January 13, 2009

The opposition's Gaza non-strategy

Juan Cristobal says: Over the years, we've grown used to Chavez hurling insults at us for things real and imaginary. We've gone from adecos, to escualidos, to vendepatrias to pitiyanquis, and by now most of us have learned to just tune out the barrage. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but presidential addresses will never hurt us.

As of late, there's been one criticism that has stuck with me, and Chavez has a point.

Israel's Gaza offensive has drawn a lot of criticism from international public opinion, but governments have generally acted with restraint. Diplomats have put a lot of effort into finding a way to stop the fighting while bringing both sides to the negotiating table.

But Chavez will have none of that. From the moment the war began, he lined himself up with the Palestinians and with Hamas, reinforcing his image as a hero to the Arab world. He expelled Israel's ambassador to Venezuela (the only country that to do so as far as I know) and began calling Israel "the Empire's killing machine."

One thing he has been very vocal about is the opposition's silence regarding the Gaza situation. As I was thinking about it, I think he's right. Why shouldn't our side have an opinion on the Gaza conflict? Why do we keep quiet?

You might say that there are more pressing issues for the opposition than Gaza, that it is an unnecessary distraction. But our silence only lets him portray us as uncritical supporters of Israel and, hence, the United States. El que calla otorga...

The more important thing about our silence is how it lets Chavez portray us as incompetent. It's not that the opposition has made a conscious decision to not talk about the Gaza conflict. My fear is that the opposition simply doesn't have an opinion. Silence about Gaza doesn't make us pitiyanquis, but it does make us look amateurish.

Chavez has put a lot of time and effort into his international image. We've been baffled by his insistence on this issue given how unimportant it is to Venezuelan's daily life. However, ever so indirectly, Chavez's work on the international stage may have helped build his image as a strongman, a statesman and (gasp) an intellectual in the eyes of some. Venezuelans may not consciously think that a politician's stance on international affairs is important, but deep down, it may well be. Ultimately, talking about events in Gaza makes Chavez look like something he is not: smarter than us.

Which brings me back to the opposition. There is absolutely nothing to lose from having a shadow Canciller talking about these issues and taking a stance. Condemning Israel for its disproportionate response could begin to turn the tide on this false idea that we are either pitiyanquis or rookies.

And besides, it would be the right thing to do.