October 4, 2002

"Gaviria Go Home!"

More coup rumors today. My colleague has gotten three different anguished phone calls from friends who've heard the show's gonna go down tonight, but at this point we've learned to discount calls like that. Not that they're not unsettling. It's more that it seems like a matter of commonsense that by the time a coup-plot's made its way to the cellphone circuit, it's pretty well doomed to failure. So it's the days when there are no rumors that I worry. That's when the coup's going to come.

The head of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, left town this morning. OAS is one of these organizations that most people in the US barely give a second though to, but which actually carries quite a bit of weight here. Gaviria cooked up a fantastically bland little "declaration of principles" to try to get the government and the opposition to sit down together and, y'know, agree to something. Even then it proved incredibly difficult to get them to agree. It was a motherhood-and-apple-pie affair, the kind of thing no one can really disagree with. But opposition figures dithered...it's too bland, some said, it lets the government off the hook! Others refused to sign on unless Chávez personally signed first, saying that if the VP or the Foreign Minister signed on the government's behalf the declaration would have no credibility because Chávez overrules them all the time. One suspects that what's really going on here is that the idea of co-signing a document with Hugo Chávez just makes the stomachs of too many opposition leaders turn. It would grant him a level of implied legitimacy they're just not willing to concede.

On the government's side it's much the same thing. They said they would sign, but then when it became clear they'd be putting their names to a document also signed by Carlos Ortega, they didn't like that one bit. Ortega, the head of the big Labor Union Federation (CTV), is just as unacceptable to the Chavistas as Chávez is to us: Two years after he was elected by the rank-and-file (in an admittedly horribly murky election) the government still refuses to acknowledge his leadership of the federation. Signing a document along with him would mean implicitly accepting his leadership, and that's a pill the government finds it very very hard to swallow.

My guess was that this declaration of principles was Gaviria's way of testing the waters, to try to get a feel for how likely a broader agreement might be. Signs are not encouraging. So long as the government and the opposition see each other as enemies rather than adversaries, the impetus for violence will still be there.

I don't know what the solution is, but I'm pretty sure mindless intransigence isn't part of it.