October 31, 2002

There's no stopping the referendum...

One of the perils of journalism is that you end up writing stories now and then that, though perfectly reasonable at the time of writing, wind up being left behind by developments by the time they've hit print. It's not very pleasent. No sooner had I scoffed at the thought of president Chávez starting an earnest negotiation with the opposition than Miraflores issued a fairly remarkable statements vowing to establish just such a dialogue, "without taboos or exclusions" and explicitly including the possibility of bringing forth some kind of referendum. Ooops. Well, we've gotten burned so many times by seemingly broad-minded chavista pledges to engage in dialogue that peeter out into nothingness within hours that we're obviously justified to be a little skeptical about this last pledge. Narcissist personality disorder doesn't just go away one day, and from a single statement to a real good-faith negotiation there's a long distance. We'll see.

What's for certain is that the whole early-referendum proposal is now right where the moderate wing of the opposition has wanted it for months: front and center. As I write this, out of the four main headlines on Union Radio's website, three are about Early Elections. That's a sure barometer of what the political mood is like here, a rising realization that there's just no other solution. With any luck, we'll get to vote within a few months. The polls seem to indicate that Chávez is doomed if it comes to the ballot box, but he's a formidable campaigner, so we'll have to see. But, at the very least, this suffocating sense of a crisis with no possible solution is starting to lift. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. Chávez's grudging acceptance of this course of action suggests that he may be willing to accept a referendum result after all, especially if it's an overwhelming defeat. Or his supporters have finally realized that the situation is so dire he has no other option.

Still, the atmosphere here is so thoroughly poisoned it's hard to really believe they're earnest about this. Hidden agendas abound here, and not just on the opposition side. Another tactical retreat paving the way for some off-script attack? Who can tell?