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Prof. Steve Ellner discusses US intervention in Venezuela, the opposition’s amnesty law, and their latest strategies for ousting the president.

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GREGORY WILPERT, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. My name is Gregory Wilpert and I’m joining you from Quito, Ecuador. With us today to continue talking about the current situation in Venezuela and relations between the US and Venezuela is Steve Ellner, who is the author of “Rethinking Venezuelan Politics.” Thanks again, Steve, for joining us for this second part. STEVE ELLNER: Sure, Greg. WILPERT: So the other major development recently in Venezuela is that the opposition just announced that it’s planning on getting rid of Maduro with a three, kind of a three-step plan, the first one being forcing or urging his resignation through mobilizations, the second one being the organization of a recall referendum, which is allowed by the Venezuelan constitution, and the third is to institute a constitutional amendment that would shorten the president’s term in office. Let’s just briefly go through each one of these and see, well, what are the chances and what’s behind this? So let me just first talk about the strategy and then we’ll talk a little bit about what, who is behind this effort. So what about, I mean, of the three strategies: resignation, recall referendum and constitutional amendment, it seems like the resignation is the least likely, or what do you think Steve? Do you think they have any chance of forcing a resignation of President Maduro? ELLNER: I don’t, well, Maduro has made clear that he will not resign under any circumstances. It seems to me, again, that this, in effect, is a reenactment of what took place in 2014, which I mentioned in the first segment of this interview, when, you know, the opposition was convinced completely that the government was about to resign. In fact, you know, they said it time and time again, that within a day, within a week, within 10 days that Maduro was going to resign. There was violence. There was civil disobedience. You know, traffic was getting slowed down. There was all kinds of actions taking place. There were barricades, et cetera. But these actions were taking place in middle class areas. There was no support, or very little support, for these actions in the popular sectors. Now it remains to be seen whether they will be successful in penetrating the barrios and penetrating the popular sectors or the downtown sections, areas of major cities. In 2014, you know, like 95 percent or 99 percent of the protests took place in middle class areas where the mayors were, belonged to the opposition. So it seems to me that this is just a repetition of 2014. The situation has gotten worse in terms of the economics. You know, the price of oil has nose dived since then, and so perhaps there will be greater support for the protests. I don’t know. But it seems to me that it’s a risky tactic. It could get out of hand and perhaps members of the opposition had that in mind to begin with. WILPERT: What about the second plan, which is to push through a recall referendum? They said they would also be accompanied with a change or a new law for referenda in order to facilitate the process, from their perspective. Do you think that has a chance or probability of being put into effect before the end of the year? ELLNER: I don’t know, but one observation that I have is that the opposition is not solidly behind that proposal. The opposition is divided, and that proposal is being put forward by Primero Justicia, which is one of the major parties of the coalition, the MUD coalition, but not the only party, and there is support for an amendment to the constitution which would shorten Maduro’s presidency. Now I’m not sure, was that the third scenario that you mentioned? WILPERT: Yes. ELLNER: [inaud.] we can talk about that later, but the fact of the matter is that the opposition is divided, and so it’s unclear whether there will be a united effort to carry out the referendum. But of the three options, that’s the legal option. The constitution that was drafted by the Chavistas, that was opposed by the opposition at the time, in 1999, allows for different kinds of referenda, and allows for recall with a certain number of signatures and a certain percentage of votes that are needed, and so that is incorporated, that is part of the constitution and that is the legal route to go, and that’s what the government has stated time and time again. The Chavistas have stated that this is feasible from a legal viewpoint, but it’s unclear as to why the opposition is so divided with regard to that proposal. WILPERT: Could it be that they think that it’s extremely difficult? I mean, now they would have to collect almost 4 million signatures. Previously, when they did the referendum that was against Chávez it was only 2.5 million. Now it’s much more because there’s [a] larger population and more people registered. And then the other factor is that they also have to get 7.5 million votes against Maduro. That is, more people have to vote for his recall than originally voted for him. So those are two pretty tough hurdles, no? ELLNER: Sure. And the fact of the matter is that one of the reasons why the opposition did as well as it did in December was because of the abstention. The Chavistas, the people who support, supported Chávez and support Chavismo, but, are somewhat discontent with regard to the Maduro government. They didn’t vote. Now, to try to get them to vote against Chavismo, they considered, I mean, this is a feeling that I have on the ground, they considered their abstention, their non-participation as a protest vote, as a warning to the Chavistas. They were trying to communicate to the Chavista leaders, look, we’re discontent. Now, to expect these people who identify themselves with Chavismo, to expect that they will vote for the ouster of Maduro is expecting a lot. So I think that’s one of the hurdles. But the other point that I think should be raised is that, as I said before, the opposition is divided, and the more extremist element of the opposition, which is represented by the Voluntad party of Leopoldo Lopez and María Corina Machado, they don’t support the recall. They support a constitutional assembly, a constituent assembly, and the reason for that is that their position is that they want radical change. They are on the right. They support, basically, neoliberalism. They might not use the term but basically they stand for neoliberalism, and they believe that the changes that Chávez brought about have to be undone, and that it’s not enough to just remove the president and choose a president of the [inaud.]. There has to be more of a structural kind of change, and so their proposal is a constituent assembly that would redraft the constitution. Now that demonstrates, also, that the more radical elements within the opposition don’t support the constitution, whereas the more moderate elements support the constitution at this point. They didn’t back in 1999, but they do now. WILPERT: So you mentioned that there are different factions within the opposition and that they’re very internally divided, and some are supporting the amendment, some are supporting a constitutional assembly, others are supporting the recall referendum. So there’s different strategies. Would you say that these different strategies line up with different kind of interest groups within the opposition? Now, I’m not talking about different political positions, but the actual, material interest groups, so there’s a particular sector that’s supporting the more radical solutions versus the less radical? ELLNER: Yes. Well, yes, definitely. The position in favor a national constituent assembly is the more radical position. They want to bring about a structural, fundamental, structural change within a short period of time, which is why they’re questioning the constitution and they’re saying, basically, that removing the president is enough, is not enough, that Venezuela needs a fundamental kind of change that can only be brought about through a change of [crosstalk] the whole [inaud.] WILPERT: [interposing]–But who do they represent? ELLNER: All I can say, Greg, is that the business class in Venezuela is divided, it’s been divided for a long time. Political scientists who write on the, on Venezuela, going back to the 1970s at least, emphasize the fragmentation of the private business sector, and that’s the case today. You know, Fedecámaras spearheaded the coup against Chávez and they spearheaded the general strike seven or eight months after that, and they represented a more radical position, but there were a lot of business people who did not go along with the general strike, who Chávez attempted to promote and to establish friendly relations with. At this point I would say that those divisions are still present, and that it very well may be that the more radical elements of the private sector supporting Voluntad Popular, supporting a new constituent assembly to change the constitution, and perhaps the more moderate business people who are also opposed to the Chavistas but want to do things more gradually. That may reflect themselves. Those differences may reflect themselves at the political level. WILPERT: Well, unfortunately we’ve run out of time, but thanks so much for joining us, Steve. ELLNER: Sure. WILPERT: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.


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Steve Ellner is a Contributing Editor ofLatin American Perspectives and the editor of “Latin America's Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-First Century.