VENEZUELA'S OPPOSITION LOOKS FOR A FUTURE

Identifier: 
06CARACAS113

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CARACAS 000113

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/13/2016
TAGS: PGOV, KDEM, VE
SUBJECT: VENEZUELA'S OPPOSITION LOOKS FOR A FUTURE

REF: A. 05 CARACAS 02603

B. CARACAS 00040
C. 05 CARACAS 03076
D. 05 CARACAS 03713

Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR ROBERT R. DOWNES FOR 1.4 (D)

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Summary
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1. (C) After basking in its self-perceived moral victory
following the low turnout in the December 4 legislative
elections and international observers' calls for a new
National Electoral Council, the opposition is trying to
figure out how to stay relevant and position themselves for
the presidential elections considering that they have no
representation in the National Assembly. On December 13,
several opposition leaders gathered to consider their next
steps. Not surprisingly it appears they came up with no
comprehensive strategy. Post offers its thoughts on options
that are beginning to emerge: internal reflection, forming
competing organizations, provoking President Chavez into
missteps, appealing to the international community, and
negotiating with the government to obtain the most
transparent conditions possible for the 2006 presidential
race. Given that traditional opposition parties, such as
Accion Democratica, believe abstaining from the election has
given them new life, it is unlikely that most of the
traditional opposition will take advantage of this time to
renovate itself. End summary.

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Confronting the Morning After
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2. (C) A little over a week after the National Assembly
election, opposition leaders began to face the difficult
question of what to do now that they have shut themselves out
of national government. On December 13, Enrique Mendoza,
former leader of the defunct Coordinadora Democratica, hosted
a meeting with representatives from several opposition
parties, including Accion Democratica (AD), Primero Justicia
(PJ), Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Social Democrats
(Copei), Proyecto Venezuela, and Alianza Bravo Pueblo to
discuss next steps. Former CD spokesman Pompeyo Marquez
privately told poloff there is general interest in working
with the GOV to try to improve transparency for next year's
presidential election, but no concrete plan on how to do so
or on how to keep party support bases motivated for the vote.
Post offers below its take on trends that appear to be
developing.

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The Most Effective
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3. (C) Renovation: PJ has said it will hold elections in
the first quarter of 2006 to revalidate its leadership and
called on its fellow opposition parties to do the same. The
election may exacerbate divisions within the party, however.
There has been an ongoing power struggle within the PJ
leadership (ref a) for some time. In addition, board members
began disagreeing about where to target future political
outreach in the run up to the December 4 legislative election

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. Secretary General Gerardo Blyde, former PJ deputy Liliana
Hernandez, and Jose Ramon Medina advocated for more
development with PJ's yuppie base, while PJ President Julio
Borges, Baruta borough mayor Henrique Caprilles, and former
Secretary General Jose Luis Mejias advocated for greater

SIPDIS
outreach to the poor, Chavez's traditional base of support.

4. (C) MAS, which has seen its political influence steadily
decline since its split from Chavez in 2001, is the only
other party reportedly considering this option. MAS
President Felipe Mujica told local newspaper El Universal the
party will undergo unspecified reform to fit the country's
new reality. These reforms may go farther than Mujica
expects as a local press report indicates a faction within
MAS plans to petition the Supreme Court (TSJ) to force the
party to hold elections. Mujica's potential challenger, the
openly pro-Chavez Jose Luis Meza, has also proposed forming
four committees to oversee the party's rebuilding.

5. (C) Separately, AD recently reconfirmed its current
leadership after supporters of Secretary General Henry Ramos
Allup undermined rival Luis Emilio Rondon's plans to
challenge him in the internal elections, originally scheduled
for last October. Rondon, a 40-something year old member of
AD's National Executive Committee, petitioned the TSJ to
suspend internal elections in order to give the party time to
update its membership roster to facilitate a fair election.
AD leadership agreed to abide by the TSJ decision to postpone
the election by a month but then blocked Rondon from running,
citing internal party rules designed to favor Ramos Allup's
cronies. AD has traditionally received complaints that it
stifled the advance of new, young leadership, but has worked
hard to keep its internal divisions out of public view.

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A Different But Problematic Approach
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6. (C) Forming Competing Organizations: In mid-October
Sumate, an NGO and not a political party, acting on behalf of
several civil society organizations, announced the
establishment of a Federal Congress to Promote and Defend the
Democratic System, which would essentially serve as a shadow
legislature. Jimmy Ross-Jones, an NGO coordinator involved
in coordinating the congress, told poloff the group would
focus on proposals to address pressing social problems, such
as respect for human rights, health care, education, and
poverty. (Note: These themes are at the top of the National
Assembly's agenda as well (ref b).) Sumate's Roberto Abdul
told poloff in December that congresses had been established
in several states including, Miranda, Carabobo, and Zulia;
and their goal is to have operations in about seventeen
states before setting up a national body this spring.

