June 10, 2004

Alberto Quirós Corradi talks to TalCual

Since March, Alberto Quirós Corradi has been one of the two lead negotiators for the opposition before CNE. Along with MAS leader Felipe Mujica, he negotiated the terms of the signature validation process that led to calling the presidential recall election. Quirós Corradi, a career oil executive and former CEO of Shell in Venezuela - in the Halcyon days before nationalization - he is usually seen as a walking encyclopedia of oil. His participation in the negotiations at CNE have hugely raised his political profile. Here I have translated most of an interview by Elizabeth Araujo, which appeared in Tal Cual.

On negotiating with the National Electoral Council

Question: In three months, Felipe Mujica and yourself have convinced the unbelievers that the verb "to negotiate" is not for losers, but for winners. What other verb will we need to learn for the battle on August 15th (the presidential recall date)?

Alberto Quirós Corradi (AQC): To dialogue. To dialogue face-to-face with the government, with the presence and help of international observers and, if it's an electoral matter, with the National Electoral Council as well.

On the signature validation negotiations, what we did is we talked to CNE, and CNE then went and talked with the [pro-Chavez] Comando Ayacucho, and then they would come back and talk to us some more. It's as though we were martians and they could not talk to us face to face. I think if we could talk to each other we could simplify the solutions, not just on the referendum but also with what is about to happen to the country.

We need a civilized dialogue with the government.

Q: Was there a critical moment when you wanted to strangle [pro-Chavez CNE member] Jorge Rodriguez?

AQC: No. The negotiation was cordial and respectful. I can't say there were odd surprises or frictions. Jorge [Rodriguez] had an ongoing concern: Sumate's stances. This was his headache, and despite this he would meet with them. Perhaps it was a pose. The hardest part was at the last moment, when [CNE Chairman and Chavista hardliner Francisco] Carrasquero read out the final numbers, and we understood they'd struck off 100,000 signatures from the repairs, contrary to our agreement.

That was a difficult situation, because after we had it all worked out, the regulations and everything else negotiated and ready, we had to return to the Coordinadora with official numbers different from those we had announced previously.

Somebody might have balked, and that could have compromised the negotiations. But that was the only low-blow.

Q: What path may the discussions have followed if your interlocutor had been Francisco Carrasquero?

AQC: Our negotiation was carried out mostly with Jorge Rodriguez. He is tough, intelligent and he did a good job with the process of conversation and accord.

Of course, he is not impartial, his heart is with chavismo and it was on that basis we had to negotiate with him. Perhaps he believes he is totally impartial, but he isn't; in the same way we can't be. Now, I don't know what might have happened if conversations had been with Carrasquero. I did not have the opportunity to negotiate with him.

Intuitively I think that it would have been impossible to reach accords with Carrasquero.

Q: What personal defect must a negotiator leave behind?

AQC: Haughtiness. Thinking he is always right and that his rightness will impose itself in the end. Sometimes you need to be flexible and negotiate to reach given benefits. As for a virtue, he must know how to prioritize.

Q: After this experience, you and Felipe Mujica are ready to go sell ice cream to eskimos...

AQC: And fur coats in the dessert.

But, remember, we're not about magnifying our role. There were other people involved, like Nelson Rampersad and Enrique Naime, who know CNE's inner workings much better and who helped enormously on technical aspects. Beyond that we had the backing of the Coordinadora Democratica itself.

On Chavez

Q: In this whole recall saga, you have talked about two Chavezes: the one that is hellbent on revolution and the one who feels pressures to follow the rules of democracy. Which of those two Chavezes do you fear most?

AQC: I fear the undecided Chavez, because when someone makes a choice it's easy to see his strategy and know which path he will follow. Notice that at the last minute people were saying he wouldn't accept a vote, while others said he would.

When he acts this way, it's hard to strategize because you're not sure which of the two Chavezes you need to respond to. That's his skill.

He will keep playing that game for a long, long time, he won't square off with either of the two sides, but at some point you'll run into the Chavez who wants elections, even if later he tries to do the opposite.

I've always said that Chavez's biggest frustration is to have become president through the ballot box.

Q: Over five years in government have taught chavismo that you can't dance tango alone or is it that their mistakes have forced them to recognize the opposition?

AQC: Chavismo has had to dance nice and tight with the opposition, and even switch partners. Everyone knows that chavistas have approached the financial industry, the agricultural industry and construction. There have been several stages; they even tried to launch their own Fedecamaras (business federation) and their own labor movement.

I would say that chavismo had quite a few crushes in this process, and we should also be fair: they've always found somebody ready to love them.

On Alberto Quirós Corradi

Q: What happened to keep you from becoming a politician?

AQC: Really what I like about politics is planning, analysis and strategy.

I'm an oil man but I was never a driller. Similarly, in politics, I'm not drawn to rallies. I am like Gonzalo Barrios: I like being the leader, but I don't like being a candidate.

Q: What has been your greatest extravagance?

AQC: I would never reveal that.

Q: What's your biggest fear?

AQC: That this government could turn into a repressive dictatorship, humiliating the opposition. I'm very scared of that.

On corruption, opposition unity, the cadenas and the future

Q: What's the difference between the Generals who enjoyed the patronage of AD and Copei governments and the ones we have now, who feel strong and backed by the revolution?

AQC: Perhaps the former generals were not involved in coups or anything of the sort. They learned how to live within the democratic system, with the prerogatives that it afforded them. But I see that the military leaders today want to have a more important role in decision-making, far beyond what is visible to the naked eye.

I think that, through these generals, Chavez has built his own Frankenstein monster.

Q: You say you are for a single opposition candidate, but already Salas Romer and Ledezma are out competing with Enrique Mendoza. Don't you think Quirós Corradi has a nice sound as a transition candidate?

AQR: I am one of those who believe we don't have time for a primary election before the referendum. Holding primaries is setting the opposition to fight with one another and will distract attention from the main goal: getting Chavez out. And there's just no time to hold primaries after the recall. We have to start to understand that what is coming is not a transition but a national emergency. It will not be a normal government, with its cabinet, its routines. We're talking about pulling out of the disaster Chavez has caused and try to patch up as much as we can in two years in order to start getting the country into a condition to one day advance.

Q: What benefits are there to the Cadenas presidenciales (national TV broadcasts on all channels)?

The only benefit is that everyone yells at me for watching them. But I watch them because, in a way, I enjoy Chavez's bravado for mocking other people's intelligence that way and even then retain some popularity.

That intrigues me. Though it's not like I'll spend 7 hours watching them.

Q: What do you see for Venezuela in your crystal ball?

AQC: Chavez is on his way out. If the recall is after the 19th and we need to keep the vicepresident, it will not be Jose Vicente.

That I'm sure about.