Monday, July 16, 2018

My book review of Jeffery R. Webber’s “The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same"

The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left, by Jeffery R. Webber. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017.  Paper. Pp. 327. 
Published in Science and Society, July 2018 issue

Over the recent past, Jeffery Webber has been one of the most prolific leftist critics of so-called Pink Tide governments in twenty-first century Latin America. This book, which consists mostly of adopted versions of previously published journal articles, is strong on both theory and empirical content. In his analysis of contemporary Latin American politics, Webber draws on various theoretical concepts and writings while pointing to their main shortcoming, namely their failure to use an effective class-based framework.
One theoretical formulation used by Webber is the concept of “passive revolution,” originally developed by Gramsci to refer to revolutionary transformations from above that lacked input from the popular sectors. Italian-Mexican social scientist Massimo Modonesi has applied the concept to the Pink Tide phenomenon to demonstrate how progressive government leaders bypassed the social movements that brought them to power and ended up forming alliances with elite sectors. Along these lines, Webber argues that the initial social thrust of the Pink Tide movements was “contained” (166) as the government made efforts to demobilize social movements, particularly after 2012 when the economic collapse of 2008 reached Latin America in a big way. Pink Tide governments “fully or partially co-opted” social movement activists and employed “clientelistic arrangements,” while charismatic leaderships reinforced the “pacifying and delegative characteristics of these passive revolutions” (167).  
A second school of thinking that informs Webber’s analysis is the thesis of neo-extractivism. According to this line of thinking, twenty-first century Latin American nations including those governed by progressives have reverted to the type of dependent relationships with developed nations characteristic of the first half of the twentieth century. Their economies center on the export of soy beans, hydrocarbons, minerals and other primary commodities “within the evolving international division of labor” (102). The negative consequences of this “re-primarization of Latin American economies” (288) include massive ecological devastation and economic and political instability generated by sharp international market fluctuations. Another result is the decline in industrial production, though some who write along these lines (and who refer to the trend as “commodities consensus”) “exaggerate[s] the extent of the decline” (288). 
Webber attempts to fill what he perceives to be a major gap in the writings of Modonesi as well the neo-extractivism school by providing a class analysis to explain the movement of Pink Tide governments toward the political center. Webber informs the reader, however, that his aim is not to correct the class shortcomings of Modonesi’s interpretation of passive revolution by “returning to any crude economic reductionism or determinism” (168). In response to Modonesi and others, Webber analyzes the class underpinnings of the government of Bolivia – the nation he is most familiar with. Webber points out that once Evo Morales consolidated support by gaining ratification of the new constitution and re-election as president in 2009, he reached an agreement with the economic elite of Santa Cruz, the country’s most prosperous region. Webber claims that “at the epicenter of the governance formula underpinning” the Morales presidency is an alliance between agro-industrial interests of the extended Santa Cruz region and transnational capital in hydrocarbons and mining, on the one hand, and “an incipient indigenous bourgeoisie  in cooperative mining, commercial trading, contraband and narcotics,” on the other (177). 
Chapter eight on Venezuela consists of a critical review of George Ciccariello-Maher’s book We Created Chávez, which can be classified as a people’s history of the Chávez phenomenon. Webber calls Ciccariello-Maher “a scholar-activist formed in the anarchist tradition, broadly conceived” (239) and credits We Created Chávez as being “the single most important book available in English advancing an explicitly anticapitalist framework for understanding… the rise of Hugo Chávez” (241). The underlying thesis of Ciccariello-Maher’s book is that “the people, as a collective protagonist in Venezuela, has been forged through shared experiences of conflict in recent decades” (244). For Webber, however, the concept of “the people” is nothing other than “a way around the identification of any singular revolutionary subject” (245). Webber is equally critical of Ciccariello-Maher’s privileging of the “quasi-lumpen barrio dweller” – largely those belong to the informal economy – who is uniquely capable of grasping “the totality of Venezuela’s lumpen-capitalism” (as quoted on page 268). Webber gives much greater weight to workers in strategic sectors (such as tin miners in the case of Bolivia) “with their ability to shut down the country’s principal source of foreign exchange” (265). 
Webber also takes issue with Ciccariello-Maher’s concept of “dual power” in which alternative power partly consists of “the condensation of popular power from below into a radical pole” that serves as a “fulcrum to radically transform and deconstruct” the old state (as quoted on page 246). This view of dual power in Venezuela, undoubtedly borrowed from the writings of Nicos Poulantzas, underestimates according to Webber the urgency of a definitive rupture or revolution. Webber adds that Ciccariello-Maher conceptualizes “the capitalist state as more malleable than it is” (251). 
Webber is not only a harsh critic of Pink Tide governments, but also of those analysts on the left who underscore their positive features. Webber labels some of these writers “social democrats” and claims they never really supported revolutionary change and thus consider the Pink Tide “move toward the center of the political spectrum… as merely an adaptation to reality” (274). Other analysts uphold a “statist vision of socialist transition” and view the “growing tension between social movements and left governments” as nothing more than “creative and revolutionary impulses” (274) which actually contribute to the process of change. Webber places Bolivian vice-president Alvaro García Linera as well as Marta Harnecker, Atilio Borón and Emir Sader in this second, not particularly favorable, category.
Webber overstates his case for denying the progressive character of the Pink Tide phenomenon. Scattered throughout the book are acknowledgements of certain positive features of these governments: reduction of inequality, modest redistribution of wealth, social policy based on the principle of universalism, incorporation of social movement activists and other progressives in important government positions, avoidance of the “extreme violence of paramilitary dispossession associated with intensified extractivism in right-ruled countries” (95), higher royalty and taxes on extractive activities, reversal of the privatization trend of the previous neoliberal period, “legalization of indigenous territories” (234) in the case of Bolivia, and “important but strictly limited structural transformations” (295). In addition, Webber fails to cover the foreign policy of Pink Tide governments which challenged U.S. hegemony to a degree unmatched in the history of the continent. These developments, as well as the undeniable war declared on progressive governments by powerful national and international actors would appear to contradict Webber’s tendency at times to put progressive governments in the same sack as the political right. Thus Webber writes that Lula’s Workers Party and the Brazilian right “have more in common than is commonly recognized” (63). Notwithstanding these shortcomings, overstatements and omissions, the merits of Webber’s book are undeniable. In it, he presents cogent arguments in a cohesive way, and backs them up with a wealth of empirical evidence.
                                                                                                            STEVE ELLNER

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

López Obrador’s Moment

Article posted by NACLA: Report on the Americas on July 3, 2018

Lede: It took Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) 12 years to become president-elect of Mexico, making history for Mexico’s Left as his party’s coalition also achieves a legislative majority. But the struggle has just begun.

by Steve Ellner

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s sweeping victory in Mexico’s July 1 general elections came as no surprise, but the absolute majority won by his MORENA party and its allies in the congressional contests was hardly a foregone conclusion. López Obrador (or AMLO as he is known) pulled in 53 percent of the popular vote.[1] The candidates for the two parties that have governed Mexico over the recent past, the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), received 23 and 16 percent respectively. AMLO’s win on Sunday contrasts with his presidential bids in 2006 and 2012 when his competitors barely eked out dubious wins over him. 

