Venezuela’s Disloyal Opposition Serves the Bush Administration’s Narrow Ideological Interests, but Hardly Those of its Own Nation

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In an arrant display of rank political opportunism, Venezuela’s faltering middle-class opposition parties have announced that they would boycott the December 4 legislative elections. Far from a principled and high minded move, this tawdry tactic represents a cynical decision on the part of the opposition to spare itself the inconvenience of once again having to face the humiliating defeat that they surely would have experienced at the polls. The opposition’s tactic is more in line with a Tom Delay or Karl Rove ruse than something of Jeffersonian stature.

While trumpeting claims about Venezuela’s ebbing democracy, the opposition has proven itself to be far more guilty of eroding the country’s democratic structures than any grab for power by the chavistas. In essence, the opposition is prepared to sacrifice the nation’s democratic system to serve its immediate objective of ousting the government by any means, on the false grounds that the authorities cannot guarantee free and fair elections. Every election that has been held in Venezuela since Chávez came to power has been extensively monitored, and even the U.S. State Department has been forced to grudgingly validate the authenticity of past results, as their legitimacy was unimpeachable.

Justifying the Unjustified
The opposition parties, led by Acción Democratica (AD), Proyecto Venezuela and Copei (Christian Democrats), at first based their protests on concerns over the use of an electronic voting system, which they claimed would make it possible for election officials to obtain the identities of opposition voters. After their complaints succeeded in convincing the national electoral council (CNE) to refrain from implementing a fingerprinting system, the opposition parties subsequently declared that the removal of the fingerprint scanners was insufficient and that the CNE could not be trusted: in essence the opposition is crying fraud before a single vote has been cast. Under these rules, the Democrats would have been justified in dropping out of the 2000 U.S. presidential election after their candidate, Al Gore, had assumed that the Bush campaign would be stealing the election before that ballot was even staged.

By choosing this truly undignified and undemocratic tactic, the Venezuelan opposition has only weakened its position in the eyes of the world. Had it participated in the election, and succeeding in documenting fraud (an unlikely scenario), it would have been able to make legitimate claims. But by refusing even symbolic participation, the opposition has chosen to court Washington alone, rather than convince the international community of its democratic bonafides. In fact, the opposition has taken this drastic move because it lacks any hope that it could prevent itself from going down before a chavista landslide victory.

Unfortunately for the opposition’s political prospects, the current premium price of oil has afforded Chávez the opportunity to win the overwhelming loyalty of Venezuela’s poor – who make up more than half of the country’s population – through meaningful programs which advanced social justice. The progress that he has made with initiatives focusing on health, nutrition, housing and sports have only widened his political success. The opposition on the other hand, despite its control of most of the major media, has remained on the sideline, more interested in beseeching their Washington backers to somehow intervene in Venezuela’s affair, than wholeheartedly participating in Venezuelan democratic procedures. In the decision to boycott the elections rather than face the embarrassment of a crushing defeat, the opposition has proven itself, in the British sense of the phrase, to be the disloyal rather than “the loyal opposition,” ready to pick up its marbles and leave the game once it could be clearly seen that the vote would go against them.

Their tactic is not a thoughtless one, even though it is likely to risk having the dangerous side effect of providing Chávez-bashing U.S. policymakers a club to wield against their Venezuelan nemesis, much as they used the opposition’s refusal to participate in Haiti’s electoral process to justify the ouster of another constitutional leader, Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Washington Likely to Find the Opposition’s Fake Rationale Irresistible
Washington is almost certain to see little reason to resist simply parroting the opposition’s specious accusations of democratic deterioration in the country and the impossibility of free elections occurring, without presenting any evidence to support that claim – just as they have been unable to substantiate their cries that Chávez is “destabilizing” Latin America or engaging in human trafficking to the U.S. The Bush administration’s latest cabal will have the net effect of only further tarnishing the Bush administration’s reputation in the region, as Latin America is not likely to buy the White House’s hollow lamentations over an alleged flawed electoral process in Venezuela. As a result, U.S. policy is destined to slip even farther away from comprehending reality when it comes to serving the authentic interests of this country both at home and abroad.