7. (C) This strategy mirrors Chavez's own general approach
to create new and parallel structures to existing
institutions and it provides a much needed space from which
an alternative political platform could arise. Still, it is
a risky proposal. The organization's structure is very
similar to the AN and many of its proposals will likely be
perceived as a direct challenge to a government that is
hyper-sensitive to criticism. We understand several member
organizations have already become targets of GOV pressure and
this intimidation will likely increase. Moreover, if
successful, organization members may be squeezed by

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opposition parties not wanting to be upstaged by more
effective competition.

8. (C) Provoking Chavez into Missteps: The week after the
legislative election, GOV officials, including Vice President
Rangel, citing the 1965 Political Participation Law, began
threatening to declare "illegal" opposition parties that did
not participate in the election. PJ's Mejias told poloff
that his party hoped the government would do so to highlight
its anti-democratic ways. In a show of bravado, AD's Ramos
Allup publicly challenged the government to do so as well.
The GOV has since backed away from that threat, suggesting it
may be considering the negative publicity it would receive by
banning the most prominent opposition parties.

9. (C) The government may also not need provocation. The
National Assembly will be considering some bills this term,
such as the Citizen Power Law (ref b), that may narrowly
define political parties and significantly restrict their
activities, providing future opportunities for clashes
between the opposition and GOV. The legislature also plans
to introduce laws, such as an education bill, which
reportedly could represent a major new intrusion by the
government into private and church schools, which in turn
might provoke substantial negative public reaction. In
addition, continued complaints about the failure of the main
road to the airport may keep the GOV on the defensive as
well. Most opposition leaders have been slow to seize on
this last issue--possibly out of fear their own parties may
also be blamed for past negligence--but this may change now
that presidential contender Julio Borges (PJ) has recently
begun to take advantage of this opportunity to criticize the
GOV. The opposition's efforts to make this a political issue
hinge in part on the economic and other dislocations the
bridge collapse will occasion; those effects are only now
beginning to become clear.

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The Most Likely
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10. (C) Appealing to the International Community: On
December 14 opposition leaders, led by Enrique Mendoza, met
with the diplomatic corps to explain the reasons for the
opposition's pullout of the December 4 legislative elections.
Mendoza announced plans for similar meetings and monthly
status reports to update the diplomatic corps on its status
and future plans. He also said the group will present the
long-promised report detailing the fraud they allege occurred
during the 2004 referendum (ref c). The report was not
released last year to prevent discouraging voter
participation in the municipal and legislative elections.
The relatively low turnout for the meeting compared to
similar meetings in 2004 which drew dozens of diplomats
suggests international fatigue with the opposition has
probably set in and this strategy is unlikely to succeed.

11. (C) Negotiation: Following the recommendations of the
OAS and EU's preliminary observation reports, several
government, opposition, and religious leaders have proposed a
national dialogue. During the December 14 meeting with the
diplomatic corps, PJ's Blyde said his party would participate
only if the GOV sets a concrete agenda--unlike in previous
efforts where the government drifted into abstract discussion
about its "revolution"--leading with a discussion of

CARACAS 00000113 004 OF 004

replacing the National Electoral Council. The GOV has said
it will not accept "preconditions" for dialogue. Calls for a
national dialogue are typically raised following an electoral
event, but these talks have rarely led to any significant
political progress. In fact, when the GOV has publicly
raised this idea it has usually driven deeper divisions
within the opposition.

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Comment: No Lessons Learned
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12. (C) Instead of sparking the regeneration of a new cadre
of opposition leaders as hoped (ref d), it seems that, for
now, the boycott of the December 4 legislative elections and
the criticism in the OAS and EU's preliminary reports are
allowing the opposition to continue blaming other factors
than the themselves for their own problems within the
Venezuelan political structure. As a result, the traditional
opposition appears to be continuing to resort to the same
stale thinking that has only exacerbated the current
political situation. PJ may be taking a risk in holding
internal elections, but it will be worth it if it results in
a stronger, credible political alternative. The economic and
political fallout from the bridge collapse directly
challenges the GOV's ability to govern and may be an
important harbinger for the opposition's future by becoming
either an issue on which the traditional opposition parties
launch their comeback, or a sign of their profound weakness,
if they are unable to channel discontent in their direction.
This cable covers the traditional opposition parties, but
there are some new parties, such as Venezuela de Primero,
that appear to be trying to develop a different political
approach, as well as possible fractures within the government
coalition. Post will take a more in-depth look at these
developments in the coming months.

BROWNFIELD