Shortly after midnight on July 2, AMLO delivered a victory speech that made clear his number one priority would be combating poverty: “For the benefit of everyone, the poor come first,” he declared.[2] At the same time, he suggested that his government would avoid clashes with economic and possibly political elites. Along these lines, he recognized the “professionalism” exhibited by the communications media during the 2018 electoral campaign, which he contrasted with what he called the media’s “transmissions for a dirty war” during the two previous elections. Similarly, he contrasted Peña Nieto’s democratic behavior in the 2018 elections with that of the national executive in past electoral contests. 

AMLO’s cordial words for his adversaries on July 2 have two readings. On the one hand, they reflect his more moderate tone, particularly displayed in the latter months of the campaign. On the other, his complimentary remarks about the media and Peña Nieto may reflect the fact that elite groups put up less resistance to his candidacy this time around precisely because they perceived that he represents less of a threat to their interests. 
Sunday’s results also reflect the crescendo of discontent during the current presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto and toward Mexico’s political status quo represented by both PRI and PAN. Various scandals have exposed Peña Nieto’s unethical behavior and deficient leadership, as the nation has experienced a surge in violence and a sluggish economy. Between January 2015 and March 2018 homicide rates nearly doubled. The sharp increase in the imports of such an emblematic product as corn over the last two decades is a graphic indication of the nation’s economic ills, as well as the downside of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for Mexico.      
The results of the congressional elections are particularly important in predicting AMLO’s governance strategies going forward. Many elites have feared that an AMLO presidency would impose top-down revolutionary change. During the campaign, AMLO attempted to assuage these concerns by pledging to obtain majority legislative approval for all major decisions at the same time that he ruled out governing by decree.  After two thwarted bids for the presidency and given the young age of his party, it seemed unlikely that MORENA could take control of both chambers of congress. They were wrong. 
By the latter months of the campaign, the groundswell of support for AMLO’s candidacy began to indicate that MORENA had a real shot at winning a majority in congress. The reaction of capital was panicked and predictable. In May, Mexico's benchmark stock index plummeted 7.6 percent, representing the biggest monthly decline in nearly a decade. As Jorge Mariscal of Switzerland-based UBS Wealth Management explained to NBC, “there was an expectation that he would win, but that he would have a check from other parties in congress.”
With such concerns undoubtedly in mind, on June 5, AMLO met behind closed doors with top businesspeople in an attempt to—in his words—“smooth over differences.” [1] Attendees included billionaire Germán Larrea, the CEO of Mexico’s largest mining company “Grupo Mexico,” who had called on employees to vote against the “populist” candidate, claiming that if he won, their jobs would be in danger. A union spokesman of the famed Cananea mines in northern Mexico lashed out at Larrea for his “threatening stance” and called on the electoral commission to investigate the intimidation which violates the nation’s constitution. The extended list of Mexico’s leading capitalists who question AMLO’s democratic credentials includes Carlos Slim, the world’s seventh richest person, according to Forbes. AMLO described the meeting as “constructive.”
During the campaign, AMLO appointed some figures from outside MORENA’s main cadre as leading advisors in specific areas of policy making, as part of an effort to win over or neutralize members of the business community, at least for the time being. It seems to have succeeded. In an attempt to define vague aspects of AMLO’s program particularly in the area of economic policy, these spokespeople formulated positions that were more moderate than what AMLO had previously embraced. 
One key advisor and coordinator of AMLO’s governing program was the agro-industrialist Alfonso Romo, who is now slated to be the president-elect’s cabinet chief. Romo formerly had ties with Opus Dei and supported PRI and PAN governments. Romo assured that AMLO was receptive to the critical positions of the non-MORENA advisors, adding, “we are all changing, and are all learning.” Romo referred specifically to two polemical issues: AMLO’s previous pledges to reverse the privatization of the oil industry and to halt construction of Mexico City’s $13 billion airport, which he considered a waste of resources. But advisors like Romo left open the possibility that as president AMLO would build on both Peña Nieto initiatives, rather than rescind them. In both cases, the administration would thoroughly examine existing contracts to root out corruption. But, as Romo said, “if there is no stain of corruption, the bidding process will continue.” In response, the famed leftist writer and fervent MORENA militant Paco Ignacio Taibo II pointed out that Romo’s position conflicted with the party’s stance on privatization, and asked: “In whose name is Romo speaking?” 
Similarly, AMLO chose Alfonso Durazo, who had previously served in both PRI and PAN governments, to head the area of citizen security. During his campaign, AMLO proposed to grant amnesty to those outside of the law if they promised to avoid future criminal activity. Durazo ruled out blanket amnesty for violent crimes, and assured that key decisions would only be made on the basis of congressional approval and a national debate. He also pointed out that an AMLO government would honor Mexico’s obligations regarding crimes such as kidnapping, acquired as a result of international treaties. Finally, Durazo promised that all measures along these lines would involve consultation from the relatives of victims of drug violence. Durazo’s qualifications might come into conflict with alternative efforts to reduce crime and violence—AMLO recently expressed his approval for a Catholic bishop’s initiative to negotiate with drug kingpins in Guerrero in order to reduce violence.
AMLO’s amnesty proposal was a logical response to failed militarized efforts to combat violence associated with drug activity in Mexico. The administration of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched the country’s drug war, helped along with U.S. funding as part of a program known as the Mérida Initiative beginning in 2007. The Initiative increased funding and equipment for Mexican armed forces and police, and involved bringing Mexican military forces into everyday policing operations. This led to increases in human rights abuses and violence by the armed forces as well as by the drug cartels, as its membership splintered, vied for power, and diversified their income streams. AMLO has advocated a reorientation of government efforts toward focusing more on domestic crime and less on international drug trafficking. His central argument is that the virtual state of civil war in various regions of the country warrants a drastic change in strategy.  
Foreign policy is the area where a break with the recent past seems most certain. AMLO’s future Secretary of Foreign Relations, Héctor Vasconcelos (son of José Vasconcelos, an iconic figure of the Mexican Revolution) has promised to uphold “the historic principles of Mexico’s foreign policy,” meaning it will maintain normal relations with nations that Washington attempts to isolate. Over the last two decades, the Mexican government has abandoned that policy, first with regard to Cuba and more recently Venezuela. Vasconcelos also suggests that Mexico reconsider the participation of Mexican soldiers in UN-sponsored peacekeeping missions, an activity which Peña Nieto expanded in order to—according to political scientist Rafael de la Garza Talavera—“reinforce his image as a winner among fellow countrymen and international public opinion.” 
When it comes to Venezuela, even while Valsconcelos pledges not to criticize that nation’s “internal matters,” AMLO has called for the liberation of opposition leader Leopoldo López. Even so, AMLO’s foreign policy has the Washington establishment and its allies worried. Miami Herald columnist Andrés Openheimer has expressed concern that AMLO’s foreign policy will signify a setback for Venezuelan democracy as the Lima Group, which serves as a forum to condemn the Venezuelan government, will possibly lose “one of its biggest and most active members.” 
During the 2018 presidential campaign, AMLO softened his criticism of NAFTA.[3] In June, AMLO joined the two other main presidential candidates along with Peña Nieto in rejecting Trump’s threat to negotiate separate treaties with Canada and Mexico as well as the tariffs Washington placed on steel and aluminum imports. Nevertheless, his position on NAFTA remains critical. AMLO has stated that he prefers to leave NAFTA rather than accept a worse deal,[4] but in any case he stands by the idea that the government should stimulate national production to reduce its dependence on U.S. products[5]. He has also suggested that his government would include the issues of immigration and the construction of a border wall in the negotiations over NAFTA. 
Some Mexican leftists have criticized AMLO, MORENA and its predecessor party for having watered down or abandoned previous leftist positions. According to the leftist critique, in the 1980s, when a group led by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas split from the PRI and eventually created the left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), it absorbed a spectrum of left organizations as well as former communists and socialists. In the process, it deprived the nation of an anti-system point of reference, in effect, signifying the death of the left in Mexico. AMLO led the PRD until he left the party to found MORENA after a series of corruption scandals tainted the organization. The far-left, such as the Trotskyist party Izquierda Revolucionaria (IR), has criticized MORENA for its alliances with less militant organizations and individuals “subordinating all of the party’s actions to electoral campaigns.”[2] Nevertheless, the IR calls on its members to work within MORENA and provide AMLO critical support. 
Most MORENA militants who consider themselves on the left support AMLO despite reservations, as I wrote in NACLA’s summer issue this year. Jorge Veraza, a foremost Mexican scholar of Marxism, told me, “members of MORENA’s leftist current generally feel that López Obrador’s time to govern has come; they hail his courage for having rejected the efforts of PRI and PAN to create a ‘national consensus’ as a cover for advancing a neoliberal agenda.”  
The conservative ascendancy throughout the world and the setbacks suffered by Pink Tide governments in the region have undoubtedly influenced AMLO to tone down his rhetoric and modify stands in order to become a viable candidate in Mexico. It is precisely for this reason that the significance of AMLO’s triumph cannot be underestimated as it contrasts so markedly with electoral trends elsewhere. Although AMLO is unlikely to undo the neoliberal reforms that found maximum expression in the Peña Nieto administration, his proposals point to potentially far-reaching changes. For instance, the annulment of contracts with multinational oil firms (or construction companies working on the Mexico City airport) that violate national legislation and interests or contain elements of fraud clashes with what neoliberal apologists consider to be the sacred rights of private capital. Furthermore, AMLO’s refusal to endorse the international condemnation of the governments of Venezuela and Cuba goes a long way toward discrediting the interventionism promoted by the Trump administration. AMLO’s amnesty proposal and support for scaling back or eliminating the Mérida Initiative also represent an assertion of national sovereignty which distances Mexico from the colossus to the north. 
While some leftists pejoratively characterize AMLO as a “social democrat” or “center-leftist,” those on the opposite side of the political spectrum consider his program to be obsolete. Former leftist Jorge Castañeda, a campaign coordinator for presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya, has critiqued AMLO because “López Obrador believes in outdated nationalism, outdated statism, archaic protectionism and archaic subsidies in all spheres.” Nevertheless, context is everything. Since the fall of the right-wing dictatorships in South America in the 1980s, no particular economic model has proved successful in the region. In a world dominated by neoliberals and right wingers, AMLO’s election provides hope and opportunities for progressives in Mexico and elsewhere.
At the same time, AMLO’s effort to convince powerful elite interests that he does not represent a systemic threat faces limits. As we’ve seen in Brazil and other Pink Tide governments, many of those who defend the established order will promote destabilization and regime change as soon as leftist governments confront serious economic difficulties and an erosion of political support. The only effective response is mobilization of the popular sectors, which a government that reneges on promises of popular and nationalistic reform and change will not be able to count on. 
The majority vote achieved by AMLO and the MORENA coalition on July 1 will facilitate actions in favor of much needed change for Mexico. The pro-establishment discourse, however, now points out that Mexico’s federal system requires a majority at the state level – which the MORENA coalition lacks —to be able to enact far-reaching legislation. Congressional control will certainly help, but will not guarantee that AMLO can fulfill the expectations he’s built for the Mexicans who put their faith in him on July 1. 
Steve Ellner has been a NACLA contributor since the late 1980s. His most recent article, “Implications of Marxist State Theory and How They Play Out in Venezuela” appeared in the journal Historical Materialism. He is the editor of the Latin American Perspectives issue “Latin America’s Progressive Governments: Separating Socio-Economic Breakthroughs and Shortcomings,” slated for January 2019.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Presentada en el Primer Encuentro de Trabajo de la Comisión Presidencial de Asesoría Económica reunido en Caracas, el 14-16 de junio de 2018
Steve Ellner 

