By Steve Ellner
The agreement reached between the Maduro government and anti-government moderates on September 16 demonstrates the degree to which the Venezuelan opposition is divided. The media for a long time ignored these internal differences, while Washington granted Juan Guaidó unconditional support, even though his Voluntad Popular party represents a relatively small and radical fringe of the opposition.
The radicals have consistently opposed anything resembling “coexistence with the regime” and now (along with Washington, but not our European allies) insist that the only item up for negotiations is the terms under which Maduro will leave office.
In contrast, opposition moderate Timoteo Zambrano has long supported focusing discussions on the revamping of the national electoral council and the release of political prisoners, two demands that were tentatively met on September 16.
Another key negotiator on September 16, former presidential candidate Claudio Fermin, staunchly opposes the government’s statist economic policies, but criticizes Guaidó for supporting sanctions and military intervention and argues Venezuelans can resolve their conflicts without intervention by “external factors.”
These latest developments were predictable given Guaidó’s erosion of active support, as shown by his loss of mobilization capacity, beginning with his failed general strike call in May. Many opposed to the government recall the five times the opposition has announced a “final offensive” against Maduro and, as Zambrano states, they would rather concentrate on pressing economic problems.
Nevertheless, without support of non-radicals such as Acción Democrática party and two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, the moderates’ chances of success are limited. But the September 16 initiative is the only hope for beginning to ease the extreme polarization that has done much damage to Venezuela since the early years of Hugo Chávez’s rule.