Reports from Cuba: Maduro or Death

Dimas Castellanos from Havana via Diario de Cuba:

Maduro or Death

The electoral victory, from which el chavismo emerged victorious in 1999, represented an invaluable opportunity to diversify the economy and democratize Venezuela. With enormous wealth, popular support, and almost absolute power, Hugo Chávez chose to copy the Cuban model, which has led to a frustrating alternative: Maduro or Death.

What ensued was a massive exodus of capital, inability to pay its external debts, a decline in production and productivity, along with a growth in bureaucracy and public spending. The currency’s loss of value led to massive inflation, and an indiscriminate increase in the circulation of money, without productive support, meant that the minimum wage was insufficient to cover the cost of even basic needs. This decline in the economy and finances – beginning during the Chávez administration – worsened under that of Nicolás Maduro, who in 2014 had to dictate a “fair prices” law and implement a rationing “system.”

Among the causes of this collapse are administrative ineptitude, the nationalization of sectors of the economy, violence, repression, widespread corruption, the squandering of national resources, the scarcity of food and medicines and, in parallel, the dismantling of democracy.

An insistence on blaming external and internal agents for the crisis and inventing false solutions only aggravated the crisis, the most serious in Venezuela’s history, and the main cause for the defeat of el chavismo in the parliamentary elections of December 2015.

Dialogue and negotiating under the threat of violence

“Dialogue” and the recent National Constituent Assembly scheme (results of the path paved by Chavez, defined by using the vote to secure power, and then veering towards totalitarianism) are responses calculated to retain power.

Maduro is incapable of dialogue as a way of actually ascertaining the other party’s opinion, presenting one’s own, and exploring possible solutions to a conflict. He is averse to negotiations as a process entailing opportunities to exchange promises, make commitments and reach agreements – which he will not recognize as incompatible with violence. Hence, he has come up with an innovation: dialogue and negotiations under the threat of violence, to achieve “peace.” “Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward,” Maduro wrote in The New York Times.

The results were inevitable. His call for “dialogue” never could have succeeded based on these premises, as the other side is calling for general elections, the release of political prisoners, a humanitarian channel to send medicines and foods, the renewal of public authorities, and the disarming of groups armed by the Government.

In 2014 Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli asked Maduro to release opposition leader Leopoldo López if he wanted to engage in a national dialogue. And, once the dialogue commenced, the Executive Secretary of the Democratic Unity Forum, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, threatened not to continue because the same entity was in crisis. “And the Government is responsible for the crisis suffered. We talk about the issues, we get commitments, but there is no progress,” he said. Meanwhile, Maduro’s response was: “Let us oblige the opposition to talk, sooner rather than later. We’re going to have to oblige them in the best sense of the word.”

After that and other failures, on April 10, 2017 Maduro stated in Havana: “I have called for dialogue … and I continue to call for dialogue, there is no other way to achieve peace. The only way to achieve peace is through words, dialogue, sincere debate, reasoning, and the search for common ground.”

This very novel concept of dialogue, accompanied by violence, and his refusal to budge in any way, explains why, since February 12, the country has been consumed by a wave of protests producing dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries, and thousands of arrests.

Convinced of his “reasoning,” Maduro refuses to accept that his rejection of plurality is driving the country towards a civil war. As Hannah Arendt once explained, totalitarian ideology entails the firm conviction that it has determined the end towards which Nature or History is to evolve, an outcome associated with the establishment of social justice and harmony, such that the fulfillment of the movement’s aim can justify any action precisely the principle articulated by Nicholas Machiavelli.

The Constituent Assembly

Politics, as a forum for the administration of economic interests, is closely related to power. Although an effect of the economy, it has generated conflicts throughout history.

The extensive process of elections and plebiscites, in which Venezuelans learned to use democratic mechanisms, yielded an electoral division of approximately 40%-60%, for over 17 years, which legitimized both Chávez and the opposition. But electoral systems have rules, and they do not permit what Maduro expressed on the eve of the parliamentary elections of 2015, when he said that if he lost: “I will rule with the people via a civic military union.” That is, a minority will rule anyway, just as is currently the case.

Maduro, proud of the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999, never spoke of renewing it, because the people, in his own words, were in power. Until April 2017 he fought the opposition “with the Constitution in hand.” But now, in the midst of a deep crisis and with protests demanding his departure, he has decided that the people must “seize primordial power” because “they have left us no other alternative.”

Thus we have learned that the people were never really in power. On May 1, under this pretext, he called for a National Constituent Assembly to “reform the State and draft a new Constitution.”

Hoping for a rise in oil prices, to be better positioned for the upcoming elections (right now would be defeated), Maduro aims to distract the population and buy time, so he made no reference to the regional elections, which were not held at the end of 2016, nor the municipal elections of 2017.

His proposal is based on Article 347 of the current Constitution, but to be legitimate it needs to be endorsed in a referendum under the current Constitution, which states that the president, the National Assembly (with a two-thirds majority), the municipal cabildos (with a two-thirds majority) and 15% of the electors can propose the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly, but to confirm this convocation a referendum is necessary.

Maduro himself, erecting himself as a source of law, has announced that the assembly will be made up of 500 members, elected by the “vote of the people,” and that approximately half will be elected by the “working class” base, and the other half according to “a territorial system, of a municipal nature, in the communities.” In this way he places the creation of the Constitution in the hands of the communal councils and the great missions that el chavismo has promoted, where he enjoys a certain popularity.

As the country’s bureaucracy has gone from 1.2 million to 4 million officials, and there are another five million beneficiaries of el chavismo‘s missions, Maduro is banking on those nine million supporting his Constituent Assembly. If he pulls it off, he could:

  1. Dissolve the current National Assembly, currently in the hands of the opposition
  2. Terminate the Attorney General
  3. Remain in power —without the need for elections— at least for as long s the process lasts.

In this way he would avoid facing elections with 68% of the electorate against him, as is currently the case. The vaunted 1999 Constitution and Chavez’s Fifth Republic would be torpedoed, and Venezuelans would then have to choose between two evils: Maduro or death.