1. Lo siguiente es una propuesta concreta para aliviar la crisis económica actual. Para empezar, en mi
opinión hay que tener mucho cuidado con una liberación de precios que no sea gradual. Estoy de acuerdo que la modificación o eliminación del régimen de control de cambio y precios que existe en la actualidad es necesaria. Pero la cuestión fundamental es la factibilidad de cualquier modificación desde el punto de vista político y social.
2. Los acontecimientos actuales en Nicaragua, y la experiencia de Brasil demuestran lo delicado que es para un gobierno de izquierda implementar políticas no populares ya que en ambos casos la derecha se aprovecho al máximo. En el caso de Brasil se trataba de un simple aumentó de los precios de transporte público en Sao Paulo en 2013, que fue rechazado por las clases populares; solamente después los grupos de la derecha infiltraron las protestas y crearon las condiciones que condujeron a la destitución de Dilma, o mejor dicho el golpe del estado.
3. Recomiendo que el primer paso de sincerar el régimen de precios, sea solamente en un sector, pero que sea un sector de muchísima importancia desde el punto de vista económico, y eso es el caso de la gasolina. El precio regalado de gasolina se presta al contrabando masivo de ese producto hacia Colombia y también su uso no racional. Mi propuesta es que los precios de gasolina sean fijados y aumentados en función de los costos de producción. Específicamente propongo que los precios de gasolina sean 25 por ciento menor que el costo de producción y que haya un ajuste de precios cada dos meses en base al aumento del costo de producción. 
4. Tenemos que anticipar que la derecha, y muchas otras personas incluyendo simpatizantes del chavismo, van a decir que en Venezuela, siendo un país petrolero, la gasolina no debe calcularse en base del mercado. La respuesta del gobierno será, estamos fijando los precios muy por debajo del costo del mercado, e inclusive debajo del costo de producción en un 25 por ciento. Este plan va a afectar a la clase media mucho más que a las clases populares que usan el transporte público. Como el aumento no va a ser aplicado al gasoil (por lo menos al principio), no debe afectar el transporte público. 
5. De acuerdo con esta propuesta, el Presidente Maduro anunciaría la creación de una comisión que calcule el aumento de precios de gasolina cada dos meses en función del aumento de los costos de producción, que en efecto corresponde a la tasa de inflación en el país. 
6. En un futuro, dependiendo del éxito de la implementación de este plan y la experiencia aprendida, el mismo principio puede ser aplicado a otros sectores como el gasoil, electricidad, teléfonos, etc. 
7. También propongo que el Presidente anuncie la creación de comisiones locales que reciban denuncias de los usuarios del transporte público referente a los aumentos de pasajes no autorizados. El transportista que desconozca los precios oficiales corre el riesgo de perder su permiso de circulación y en una última instancia el Estado podría confiscar su vehículo.
8. Veinticinco por ciento del ingreso que reciba el Estado como resultado de esta política de sincerar los precios va a ser asignado al transporte público, específicamente los autobuses del Estado, como también los sistemas del metro.  
9. Esta propuesta está diseñada para minimizar la reacción política negativa. Los sondeos de opinión demuestran que el aumento de precios de gasolina tiene más aceptación entre la clase media que las clases populares. Y es la clase media que va a ser más afectada por este plan.  
10. También propongo que portavoces del gobierno, y quizás el Presidente Maduro, ofrezcan información concreta acerca de las acciones que el Estado está tomando contra los transportistas que se aprovechan de la circunstancia para aumentar los precios. Esta información debe ser concreta, con nombre y apellido, números de placas y lugares y fechas. La propuesta de aumentar el precio de gasolina puede ser política y económicamente contraproducente si el Estado es débil e incapaz de hacer valer sus políticas en un sector tan neurológico como el transporte público. 
11. Para implementar esta propuesta, será necesario instalar puntos para uso de tarjetas de débito en todas las gasolineras del país.
12. Esta propuesta está diseñada para fijar el costo de gasolina a un precio manejable para personas de la clase media, siempre y cuando usan su vehículo en forma racional, como ocurre en otros países del tercer mundo. De acuerdo con los precios y sueldos actuales (a mediados de junio), el costo de llenar un carro de tamaño medio sería entre 10 a 15 millones de bolívares. 
13. Esta propuesta no es una panacea para solventar la crisis económica de Venezuela. Otras reformas y políticas son necesarias. La propuesta tiene dos objetivos. Uno es aumentar el ingreso del Estado al reducir el contrabando de gasolina a Colombia y el uso irracional de ese combustible. Y segundo, la implementación de esta propuesta abre el camino para la aplicación de este método de anclaje a otros sectores de servicios estatales.

