point is to show it. We need to establish the rules of the game. We need to challenge them to a debate.”

      You are dealing with a Dictator, no debate is possible, only HE sets the rules. IMHO we need to get our head out of the gutter, a “debate” as seen in first world countries is not possible in Chavezuela, however, I do concur that strategies such as responding immediatly via press conferences alá Ocariz might have certain effect.

      Look at what is happening in Bolivia, evidence is coming out in drives of their own “testigo estrella”, these people are cheaters, they are not democratic, they believe that they have the right to remain in power by all means possible, so forget about an organized debate. It´s very idealistic, but it ain´t gonna happen!

    • ElFeto,

      Understand this: I know the regime will lie, it will lie until the bitter end. The regime is NOT to be trusted. I know that. What I want to come to is the best strategy towards the voters we still haven’t got. We have about 52% of the votes nationwide. There is abstension of about 30%, lower in better-off areas, higher in worse-off areas.
      I don’t believe Chavistas will want a real dialogue but to cheat, to pretend, twist one’s words. The thing is how to show that and how to show Chávez is a big coward.

  4. This is a time for a carefully planned strategy to avoid becoming a pawn in a public relations offense! On the other hand, it is a time to appear to be cooperative and responsible.

    The public needs to look at who’s at the table and see which is the adult and which is the child!

    Hugo Chavez knows what he has to do and is very likely to get frustrated and angry when he doesn’t get what he wants… then he loses! Of course, what gets past the editors to the public is a different matter.

  5. Nicely done. It’s the high road stance, for one. Two, as Kepler says (and this post thoroughly demonstrates), Chavez calls for dialogue are farcical at best. Ocariz is calling his bluff.

    The Mesa de Dialogo? Definitely forgotten by most. I came to Venezuela back in 2003, and I don’t ever remember hearing about these agreements. Totally meaningless. Maybe they can get something similar out of this, though they’d be wise to wave it around in public now and again when Chavez forgets. I wonder why no one ever did that with these. But then, if he didn’t sign them (or speak the words on Alo Presidente), these aren’t official government policy, are they?

    • You don’t remember them, but it got a *ton* of coverage. Reams and reams of newspaper were allocated to tracking their every session, with people pinning their hopes on its outcome.

      In the end, it was all one big, fat, red, very red herring. Rojo, rojito. A monstrous diversionary tactic if I ever saw one. And it worked out perfectly.

    • JC, I actually arrived a bit later in the year, so I missed the media coverage of the moment. I’m saying that, just a few months later, I don’t remember anybody talking about those – confirming your statement in the post. Not even to throw them in the face of those who negotiated them in “good faith.”

  6. It may be my optimism, or a good diet; but it seems that opposition members of the Asamblea and local goverments are not buying the guy’s empty calls to civility anb rushing to the photo-op. Just as an example, María Corina Machado said clearly, on camera for La Voz de América, that the special powers were only valid until 4 January.
    Perhaps it is just futile, and politics is not coming back; but it may also be one of a thousand cuts…

  7. And Juan, let’s talk about those who participated in the mesa de dialogo…

    one is dead
    one is in exile
    one has lost a big chunk of his business
    and the other 3 have become sort of irrelevant.

    from the chavista side they did fare much better…. imagine that!

  8. Yet we seem to miss an important point in this cutthroat game (or zero-sum game) that Venezuelan politics has become.

    We are talking in front of an audience. We are talking to the voters. We are past talking to Hugo Chavez. And we should be talking past Hugo Chavez.

    And so has been Hugo Chavez, but for far all his political life. He does not talk to the opposition. Period. He baits, he provokes, but he is just not talking to us. He just felt the wind change. He noticed that Venezuelans seem tired of conflict and is trying to steal the stage again. While hoping that the wind changes again.

    Debate and negotiation in good faith might be a way to have sides reconcile their differences and make common plans. Debate in other situations, still has an audience. And you win by winning the audience over, not by convincing your adversary. Specially when his intention is clearly to do you away.

    Like Ocariz and the other mayors. Force them down to real life issues that matter to the audience. Force them to face their own failures. Ask about the resources not handed over. Steer away from ill-defined ideology and collaboration with failed States, and all the traveling with fellow dictators. If anything, these will be used to show how scarce and needed resources are squandered.

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