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    Venezuelan flags. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 February 2018
The dialogue started by President Nicolas Maduro represents a key episode in Chavismo’s policy aimed at disarming incipient war.

On Jan. 31, a new and important stage of the political dialogue in the Dominican Republic between Chavismo and the Venezuelan opposition was achieved.

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The respective declarations indicated a preliminary agreement between the two sides in a highly complex context, but also talks on sensitive points involving the people designated as well as those most involved in each issue. The overall package discussed at this stage of the dialogue is an attempt to resolve the demands from each side so as to overcome, at least in the short term, the serious disturbances that have characterized Venezuelan politics over the last few months.

For Chavismo, despite its electoral victories and likely continuing dominance in that area, the dialogue with the discredited Democratic Unity Table, MUD, marks a fundamental new departure in the construction of political space and a period of political stability and peace at a time of external threats expressed materially in pressure and sanctions led politically from Washington, but allied with other heavy hitters on the Latin American scene, like the European Union.

For its part, the MUD has insisted on “seeking the conditions” for its return to electoral politics, the only politically viable alternative for that organization after its failures at subversive escalations and acts of sedition all through 2017. For the anti-Chavismo forces, that makes the dialogue something of a life-saver given that now there will soon be an election called by the National Constituent Assembly and that the inconsistent opposition refusal to participate in elections has delivered electoral defeats for the very same political forces that paradoxically claim to represent a majority.

Rough edges on the preliminary agreement

Jorge Rodríguez, the government spokesperson on the dialogue told Dominican Republic media that a preliminary agreement had been signed which would be submitted for review of some “minimum details.” The remark by Rodriguez suggests that the way forward to an agreement on “political coexistence” seems clear and well defined. However Rodriguez was careful not to mention publicly the critical points that have held up a definitive agreement until now. The current dialogue is ruled by consensus, based on the principle “everything agreed or no agreement.”

International accompaniment was composed of the host country represented by President Danilo Medina and the foreign ministries of Chile, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and also the former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. A notable absence has been the Mexican foreign ministry after their delegation decided to try and destroy the dialogue process by refusing to accept the decision of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly to call presidential elections prior to April 30. Mexico then withdrawing from talks, in contempt of Venezuela’s plenipotentiary assembly.

As he was leaving the talks, Jorge Rodriguez mentioned an important point, namely that Chavismo's political leadership say they have proof of the strong pressure exerted by the U.S. State Department on the opposition delegation to stop them reaching an agreement.

The U.S. government agenda, very clearly opposed to a political agreement in Venezuela, has entered a phase of heightened aggression probably leading to further sanctions against Venezuela now Rex Tillerson of the State Department and Mike Pompeo of the Central Intelligence Agency have established via various forums clear positions openly revealing the development of a policy to gradually strangle Venezuela politically and economically.

Their statements were preceded by Donald Trump’s remarks when, before his State of the Union address, he reduced his announcement of foreign policy towards Latin America to his enthusiasm for supporting financial sanctions against Venezuela and presenting them as an achievement. Marco Rubio, promoter of those sanctions in the U.S. Senate, also tried to destroy the dialogue process when he more or less declared at the start of 2018 that the result of the dialogue would have no effect on the sanctions policy already undertaken by the White House and the U.S. Congress.

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These antecedents suppose that one of the points of honor in the dialogue, the issue of sanctions, remains in doubt. Even so the possibility of a preliminary agreement between the two sides represents a tactical defeat for the Trump administration in the sense that, given the effects of the current interventionist agenda, the Venezuelan opposition are tacitly taking a public position ignoring the institutions, governments and political figures avidly insisting that dialogue with Chavismo implies “legitimating the dictatorship” as well as “recognizing the National Constituent Assembly.”

Incoherence from Julio Borges and shock among the anti-Chavistas

The opposition has to cope with the inertia of its own political sphere in the form of the hysterical representatives of anti-Chavista opinion overseas stoking diatribe inside Venezuela. Also the disenchantment of large swathes of opposition opinion among Venezuela’s population who think any talks between the MUD and the government represent domestication and submission to President Nicolas Maduro. As a result, facing the media, their spokesperson for the dialogue in Dominican Republic has had to be creative in his choice of words so as not to appear weak, although he did end up demonstrating his own contradictions.

Borges said “no preliminary agreement exists.” But he admitted the signing of a document reflecting various points of agreement based on the criterion “everything gets agreed or nothing does.”

President Danilo Medina announced that he has that document, making clear how far the talks have progressed.

The anti-Chavista reaction has been immediate. The most furious responses have come from those who see the talks as a capitulation by the MUD to Chavismo given the possibility that the agreement may be submitted to the National Constituent Assembly for approval. This is the case of María Corina Machado and the representatives of Popular Will who directly attack parties like Democratic Action, Justice First and A New Time for staying in the talks.

On the other hand, according to some opposition commentators, the apparent, at least so far, impossibility of the MUD imposing a majority in the Directorate of the National Electoral Council, CNE, makes transparent elections impossible. On that point, mistrust arises because the MUD continue making excuses for their electoral defeats by blaming the same referee that in other electoral contests has approved and validated opposition electoral victories in a transparent way.

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For the opposition in Venezuela, having to proceed against political rejection and denial of legitimacy from their own base can be seen as the tragic result of a clearly error-prone and unfocused leadership out of touch with the expectations they themselves created. For that reason they now have little room for political maneuver so as to be able to claim triumphant credit for any results from the dialogue, if it does finally result in complete agreement.

An uncertain outcome

Danilo Medina announced a new meeting in his country between the Chavismo representatives and the Venezuelan opposition on February 5th. The new session should see the final stage of the dialogue.

From the results so far, the dialogue started by Maduro represents a key episode in Chavismo’s policy aimed at disarming incipient war, a policy that has opened up space and time for political maneuver. These are fundamental elements in the “Chavez Way” of doing politics, coaxing the adversary onto home ground, gaining advantage by creating opportunities and options for maneuver, making political process prevail and insisting on dialogue.

Should the next few days see a firm agreement, the developing challenge will then be to ensure that as many people as possible respect and accompany it against other factors that most probably will continue to encourage moves towards creating warlike circumstances in Venezuela. It's no surprise that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson undertaken a tour of Latin American countries to increase pressure and break up the talks in favor of a new cycle of more aggressive economic sanctions.

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