Friday, June 8, 2018


By Steve Ellner
A revised  version of this article was published in “NACLA: Report on the Americas” (Volume 50, Issue 2) Summer, 2018, pages 119-123.

The tactics used to discredit Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the frontrunner for Mexico’s presidential elections slated for July 1, differ somewhat from those employed by the political establishment and commercial media in his first bid for the post in 2006. At that time, López Obrador (or AMLO as he’s commonly referred to) was dubbed a proxy for Venezuela’s leftist Hugo Chavez, a depiction that may have cost him the presidency. 
Just as in the past, the pro-establishment candidates and media have gained up on AMLO, but their line has slightly changed. One of the main presidential candidates, Ricardo Anaya, warns of AMLO’s “destructive and messianic populism.”[1] Although seemingly far-fetched, others are comparing AMLO’s populism to that of both Nicolás Maduro and Donald Trump. In January, Politico ran an article titled “Mexico’s Trumpian Populist,”[2] which alleged that AMLO sometimes sounds “like a Mexican Donald Trump.” Indeed, both AMLO and Trump have been accused of being anti-globalization for harshly criticizing NAFTA, although they do so from different perspectives.
Another article published in January in the Washington Post assures that the Kremlin is supporting AMLO’s candidacy. The allegation is buttressed by a Cold War-like statement made by former U.S. national security advisor H. R. McMaster that the NSA has detected “signals” of Russia’s “sophisticated campaign of subversion and disinformation and propaganda” in Mexico’s upcoming elections.  McMaster’s warning made its way to the Mexican electoral arena where several presidential candidates accused AMLO of receiving Russian aid.[3] 
AMLO and his party the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (MORENA) owe their lead going into the July general elections largely to the unpopularity of President Enrique Peña Nieto as well that of the two previous governments of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. Peña Nieto’s approval ratings sank below 20 per cent last year. While Peña Nieto belongs to the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), Fox and Calderón were members of Mexico’s other main establishment party, the Christian democratic Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). Both parties have reacted to their low ratings by launching extra-party type candidacies. PRI nominated technocrat José Antonio Meade, who occupied top ministerial positions in both PRI and PAN administrations.  PAN’s contender Anaya packages himself as the candidate of a broad coalition taking in two center-left leaning parties, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) and the Movimiento Ciudadano.  
MORENA Moves Away from the Hard Left
AMLO claims that his adversaries have over the recent past made less use of the Chavista label because it “no longer functions for them” thanks in large part to social networking which allows people to see the truth for themselves. 
But there are more credible reasons for the opposition’s modified narrative. Most important, the thesis that links AMLO with the leftist Venezuelan government is less plausible due to the fact that he has come to assume more moderate positions. The messianic label may be more convincing than that of a firebrand leftist. As a three-time presidential candidate and the supreme leader of his party who lashes out at the political class (including former allies) as a “mafia in power” (mafia de poder), AMLO is open to the accusation of having a messianic complex and upholding a Manichean vision, considered by some to be a trademark of populism. The same narrative characterizes him as “sectarian” and “arrogant.”
Some of AMLO’s critics on both sides of the political spectrum claim he has abandoned the leftist camp altogether. The allegation was made in an article titled “The Rightwing Drift of AMLO on the Route to the 2018 Elections,” published in Huffington Post’s Mexican edition.[4] The article makes reference to the viewpoints of Roger Bartra, a renowned Mexican scholar and former leftist, who wrote in Spain’s El País “López Obrador has ceased to be on the left and now has begun a return to positions resembling those of the old PRI.”[5] 
Greenpeace has also rebuked AMLO for abandoning progressive stands. The organization objects to AMLO’s selection of Victor Villalobos—who promoted genetically modified crops while serving in two PAN governments—as his future agricultural secretary. Greenpeace pointed to the decision’s “incongruence” considering AMLO’s 2012 platform, which called for a ban on GMOs.
 AMLO’s strategy of cementing ties with non-leftists has met criticism from within his movement. MORENA’s electoral pact with the Evangelical party Encuentro Social (Social Encounter Party, PES) has been most controversial. At a December 2017 meeting when AMLO announced his cabinet appointments—consisting of eight women and eight men—renowned Mexican writer and faithful AMLO supporter Elena Poniatowska held up a cardboard sign that read “NO TO THE PES.” AMLO denies major differences between the two organizations, even though PES is generally characterized as conservative.  
A number of politicians belonging to PRI, PRD and other parties have jumped on the bandwagon. MORENA stalwarts consider the newcomers opportunists and pejoratively call them “chapulines” (grasshoppers). Some of the contests for nomination as MORENA candidates in the July local, state and national elections pit chapulines against founding party members.   
In his third presidential bid, AMLO has maintained a balance between the pragmatism that lay behind his encouragement of the chapulines and the principled stands he has assumed. The centerpiece of his campaign is his pledge to guarantee accountability and combat corruption. Among his “Proposals for the Rebirth of Mexico” are the elimination of special prerogatives (known as fueros) for all officials including the president; the possibility of holding a presidential recall election; and his commitment to travel on commercial flights as president—Mexico’s presidential airplane is one of the world’s most expensive. 
AMLO links the issue of corruption to what may be the most critical issue facing Mexico: privatization of the oil industry. Peña Nieto’s “Energy Reform” – which required a PRI-PAN pact to enact a constitutional reform that stripped the state oil company PEMEX of its monopoly – opened the petroleum industry to private capital. AMLO – in sharp contrast to the conservative narrative – argues that privatization and state downsizing is conducive to corruption. Thus, for instance, he claims that the neoliberal government’s reliance on gasoline imports as opposed to investments to boost PEMEX’s productive capacity (which accounts for only 22 percent of the internal market) facilitates shady deals involving commercial interests. “The business of gasoline imports,” he says, “is managed by the mafia in power.” 
AMLO has also pointed out that dependence on gasoline imports forced President Peña Nieto to renege on his pledge to not raise gasoline prices. Consequently, Mexican gas prices are higher than in the United States and even oil-bereft Guatemala. Gasoline hikes in January 2017 set off mass protests throughout the nation that led to looting and at least four deaths and over a thousand arrests. AMLO has pledged to build two new oil refineries and modernize six existing ones in the first three years of his presidency. In doing so, he adds, Mexico will achieve 100% self-sufficiency. 
For these elections, AMLO has softened his stand on oil policy. In 2014, AMLO took a “patriotic oath” in which he pledged to “struggle without rest” against oil privatization. Now, however, he has ruled out an “authoritarian” approach based on decreeing the expulsion of foreign companies from the industry. Instead, he promises to respect existing contracts and submit the issue of re-nationalization to a national referendum. In case of approval, the will of the majority would be incorporated in a constitutional reform that would require two-thirds congressional approval. Mustering such overwhelming support in Congress appears to be nothing short of a pipe dream. In another modification, José Luis Beato, commonly referred to as AMLO’s liaison with the private sector, indicated that Peña Nieto’s Reform package contains “positive aspects,” although he failed to name any specifics.

