Why are Venezuelans mostly white?

Venezuela's opposition consolidates Maduro's power

Henrique Capriles was never a shining figure in the Venezuelan opposition. But he was the one that the democratic party alliance Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD) was able to agree on as a presidential candidate. Twice even: in 2012 against Hugo Chávez and after his death in 2013 against Nicolás Maduro. Both times he was defeated - at least according to the official election result.

After that it became quieter around him. As the incumbent governor of the state of Miranda, he never disappeared from the political scene. But when Juan Guaidó was recognized as interim president by around 50 - mostly western - states in early 2019, Capriles largely disappeared from the eyes of international observers.

From the unifier to the splitter

Now he's back - with a bang: on Saturday (September 5th, 2020), the last day of the registration period, 277 opposition members supported the parliamentary elections that the government has scheduled for December 6th. The special thing about it is that the rest of the opposition are boycotting the election as a whole. Including Capriles' own Justicia primero (justice first) party.

Last week, Guaidó wrote in a request for support to the European Union that the election will not even meet the "minimum requirements" for free and general elections.

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Capriles argues differently: The polling is a minimal, but the only chance to put the regime under political pressure. In order to achieve fairer conditions, he is said to have already negotiated with the government - through Turkish middlemen. "Maduro will promise him a lot and will not keep any of it," says political scientist Sabine Kurtenbach from the Hamburg GIGA Institute. "We saw that in the 2018 elections."

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It is doubtful whether Capriles really believes in it. The Washington Post claims that Capriles and his colleagues are looking to Belarus, where mass protests against the ruler Alexander Lukashenko have broken out after an apparently postponed presidential election.

However, Venezuela has already gone through this kind of thing several times: in 2014, mass protests flared up because a year after Maduro's controversial takeover of power, the economic recession was becoming increasingly noticeable. In 2017, millions took to the streets after the government-loyal Supreme Court overthrew the opposition-dominated parliament with the stroke of a pen.

Wayward opponents

The fact that the former opposition consensus candidate is now becoming an apostate is particularly bitter. Kurtenbach doesn't find it really surprising: "In the opposition everyone represents their own interests.

That doesn't just have to do with a need for recognition. The Venezuelan opposition represents the entire democratic spectrum of the country: from socialist democrats, who, like Capriles, are based on the Brazilian Workers' Party of Lula da Silva, to social democrats like Guaidó and Leopoldo López, to right-wing conservatives, everything is represented. That is why the opposition has no joint program that it could offer the voters, except: Maduro has to go.

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And even on this point there is a disagreement - at least as far as the means are concerned: at the end of August, María Corina Machado, leader of the economically liberal opposition party Vente Venezuela, publicly denounced the self-proclaimed interim president Guaidó: He was too timid against the Maduro regime because he opposes military intervention from outside.

This not only sets her apart from Guaidó, she also relieves Maduro of the work, says Kurtenbach: "The talk of intervention seems to confirm what Maduro always claims: the opposition is controlled from the outside and she doesn't care about the Venezuelans."

Regime stirs up division in opposition

These - partly content-related and partly personal - differences are a kind of life insurance for Maduro. And the regime knows how to put pinpricks to fuel them. The latest example is the "pardon" of more than 110 people - for the purpose of "national reconciliation", as it was called.

Venezuela's military has not yet withdrawn support from Maduro - it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon

The regime is pretending to be merciful, it only corrects an injustice that has been committed. Because many "gifted" were imprisoned with baseless accusations and without trial. Only 50 of them are political prisoners, according to the news portal "Caracas Chronicles" more than 300 more are still in prison. This divides the opposition into "pardoned" and "not pardoned".

There is no improvement in the situation in sight, summarizes political scientist Kurtenbach, as long as the opposition, civil society and reform-minded Chavez supporters do not pull themselves together and appear united. The only chance for a timely change is that the military withdraw support from Maduro's regime. But the opposition has been waiting for this for more than seven years.