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General Almagro in his Maze of Cohabitation

El General Almagro en su laberinto de cohabitación

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By Beatrice E. Rangel

LUIS ALMAGRO, Secretary General of the OAS, published an article in the Chronicles of Montevideo newspaper that the continent’s elites should use as material to meditate if they are interested in rescuing democratic paths and taking advantage of the opportunities opened by international change.

In effect, the world economy and the reconstitution of the geopolitical map open up to Latin America —as happened in 1945— a golden opportunity to strengthen the still shaky democracies and enter growth paths. In 1945 the region preferred to continue with its schemes of mercantilist capitalism and its corporatist political systems with the consequences that we are experiencing today, which are summarized in paralytic economies and limited democracies.

Luis Almagro’s article raises the imperative need to resolve the perverse dilemma of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Because it is from there that most of the ills that adversely impact the region come out like Pandora’s box. Venezuela uses income from illicit activities to finance tough electoral campaigns that benefit the regime. It has created a population exodus that no nation in Latin America—not even Mexico and Brazil—can fully absorb; it destroys the gains in health by expelling a sick population depressed by the lack of food and medicine and surreptitiously injects organized crime forces into the region to have informal operators capable of causing political instability at times when the regime wants to collect accounts.

After describing the consequences of the Bolivarian administration on Venezuela and the Almagro region, he indicates what many experts have already pointed out: it is a sophisticated dilemma whose solution follows untrodden political paths. And those paths are those of cohabitation.

To the extent that the Venezuelan regime managed to petrify itself in power–to that same extent– Almagro indicates, it is impossible to extirpate it despite its lack of legitimacy and the universal repudiation of its conduct exhibited by both the international community and the Venezuelan collective.

And even when Almagro does not define in his proposal the contents of the cohabitation that should be fostered in Venezuela, he does give some clues about how to start the assembly. According to Almagro, cohabitation “implies an exercise in real political dialogue, shared institutionality of shared State powers.” “In a scheme of permanent tension, it has to be regulated in such detail that the best formula continues to be the Swiss formula of the collegiate system. The regional example is the Uruguayan Constitution of 52,” he continues explaining. “Sharing is counterbalancing. Cohabitation without counterweights can become complicity”, finally adds.

In a few words, Almagro proposes the establishment of quotas of power between the Chavista group and the one that opposes it. These quotas would be represented by the assumption of control in various capacities by a mosaic of political forces that, having delimited their territory, should carry out their responsibilities without confrontations or tripping.

In short, Almagro, without indicating it, proposes that the foundations of a liberal democracy be built from the rubble of Chavismo. And from the point of view of political rationality, he is absolutely right.

The problems come with the design of the operational plan. Or, as the Anglo-Saxons say, “the devil hides in the details.”

Because the cast is not abundant to build a constructive cohabitation. Almagro intuits this difficulty by indicating, “The problem has been with those who sheltered that regime in those various phases of deterioration or crisis or collapse or breakdown of the constitutional order that the country is experiencing today.” Because that cast of death is in force and will form the first barrier of opposition to the proposal. For them, a status quo that guarantees personal well-being is better than democratization, where the size of that well-being is unknown or subject to democratic scrutiny.

And the only way to transcend that barrier is by identifying genuine leadership whose only source of legitimacy is civil society. Without the free recognition and without alterations of civil society to the leaders of the opposition and Chavismo, the system could not be armed because it would become what it has been these last 20 years: the sale of the right to legitimacy for a plate of lentils. And so, the first step toward the cohabitation system that Almagro correctly suggests was lost in 2015. So for the proposal to have the vital energy that will lead it to success, it is necessary to look at the heart of Venezuela and of the Venezuelans tied to an infamous destiny described by Almagro as “It is people that live in a hell with a path that never forks.” Because there is no watershed towards freedom.

Beatrice E. Rangel is a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations of the United States. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. This article is part of a partnership between the Interamerican Institute for Democracy and El American.

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