AMLO also shows a degree of restraint in his statements about relations with Washington, notwithstanding Trump’s offensive remarks about Mexico. In most of his declarations, AMLO stresses the need for mutual respect. He assures that under his government relations will be based on “friendship and cooperation, but not subordination.” He reserves his sharpest criticism for Peña Nieto who, in the face of Trump’s affronts, “has failed to act with decorum in defense of the Mexican people.”
Similarly, AMLO’s position on NAFTA is more flexible than those of his two previous presidential bids. His 2018-2024 governing program surprisingly praises NAFTA as a well-demonstrated, useful instrument for the development of economic relations with the U.S. and Canada.” AMLO’s platform recognizes that NAFTA has been beneficial for Mexico’s electronic and car industries, but detrimental to small producers.
AMLO envisions a government based on state intervention in the economy and the promotion of a welfare state, which would break from the policies of a string of six neoliberal Mexican presidents beginning with Miguel de la Madrid in the 1980s. However, AMLO’s ambitious electoral platform may not be entirely feasible. Large state expenditures are at odds with AMLO’s promise to avoid tax hikes and an increase of the public debt and to maintain the autonomy of Mexico’s Central Bank. AMLO has assured that needed resources could come from eliminating bureaucratic waste and corruption and slashing the president’s salary in half. These measures, however, would not appear to provide the state with sufficient revenue to implement his ambitious programs. 
AMLO’s shifts have led some on the left to question his credentials as a progressive. Lorenzo Peraza, a well-known activist and victim of government repression, told me: “López Obrador toned down his message in his 2012 campaign with respect to that of 2006 and now even more so—so much so that there is only a fine line separating him and social democrats.”[6] 
Locating AMLO on the Political Spectrum
MORENA, originally founded as a “movement” in 2012 after breaking from the PRD, now sees itself as “a party of a new type,” in the words of its Human Rights National Secretary Carlos Figueroa Ibarra.[7] MORENA militants are keenly aware that their party needs to avoid the practices that characterized the two parties that it emerged from, the PRI and PRD. At a party meeting, the renowned writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II pointed out that MORENA has not removed the word “movement” from its name because its members “associate the word political party with vertical structures.” He added: “we want to be a horizontal movement whose leaders are chosen from the rank and file…and which learns from the errors of traditional parties.”[8] 
Unlike many traditional parties, MORENA respects the autonomy of social movements. Reinaldo Mancebo, a MORENA leader in the southeastern city of Mérida, told me: “we have participated in large numbers in the protests against the murder of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa, and all the other protests in Mexico, but not in the name of the party. We don’t want to give the enemy the opportunity to politicize and discredit these actions.”[9] Indeed, MORENA’s unequivocal support for the Ayotzinapa protests and those last year in opposition to gasoline price increases clearly places the party on the Left. Nevertheless, MORENA’s more cautious strategy toward mobilizations contrasts with AMLO’s direct participation in the movement opposing oil privatization at the time of the party’s founding.
In spite of AMLO’s moderation and the resultant criticism he has received from leftists in and outside of MORENA, he remains a towering figure on the Mexican left. In a recent interview, Mexican Marxist economist Jorge Veraza referred to AMLO’s candidacy as “somewhat paradoxical.” On the one hand AMLO has followed an increasingly pragmatic strategy, but on the other he is widely viewed as a man of unbending principles. Given these apparent contradictions, “the only way you can explain López Obrador’s popularity and lead at the polls is on the basis of the complete discredit of Mexico’s political class” and the perception that he is “Mexico’s last hope.”[10] AMLO’s credibility is bolstered by his past history of steadfast resistance to the allegedly fraudulent elections of 2006, and subsequently his breaking with the PRD over its alliance with the PAN, considered by many to be self-serving. 

