From Dominican Republic to Mexico

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on August 13 may represent a significant step in the solution of the Venezuelan crisis, although it is still too early to have a certain prognosis of its outcome. Previous attempts, and particularly that of the Dominican Republic, understandably fed the skepticism of many sectors, but it is fair to point out, beforehand, that the contexts and realities have changed significantly in four years, and it is possible that this will favorably condition the objectives, intentions and strategies of the parties.

Perhaps the most notable difference between the time of Santo Domingo and the present is that both the government and the opposition have been sharply weakened, as evidenced by recent surveys that show the low support of the different leaderships of both sides, as well as the loss of prestige of the traditional institutions of the State and society (from which only the Church and the universities have been spared to some extent). At the beginning of 2018, in fact, the regime felt relatively strengthened by the surprising and wide victory obtained in the 2017 regional elections (the first that can unquestionably be described as non-competitive), and the opposition was still fresh from the resounding victory in the 2015 parliamentary elections, despite the fact that the National Assembly was already being openly ignored by the other public powers (how fresh that victory was still fresh explains the call for the long and epic protests of 2017).

The regime that with all calculation and arrogance threw the table in Santo Domingo in February 2018, did not imagine that the hyperinflationary process initiated at the end of 2017 would become the highest in the world in recent modern history, and that it would end up devastating what had been the most prosperous economy in Latin America for a good part of the 20th century, throwing at least 85% of Venezuelans into poverty. Faced with this catastrophe, Maduro opted, as was his strategy since he came to power, to flee forward, and thus called for a fraudulent presidential election in May 2018. The grace served him to stay in power but still ended up being a morisqueta: to the loss of the legitimacy of performance (which began with Chávez and skyrocketed with him) was added the loss of the legitimacy of origin; a circumstance that Guaidó took advantage of to declare the interim presidency in January 2019, building and capitalizing a great international support for the democratic forces, which remains solid to this day. Unfortunately, the repression unleashed by the regime, the mistakes of the courageous but inexperienced president and his allies, and Trump’s boisterous but ineffective diplomacy, led to the pronounced weakening that the opposition is currently experiencing.

The curious thing is that both in form and content the Mexico Agreement has been possible, in fact, thanks to this accentuated weakening of the regime and the opposition. Everything has been like a boxing match where the two opponents reached 15 rounds but were unable to finish each other off, and now they are exhausted, dragging their feet and throwing punches with no aim or strength. This being more dramatic, undoubtedly, regarding the regime, because from the hyper-centralized and almost absolute power it accumulated during Chávez’s term, now only the pale reflection of a State that no longer controls the country and cannot even subdue some armed circles in the border of Apure remains. This situation revitalized the option of resorting to external and balanced arbitrators, who mediate and propitiate solutions where the knockout of one over the other is no longer sought -the solution adds up to zero- but a divided decision, where both parties may obtain tangible advantages from their particular logics.

If we stick strictly to the written word, the Negotiation Agenda -and the Memorandum of Understanding in general- translates a very clear exchange: besides achieving its recognition as the de facto government of the country and the reversion of the sanctions, the regime admits and concedes the most significant aspects of the political program of the democratic forces: political rights and electoral guarantees for all, electoral timetable, respect for the Rule of Law, reparation to the victims of violence, etc. In addition to the strong national pressure, international pressure and the multiple lawsuits and claims pending before international organizations had no small impact on this agenda.

However, perhaps the most important aspect of this Memorandum is that for the first time the regime is showing signs of evolving towards a political transition that could imply -if we take into account its unpopularity when facing a new presidential election- its eventual exit from power in the short or medium term. We will have to wait for the coming weeks and months to see if he fully assumes the considerations of the Agreement, a matter that can be rightly doubted if we take into account his constant disregard for his word and commitments.

In defense of this possibility, it can be affirmed that in his current conditions (isolated, with a few allies of undoubted political muscle but who are no longer financially or economically portrayed), to throw the table again would have very high costs for his credibility and his future situation: he would be, surely, throwing away his last chance to ensure the survival of the Chavista franchise in the medium and long term, particularly if we take for granted that a Caesarist or diluvian situation (particularly, the growing somalization of the country) could take shape to try to put an end to the catastrophic tie of forces of the last years.

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