Pacts and Polarization in Venezuela

By Buxton, Julia | Ibero-americana, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Pacts and Polarization in Venezuela


Buxton, Julia, Ibero-americana


I. INTRODUCTION: POLARIZATION AND PACTS

Venezuela was the focus of intense media interest and diplomatic activity after a failed attempt by civilian and military opponents of President Hugo Chávez to remove him from office in April 2002. The picture presented and the framework assumed in international mediation efforts, was one of polarization between the government and the opposition.' This oversimplified the nature of the pro- and anti-Chavez forces. Within the ruling Polo Patriotico (PP) coalition that comprised Chávez's Movimiento Quinta República (MVR) and rump factions of the Patria Para Todos (PPT) and Movimiento a Socialismo (MAS) parties, there existed ideological and partisan tensions relating to the meaning of Chávez's 'Bolivarian Revolution' and the appropriate strategies for achieving it. This divide did not exist between the parties, but within the three separate organizations. There were further differences over the distribution of power and influence between the coalition members and a major additional schism within MVR existed between its military and civilian components. Fragmentation was more pronounced within the antigovernment opposition. This comprised a diversity of ideological and organizational forms. It included the traditionally dominant parties, Action Democrática (AD) and Christian democrat COPEI, new parties that emerged in the 1990s, including Proyecto Venezuela (PVZL) and Primera Justicia (PJ), and organizations established by former Chávez supporters such as Solidaridad and Union. 'Virtual' organizations on the Internet, like LideRed fell under the opposition umbrella, as did single issue lobby groups and those representing sectoral interests such as the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) and the main business associations, Fedecámaras and Consecomercio. Military opposition to Chávez gained organizational form through the Frente Institutional Militar and the Junta Patriotica Militar. A variety of non-governmental organizations including Queremos Elegir, Sumate and Pro Venezuela formed part of the anti-government movement, as did the private sector media, managers of the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and individual, elite interests. Even the Roman Catholic Church counted among the ranks of the anti-Chavistas.

The opposition was replete with contradictory tendencies but can be broken down into two factions, moderates and radicals. Moderates cohered in the umbrella group Coordinadora Democratica and were constitutional in approach. They pushed for a referendum on the executive or the convening of fresh elections. Radicals, who acted within the CD and the smaller Bloque Democrático sought the immediate termination of the government through the resignation of the president or a military intervention against him. The nature of the post Chávez arrangements were weakly articulated by the opposition because the topic was divisive. Some elements wanted a return to the status quo ante of control by the traditionally dominant parties AD and COPEl, which was an anathema to others. The CTV and Fedecamaras sought the restoration of the corporatist and clientelist structures that had been institutionalized under AD and COPEI, while PJ, PVZL and PDVSA managers advocated a neo-liberal future.

These divisions rendered the opposition and the government weak and unstable. Exacerbating this, both groups were dominated by personalities. This was a sharp break with the history of institutionalized political organization in the country. However these organizational weaknesses were subsumed by the urgent need for unity on the 'basics'; either that the administration was legitimate and needed to be defended, or that it was illegitimate and had to be removed. As a result, no moderate centre ground emerged, radicals in both camps assumed leadership and group 'location' in the post 1998 electoral landscape was defined simply as support for or opposition to the government. …

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