AMLO’s candidacy is Mexico’s only real leftist option in July. The logic behind his decision to moderate his stance is easy to understand. AMLO is not likely to receive an absolute majority of the popular vote and it’s even more unlikely that MORENA will gain control of congress. More moderate positions will facilitate congressional agreements with either smaller parties slightly to the left of center or one of the major ones, depending on the outcome in July. Furthermore, given the change in the correlation of forces in Latin America over the recent past, an AMLO presidency will face an unfriendly environment at the continental level.
In addition, forging understanding with prominent non-leftists will reduce the possibility of electoral fraud, which is foremost on the minds of all MORENA militants and is a topic of discussion in virtually all party meetings. In a recent Jacobin post, New Politics co-editor Dan La Botz reviewed the span of Mexican history over the last century as well as the hostile statements of pro-establishment publications in the U.S. and concluded that electoral fraud and even an attempt on AMLO’s life are serious possibilities. [11]
 AMLO cannot be dismissed as an ex-leftist. None of his rivals in the presidential race offer anything that comes close to a comprehensive critique of Peña Nieto’s neoliberal policies, in spite of Anaya's efforts to position himself to the left of PAN's historical location on the right. In contrast, AMLO questions the advisability of the government’s neoliberal oil, labor, education and fiscal “reforms,” even while his alternative proposals appear to be on the mild side.
Any evaluation of AMLO’s candidacy from a progressive perspective needs to place it in a broad context. In recent years, conservative and reactionary parties have come to power in major European nations (Germany, Britain, Spain, France) and in the United States. The same has happened in Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Chile), while the right-wing pushback has been strongly felt in Venezuela and Ecuador. The rightist narrative points to these developments and then harps on Venezuela's pressing economic problems in order to question the viability of socialism and other leftist proposals for Latin America. It is precisely for this reason that so much is at stake on July 1. 

[2] Sabrina Rodríguez, “Mexico’s Trumpian Populist Could Mean Trouble for Donald Trump,” Politico,

[3] Frida Ghitis, “A Mexican Presidential Candidate is Getting an Unexpected Boost from Trump – and Putin,” Washington Post, January 11, 2018.
[5] “López Obrador representa la nostalgia por el viejo PRI,” El País, November 9, 2017.

[6] Lorenzo Peraza, author interview, Mérida, January 26, 2018.
[7] Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, author interview, Puebla, September 7, 2017.

[9] Reinaldo Mancebo, author interview, Mérida, January 24, 2018.
[10] Veraza, author interview, Caracas, May 4, 2018.

[11] La Botz, “The Plot against López Obrador,” Jacobin.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Venezuela’s “National Dialogue” Takes in Not only Business and Political Elites But Also Social Movements

Today as part of the “National Dialogue” in Venezuela, President Maduro met with representatives of communal councils and communes. One representative by the name of Robin Torrealba pointed out that AgroPatria assigns some communes 10 times more than what they need and called on the communes in these cases to return what is not being used. Torrealba’s statement was a veiled reference to the problem of corruption involving links between state companies which sell products at artificially low prices and the black market. These unethical dealings occur on a large scale. Unfortunately, Maduro in his comments didn’t pick up on Torrealba’s statement. Angel Prado of the El Maizal commune in Lara discussed this practice and presented a more all-encompassing critique of AgroPatria in a recent interview conducted and posted by Venezuelanalysis. 

On the other hand, the fact that Maduro met with community representatives goes counter to what his critics on the left are saying, namely that the National Dialogue leaves out of the picture social movements and the rank and file in general.   

In the interview with Prado, Venezuelanalysis points out that in May, El Maizal and other small and medium-sized agricultural producers occupied several AgroPatria stores throughout Venezuela to protest its practices.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018


El desconocimiento de la legitimidad del proceso electoral del 20 de mayo por parte de Henri Falcón y el otro candidato presidencial importante de la oposición, el evangélico Javier Bertucci, no presagia bien para el nuevo periodo del presidente Maduro. La consolidación de un bloque moderado dentro de la oposición representado por Falcón que reconoce la legitimidad del gobierno, hubiera restado influencia a los partidos radicales de la derecha y significado un mayor grado de estabilidad en el país al disminuir la polarización.

Maduro necesita capital político y cierto apoyo desde fuera del movimiento chavista para poder enfrentar los problemas apremiantes, como la inflación de cuatro dígitos, un deterioro muy pronunciado en el nivel de vida tanto de los sectores populares como de la clase media, y una pobre gerencia en la industria petrolera con el resultado de una baja en la producción.

