June 3, 2004

What Zapata knows

Juan Carlos Zapata, the guy who runs Descifrado, has been leaking priceless information from a high-up chavista source for three days now. If Zapata has it more or less right - which he certainly seems to - his version is a firm anchor for cautious but real optimism.

Zapata, a Tal Cual co-founder, is a kind of Venezuelan Drudge (minus the sleaze) - well-connected, agressive about posting everything he knows, and very often, the first with key stories too hot for others to publish.

His latest essay on the reparos drama inside the government (read it in the original Spanish or translated to English) again feeds my perception that the referendum is a reality. In Zapata's retelling, the reparos results have split the government badly, setting off what he calls "a political earthquake" within chavismo.

For the first time since 1999, Chavez faces a major political decision he cannot control - or not without very high costs. For the first time in recent memory, there appears to be an actual, living, breathing debate inside the government camp. There are factions and disagreements and discussions and scapegoat hunts. This is in complete contrast with the tradition of "democratic centralism" in the Chavez era - where all decisions are made personally by The Leader and communicated down the chain of command.

This is all good news. But there is still a huge amount of fear and rage among government supporters - aporrea.org's priceless foros make that quite clear. Bringing the extremists around may not be possible, but lessening their impact on society is.

One key fear on the chavista side is that the day after a referendum the "misiones" - the Chavez-led emergency social programs - will be dismantled. This is a source of real dismay to millions of honest Chavez followers.

It's time for the opposition to be magnanimous - to treat their opponents with the respect we have demanded from them for years. Enrique Mendoza should come forward and say that the opposition does not intend to dismantle the misiones if it takes power, and that instead, it will improve them. A statement like that could go a long ways in building bridges with honest people on the other side.

However much we dislike the government, we have to remind ourselves that it's crucial for rank and file chavistas to perceive that there is a future for them in an opposition-led future. If, like Garcia Carneiro, Diosdado, and the hardliners, they feel their entirely livelihood and even their lives are at stake, they'll fight. Who can blame them?

Over the last few months, the opposition has demonstrated uncommon coherence and single-mindedness in pursuing the recall option. But today, the best thing we can do to help bring about a referendum is to explain, very clearly, that we are a movement for National Reconciliation, not just a ploy to take back power.