Sunday, January 23, 2005

Transparency first

I've been reflecting on my time spent in Venezuela and feel that the despondency prevalent at the beginning of my stay (November/December) is slowly lifting, with the government's unwitting help. Its recent blunders and scandals provide fabulous opportunities for the opposition to regroup -- this is what I am most curious and most anxious to see. Perhaps tomorrow's march in Caracas will be the beginning of the process.

I've also spent a lot of time thinking about how a democratic opposition could or should go about helping the Chávez regime dismantle itself. I think there are quite a lot of things that can be done, and they all have to do with transparency and communication. This should actually be the terrain of the political opposition, but is instead done primarily by bloggers. In this sense, their role is of the utmost importance.

The opposition needs to make use of the opportunity offered by transparency. One of its greatest weaknesses is that it is continuously on the defensive, allowing Chávez to take all important initiatives and permitting him to frame the terms of the national debate. One has to admit that he is masterful at this: the way he has split society and created completely new divisions has been all to his benefit. The opposition needs to turn the situation around and find ways to place Chávez on his back foot. Take the initiative and force him to react instead of the other way around.

Here's my recommendation to the opposition: use the concept of framing. Employ linguistics (i.e., use of the right terms and expressions) to show how Chávez is bad for the country and bad for its citizens. Above all, exploit the regime's blunders for all they are worth. Shine the light of transparency on the endless scandals, corruption and unkept promises, and never let up. Repeat it a thousand times if necessary. Take the Chávez administration to task for each street child left abandoned, each terrorist offered a safe harbour, for the money disappearing from public and private institutions, for the rubbish in Caracas, for the fact that Vargas is still a mess, for the endless violations of Chávez's own made-to-measure laws.

There is an endlessly bubbling fountain of material there for the opposition to make use of, and it never once has to invent anything -- just use what is on offer. It should demand transparency -- nothing more, nothing less. This is a playing field on which I can't see Chávez winning. Transparency is something he wants to have nothing to do with: if he denies it, he loses support. If he grants it, he also loses support. The opposition wins either way. The opposition should be scrupulously transparent about its internal workings (finances, meetings, decisions) and demand the same from the government.

It should use powerful imagery such as that of clear water or purifying fire as its symbols. When protesting, instead of banging pots and pans, citizens could carry candles at night -- to show that they want the darkness to lift. During the day, wear white clothing (colour of purity) and carry a glass of water -- anything that is transparent. Also, while maintaining the highest respect for Simon Bolívar, make it clear that we are living in the 21st century, not the 19th. Let the opposition take the lead towards the future and progress, and show that Chávez's view is backward looking, towards the past (not only Bolívar -- also Marxism, communism, Castro...).

Finally, the opposition needs to offer a credible alternative to Chávez's ideas of state and governance -- a concept based on freedom, transparency (which goes along with accountability), and wealth creation. Chávez is weak on all three fronts. Show a future that is better and brighter than that represented by Chávez, which can be seen real-time and in 3D in Cuba. And finally: ensure that the message gets through consistently to all parts of society, to the hard-core opposition as much as to the die-hard Chávez supporters. Democracy is about inclusion, not exclusion as practised by Chávez.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your reflections are truly valid.
They are true, the oposition shoud take advantage of the mistakes the crazy man makes every day, they should take advantage of the corrupt image of all the people he surrounds himself with.
Also the myriad of unfulfilled promises to the people.
But I have to tell you something that has made me give up all together:
I am Venezuelan, though not living in the country.
I know the Venezuelan mind.
I know how they think, how they act and how they respond.
And it is sad for me to say this, and believe me, I am a very positive person, the median venezuelan will let this regime take over, run him over and let the country go to hell altogether.
Why am I saying this?
Sounds pretty dramatic and negative.
But the venezuelan is lazy, always looking for the chance to hit gold to achieve something.
If you are lucky to be smart and have a business and make some progress in your life, the venezuelan would be envious and jealous and will always make derogatory comments on how you got where you are.
I love my country, but true is true and the oposition just seems to me that has decided to get the tail between the legs and wait till someone has the guts to finish it all.
Then, you will see the rivers of people who supported him go out in the streets and claim they were tired too.
A few years ago i went to venezuela with my wife, (she is not venezuelan) and there were people forming incredibly long lines on a given caracas morning, she asked me what were they doing there. I didn't know, so i asked the taxi driver, he told me that they were on the line to cash the welfare check the government was giving to people of low income brackets.
They waited every 15 days for the precious check and ran to the nearby stores to cash the checks and get everything from new outfits to expensive Nike shoes.
Job? he told me, who needs a job when the government gives you moolah?
I could spend hours telling you how the typical venezuelan is and why chavez will stay in power and threaten the world with WW3, I am not kidding, since China is a serious bidder in the oil trade and would not tolerate a USA-driven invasion.
chavez has been a threat ever since he failed that coup against Perez, he may mean the beginning of the end of Venezuela as we knew it.
Please, believe me, I am no a pesimist.
Only an observer, a worried one.
Thank you for your blog.

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