Dos tareas urgentes se vislumbran como desafíos de grandes proporciones: la profundización de la lucha anti-corrupción que empezó en la segunda mitad de 2017con el nombramiento de Tarek William Saab como Fiscal General; y la necesidad de implementar una política económica para que los precios de los productos, incluyendo la moneda extranjera, guarden alguna relación con lo establecido en el mercado y también con los costos de producción. Los productos y servicios como la gasolina, el gas, y los boletos del metro de Caracas son casi gratis, mientras que las tarifas cobradas por la empresa estatal telefónica CANTV no se quedan muy atrás. 
Dada la polarización intensa, medidas gubernamentales audaces y necesarias como estas probablemente generarán resistencia popular y burocrática que la oposición podría explotar. La posición hostil de Washington, como también los países vecinos de Venezuela y la Unión Europea, agrava la volatilidad.  En agosto de 2017 el gobierno de Trump prohibió la compra de bonos del Estado venezolano y la repatriación de las ganancias por parte de la empresa CITGO ubicada en los EEUU, y luego impidió las transacciones de la criptomoneda venezolana llamada el Petro. 
En febrero de este año los partidos de la MUD se retiraron de las negociaciones con el gobierno de Maduro llevadas a cabo en Santo Domingo a pesar de varias concesiones y cierto optimismo acerca de la posibilidad de un acuerdo. Según Maduro, la decisión se debió a la presión de Washington. La denuncia por parte de portavoces de Washington al gobierno de Maduro de ser una tiranía y un Estado narco podría haber influenciado a la MUD de llamar a la abstención, aún después que el secretario general de Acción Democrática (AD) Henry Ramos Allup anunció su candidatura presidencial en enero. Los únicos partidos importantes que terminaron participando en las elecciones fueron COPEI y el MAS, los cuales apoyaron a Falcón.  
Venezuela Dividida en Tres
El desconocimiento de Falcón de los resultados del 20 de mayo estaba muy lejos de ser inevitable. Por cierto, Falcón emergió como un líder nacional cuando reconoció su propia derrota en las elecciones gubernamentales del 15 de octubre de 2017, en contraste con la posición asumida por otros candidatos de la oposición ese mismo día. Un acontecimiento concurrente pareció señalar una grieta irreparable dentro del bloque de la oposición, que durante las últimas dos décadas había generalmente desconocido la legitimidad del gobierno de Hugo Chávez y Maduro. Cuatro de los cinco gobernadores, todos pertenecientes a AD, desobedecieron la orden de su partido al juramentarse ante la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente (ANC). 
Las tensiones y diferencias marcadas entre la oposición radical y Falcón se manifestaron durante la campaña. Diosdado Cabello dijo a José Vicente Rangel: “Lo peor que dijeron acerca de Falcón no lo dijimos nosotros, lo dijo la oposición.” En un ejemplo de insultos, dos periodistas renombrados a nivel internacional – Andrés Oppenheimer y Jaime Bayly – llamaron a Falcón un doble “traidor” por haber roto con Chávez después de ser elegido gobernador de Lara en 2010, y luego haber roto con Henrique Capriles después de servir como jefe de su campaña en las elecciones presidenciales en 2013. 
Atrás de este conflicto entre los anti-chavistas, hay un hecho que llama la atención: Políticamente, Venezuela ahora está dividida en tres campos, no dos – la oposición radical, los Chavistas y un campo medio que carece de una dirigencia bien organizada. Este tercer campo firmemente se opone a las protestas tipo guarimba llevadas a cabo en 2014 y 2017 que resultaron en la paralización del tráfico urbano y violencia callejera. Estos venezolanos están igualmente opuestos a las sanciones económicas impuestas por los EEUU con el apoyo de la oposición radical. De acuerdo con la encuestadora Hinterlaces, 71 por ciento de la población está en desacuerdo con las sanciones internacionales para remover a Maduro de su cargo. El “terreno medio”, que está especialmente bien definido sobre el tema de la violencia, fue el espacio ocupado por Falcón durante la campaña.   
En este momento, la prioridad de Maduro es minimizar los efectos de las sanciones y la resistencia ilegal a su gobierno con el fin de lograr un grado de estabilidad para poder implementar reformas económicas difíciles. El día después de las elecciones, Trump, como fue esperado, emitió una orden ejecutiva que endureció las sanciones financieras; pero la fuente verdadera de alarma es la posibilidad de un embargo petrolero que actualmente está siendo estudiado por los Departamentos de Estado y Hacienda y también el Consejo de Seguridad Nacional. También, el día después de las elecciones se produjeron disturbios callejeros en varias ciudades, señalando la posibilidad de una repetición de la guarimba a nivel nacional en un momento en el cual Venezuela está más aislado internacionalmente que hace un año.   
La “Guerra Económica”
El asunto de las sanciones impuestas sobre Venezuela tiene el potencial de unificar una parte importante del país y al mismo tiempo aislar a la oposición radical, que apoya esas medidas. Pero para que eso ocurra, el gobierno tiene que mejorar su estrategia comunicacional documentando con evidencia bien fundamentada sobre las maneras en las cuales las sanciones están afectando al país. La retórica de los chavistas gobernantes tiende a enfatizar la “guerra económica” en abstracto, sin ir más allá de las consignas y sin presentar información concreta. 
Los líderes radicales tajantemente niegan que las sanciones tengan algo que ver con las dificultades económicas que aquejan al país, que ellos atribuyen exclusivamente a las políticas erradas de Maduro y la corrupción. Otros reconocen que las sanciones complican las cosas para el gobierno, pero alegan que han tenido un efecto “limitado”. Sin embargo, los errores gubernamentales, por una parte, y las perturbaciones económicas políticamente motivadas, por otra parte, no son mutuamente excluyentes. 
Hay mucha evidencia para refutar el alegato de la oposición radical que el impacto de la “guerra económica” es mínimo. En un artículo en Foreign Policy – durante muchos años dirigido por Moisés Naím – el principal asesor en política económica de Falcón, Francisco Rodríguez, planteó que las sanciones han infligido considerable daño. El señala que las compañías venezolanas como CITGO no han podido “solicitar crédito de comercio rutinario desde que las sanciones fueron impuestas” y que esas medidas corren el riesgo de “convertir la actual crisis humanitaria en una catástrofe humanitaria total”.
De igual o mayor importancia que las sanciones en sí es el mensaje que las órdenes ejecutivas emitidas por Obama y Trump transmiten al capital privado. Ninguna empresa norteamericana puede ignorar la gravedad de una declaración del presidente de su país que dice que un gobierno extranjero representa “una amenaza extraordinaria a la seguridad nacional” norteamericana (en las palabras de Obama), o que alega que está involucrado en el narcotráfico y el lavado de dólares. Estas declaraciones necesariamente han contribuido a la desinversión, que ha hecho tanto daño a la economía venezolana. 
Similarmente, el periódico El Miami Herald reveló que el presidente de la Asamblea Nacional y uno de los líderes de la oposición radical Julio Borges sistemáticamente ha contactado bancos a nivel mundial para realzar la efectividad de las sanciones impuestas por los EEUU. Borges advirtió que las instituciones financieras que “están haciendo negocio con una dictadura que viola los derechos humanos” se convierten en “cómplice” y que perjudicaría sus “imágenes”, lo que podría ser interpretado como una amenaza velada. 
 Uno de los efectos de la campaña de Washington contra Venezuela es el éxodo empresarial de los años recientes, que incluye a Clorox, Kimberly-Clark, Ford, Colgate Palmolive, General Mills, y General Motors. Aunque las compañías echan la culpa al gobierno de Maduro por su decisión, los motivos políticos y económicos en situaciones de esta naturaleza siempre son mixtos y difíciles, por no decir imposible, de desglosar. Los chavistas ven al éxodo como una expresión de la guerra económica. Cuando Kellogg’s cerró  sus operaciones en Venezuela pocos días antes de las elecciones del 20 de mayo, Maduro comentó que los ejecutivos de la empresa “piensan que la gente se va a asustar” y dejar de votar por él. 
El reconocimiento del problema de la ineficiencia, la corrupción y la gerencia deficiente no debe restar del reconocimiento que el hostigamiento de Washington ha tenido un gran impacto sobre la economía venezolana. La industria petrolera es un buen ejemplo. El Fiscal General Tarek William Saab ha documentado las prácticas no éticas en la industria, que ha resultado en la detención de numerosos ejecutivos de alto rango de la empresa estatal PDVSA. Pero la empresa también ha sido víctima de las sanciones, que afectan sus relaciones con las empresas de servicios petroleros, como Baker Hughes, Halliburton, Weatherford, y Schlumberger. Para evitar una relación directa con PDVSA, estas empresas norteamericanas ahora están trabajando a través de firmas intermediarias que usan los equipos y el personal de las empresas grandes, mientras que toman una tajada de las ganancias de Venezuela. Al mismo tiempo, Chevron, que es la única multinacional petrolera norteamericana importante en Venezuela, se ha abstenido de hacer inversiones significativas. 
Los Moderados versus la Oposición Radical
Después de las elecciones del 20 de mayo, varios portavoces de la oposición hicieron un llamado en favor de la unidad de los anti-chavistas. Laidy Gómez, la gobernadora adeca de Táchira, declaró: “Este no es el momento para culparse unos a los otros. Tenemos un enemigo en común.” Sin embargo, lograr la unidad no será fácil dada la profundidad de las diferencias que separan a los que apoyaron la abstención el 20 de mayo y a los que abogaron por la participación.  
Una mirada a las diferencias arroja luz no solamente a las grietas que separan a los “moderados” de los “radicales”, sino también las diferencias entre los venezolanos comunes sobre asuntos principales en la política venezolana. El contraste entre los dos campos también sugiere la factibilidad de una convergencia o entendimiento, aunque sea tácito, entre los chavistas y los “moderados” de la oposición, por lo menos sobre asuntos puntuales. 
La abstención versus la participación.  La oposición radical en Venezuela, el gobierno de Trump y una gran parte de los medios comerciales califican el proceso electoral venezolano como “fraudulento”, refiriéndose específicamente a la manipulación en el escrutinio de los  votos. La oposición ha usado continuamente el término “fraude” de forma ligera y poco precisa. Sin embargo, el sistema electoral venezolano se basa en procedimientos simultáneos manuales y electrónicos, como también en la auditoría de más de cincuenta por ciento de los centros de votación. Además, el 20 de mayo, como en las elecciones del pasado, los representantes de los candidatos de la oposición firmaron las actas que validan el proceso. Los portavoces de la candidatura de Falcón, conscientes que el uso del término “fraude” desalentaría la participación electoral, limitaron sus críticas más que todo al ventajismo, como, por ejemplo, en referencia a las transmisiones de los medios estatales de comunicación.    
Las objeciones de Falcón el 20 de mayo no fueron enfocadas en la manipulación en el conteo de votos, sino en la manipulación de los votantes. Falcón apuntó a la violación de normas electorales, incluyendo prácticas deshonestas en cuanto a la asistencia de los ancianos e incapacitados en el acto de votar y el hecho que algunos toldos chavistas conocidos como “puntos rojos” fueron ubicados dentro del perímetro de 200 metros. La única acusación que puede haber alterado significativamente los resultados fue la promesa a un bono a personas que votaron (aunque el secreto del voto nunca fue seriamente cuestionado). 
No a la impunidad. La oposición radical abiertamente apoya la purga del aparato estatal, supuestamente con el fin de erradicar la corrupción a todos los niveles. En contraste, la estrategia de Falcón fue claramente diseñada para ganar el apoyo de los chavistas descontentos. Falcón se comprometió con decretar la inamovilidad laboral en la administración pública al mismo tiempo que su partido indicó que si fuera elegido, consideraría la posibilidad de mantener a Vladimir Padrino López, como Ministro de Defensa. El anuncio de la posible permanencia de Padrino López fue posiblemente diseñado para calmar a los oficiales de la FFAA preocupados por las declaraciones de algunos radicales referentes a la “complicidad” de los militares y por la posibilidad de una limpieza de la institución.
La vía al poder. La decisión de la oposición radical de llevar a cabo un boicot electoral refleja su escepticismo acerca de la factibilidad de lograr sus objetivos, incluyendo las reformas neoliberales estructurales, por medios electorales. Al comienzo de 2016 cuando una campaña estaba en marcha para recoger firmas para un referéndum revocatorio, el partido Voluntad Popular, dirigido por Leopoldo López, abogó por una asamblea constituyente para redactar una nueva constitución. Los líderes de Voluntad Popular mantenían que la remoción del presidente y la elección del otro no asegurarían el logro de los cambios que el país necesitaba. 
Subyacente a la posición de línea dura sobre las elecciones fue la estrategia de deshacer los cambios implementados por Chávez y su reemplazo con el neoliberalismo estilo “shock treatment”. La posibilidad de resistencia popular tenaz a los cambios de esta naturaleza no podía ser descartada. Entre las políticas contempladas fue la privatización de los sectores básicos de la economía, una medida que fue prohibida por la constitución vigente. Este esquema, que implicaba un sacudón y enfrentamientos,  contrastaba con el discurso de Falcón que enfatizaba los cambios pacíficos y manifestaba preocupación de que el boicot electoral podría conducir a un desenlace violento. 
“La solidaridad internacional”. Falcón y los portavoces de su campaña expresaron  reservas, aunque tímidamente, acerca del énfasis de la MUD sobre el apoyo internacional para su causa y, con firmeza, se opusieron a la intervención militar extranjera en Venezuela, mientras que insinuaban que aquellos dirigentes que promovieron el boicot electoral dejaron abierta esa opción. En las palabras del líder histórico de COPEI Eduardo Fernández “La solidaridad de la comunidad internacional con Venezuela es algo que debemos apreciar, valorar y agradecer. Pero eso no puede hacernos olvidar que, al final, la solución de los problemas venezolanos nos corresponde a nosotros, los venezolanos”. Su hijo Pedro Pablo Fernández, un dirigente nacional copeyano, declaró después de las elecciones “Nosotros condenamos las restricciones contra la economía, contra Venezuela, porque las sufrimos todos los venezolanos”. 
Las Opciones Limitadas de Maduro
José Vicente Rangel, quien ha ocupado varias posiciones importantes en el gobierno de Chávez, ha sido, durante mucho tiempo, el defensor más insistente de la política de promover un diálogo con sectores de la oposición. (Esta estrategia no obvia medidas que inspiran y movilizan la base chavista y las clases populares en general.) Diferencias sobre este asunto se manifiestan en la rivalidad dentro del Partido Socialista Unido (PSUV) entre las dos corrientes principales encabezadas por Maduro y Diosdado Cabello, quien representa la línea dura en cuanto a las relaciones con la oposición. Algunos líderes de la tendencia de Cabello esperaban que él fuera candidato presidencial del partido, una proposición formulada públicamente por Francisco Ameliach, ex gobernador de Carabobo.  En los meses recientes, la corriente de Maduro ha sido fortalecida a costa de otras tendencias internas como resultado de la campaña anti-corrupción acometida por el Fiscal General Tarek William Saab. 
La llamada de Maduro a un diálogo nacional no es nueva. Por cierto, la propuesta data de los meses de las protestas de guarimba en 2014. Sin embargo, el surgimiento de un nuevo polo dentro del campo de la oposición como resultado de la candidatura de Falcón realza las posibilidades que la propuesta surta efecto. Enrique Ochoa Antich, quien apoyó la candidatura de Falcón, manifestó la voluntad de los participantes de su campaña de aceptar la propuesta de Maduro. La campaña de Falcón fue un acto de equilibrio al demostrar a la oposición que no fue blando en sus críticas al gobierno, y al mismo tiempo tratar de atraer a los chavistas descontentos. En este momento no está clara la posición que va a asumir Falcón hacia el chavismo y la oposición radical.

Las formulas neoliberales presentadas por Falcón, que incluyen las privatizaciones masivas sin ninguna garantía que no van a abrir las puertas al capital extranjero, acuerdos con el FMI y la dolarización de la economía, son incompatibles con la orientación del gobierno en política económica. Pero hay un asunto clave que puede conducir a un acercamiento entre los dos lados. Si Maduro trata de vincular la estructura de precios en el país a las condiciones del mercado con el fin de controlar la inflación desenfrenada, va a necesitar apoyo político y tal esfuerzo estaría perfectamente compatible con las posiciones de Falcón. 

Las opciones de Maduro son limitadas dado el aislamiento internacional de Venezuela, la gravedad de la situación económica y el grado de descontento en el país. Las soluciones a los problemas apremiantes requieren medidas audaces; Maduro tiene que aprovecharse de un momento en el cual la oposición está desmoralizada. En el pasado, Maduro no ha actuado contundentemente en momentos favorables, pero después de cinco años en la presidencia, quizás ha aprendido la importancia de actuar con premura tomando en cuenta los factores políticos. En los próximos días, será evidente si eso es el caso o no.  

Originalmente publicado en NACLA: Report on the Americas.
Versión en español en