May 24, 2018 | By Francisco Rodriguez, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: Venezuela's Post-Election Outlook

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro handily won reelection, but the international community rejected his election as a sham, and the United States responded with new sanctions. To explain what happened and what's next, Francisco Rodriguez, a Venezuelan economist and a policy advisor to leading opposition candidate Henri Falcón, joins this week’s Deep Dish with Brian Hanson.



Francisco Rodriguez: I think that as the country becomes poorer and the government becomes more powerful, that there's nobody in the administration who really appears to know anything about economics.

Francisco Rodriguez: People want to get rid of this government. The problem is that they don't know how to do it.

Brian Hanson: This is Deep Dish on Global Affairs, going beyond the headlines and critical global issues. I'm Brian Hanson, and today we're discussing what's happening in Venezuela, which just this weekend held a presidential election, and what this means for the situation in the country, which is essentially in an economic free fall and suffering from a dire humanitarian crisis.

Brian Hanson: I'm joined today by Francisco Rodriguez, who is the chief economist at Torino Capital. He has also served as Head of the Venezuelan Congressional Budget Office, from 2000 to 2004. And most recently, he was an advisor and policy director to presidential candidate Henri Falcón. Welcome, Francisco. It's good to have you here.

Francisco Rodriguez: Hi Brian, it's a pleasure being here with you.

Brian Hanson: So the recent presidential election has resulted in a second term for the current president, Nicolás Maduro, who of course is a socialist protégé of Hugo Chávez. And Maduro came to power in 2013. Now the results of this election are largely rejected by the international community as anything but free and fair. It raises new questions about the steep economic decline, worsening social conditions, and increasing isolation on the international stage. And I'm very happy to have you here to be able to help us understand this.

Brian Hanson: I want to start with the election, and I want to put it in a little bit of a broader context, which of course at the end of last year, there has been ongoing political struggle in Venezuela. And after the opposition won control of the Parliament last year, President Maduro then stripped the Parliament of power and created what's been described as a puppet assembly in its place. Now we've got a presidential election in which Maduro is re-elected, but with a very low turnout of something like 40 percent of the voters, and having disqualified two of his most potent rivals. How should we understand this election? What does it tell us about political power in Venezuela today?

Francisco Rodriguez: Well, first thing that you have to take into account is that this election was boycotted by a large number of opposition movements. And there were very high levels of abstention, which essentially implies that the boycott was encountered with popular support, or at least it interpreted the way that people felt about the election. So by official numbers, there was only 48 percent turnout. In past presidential elections, there's been about 80 percent turnout. And we have some reasons to suspect that those official turnout numbers are inflated. Our estimated of turnout more at around 30 percent.

Francisco Rodriguez: So at this very basic level, the election doesn't really confer much legitimacy on Nicolás Maduro. We, particularly the candidacy of Henri Falcón has not accepted the process, the electoral process. And in fact, we denounce it, particularly because even though the government had actually committed to some minimal guarantees that we thought were the basic conditions necessary to at least enter into this race, they violated them in the middle of the process. And the government carried out some pretty blatant vote-buying, offering every single voter who turned out to vote, and who was registered in one of the government's program, the equivalent of four minimum wages.

Francisco Rodriguez: So this, in any country in the world, this would lead for a candidate to be disqualified. In Venezuela, the government didn't ... because really there are very few checks and balances. There's nothing even resembling an independent electoral authority. So the people who didn't want to participate in this election, I think that they had it right from an ethical standpoint. There are many reasons to reject these elections. But we think that they were wrong from a practical standpoint, given the huge levels of rejection for Nicolás Maduro, we thought that it made sense to try to overcome all of the government's tricks and treachery, and try to get massive participation, to effectively get people to show their rejection.

Francisco Rodriguez: In fact, even by the official number, Maduro got just six million votes. That's 30 percent of all registered voters. That being said, the other 70 percent of voters could potentially, and in fact according to the public opinion evidence that we have from surveys, that 70 percent, either the ones who voted against him or the ones who abstained, are against the government. So we thought that if those people had mobilized the vote, we would have put Maduro in dire straits. Regrettably, we weren't able to convince all of those other voters who participated in the boycott, that this was the correct way to go ahead.

Francisco Rodriguez: So we're kind of in the worse of all worlds, in which Maduro has gotten re-elected for another six year term. And even though that election isn't recognized internationally, it doesn't really make that much difference to him. He stays in power. And it doesn't make that much difference to Venezuelans who have to put up with Maduro in power for the time being.

Brian Hanson: And I believe you were on the ground during the election, and you just kind of did a really very helpful analysis of the numbers and how to make sense of those. What was the mood on the ground? As you were talking to people in this election, what was your sense?

Francisco Rodriguez: People are fed up with this government. This government has caused the largest economic crisis in Latin American economic history. It's caused the world's only hyper-inflation in the past decade. The last one, 10 years ago, was in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe. The purchasing power of Venezuelan wages has gone down by 95 percent during Maduro's government. More than eight million Venezuelans do not eat three meals a day. People want to get rid of this government. The problem is that they don't know how to do it.

Francisco Rodriguez: It's a government that controls a lot of institutions. It has this very powerful well-funded political machinery for which it uses government resources. And the hungrier that some people are, particularly the core, the less that they can take chances and the more that they have to accept the government's handouts. So it's almost like the government's exploiting them into getting them to vote for Maduro. So I think that the way most Venezuelans feel about this situation is depressed. And that was our big problem. Our problem was that we were trying to convince people, "Hey, if we all actually get together and we come out and vote, it's going to be impossible for Maduro to break this election because it's just going to be too many votes.

Francisco Rodriguez: But people didn't feel convinced by that. I think that Venezuelans are suffering what can be most closely described as a state of depression. They believe that it's impossible to get rid of Maduro, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So most Venezuelans stayed away from the polls. They just didn't see any point to it. They believe that Maduro's going to be in power forever. It's really very sad, for me as a Venezuelan, to see this happening. But that's the description of reality. That's what's happening.

Brian Hanson: Back in January, you wrote a really interesting piece about the situation in Venezuela. And one of the things that you said is that there's a widespread and serious misconception that Venezuela is a totalitarian dictatorship. Looking at the situation today, do you still believe that's a misconception? Or how do you see that situation?

Francisco Rodriguez: Oh yes. Yes, it is. It is. Because you don't have elections in a totalitarian dictatorship. You don't have elections marked by any degree of competitiveness. That's a completely different type of regime. This is a regime in which there is the possibility of competition. I mean, it's not a democratic regime. It's something that's somewhere in the middle. And that's what makes it really problematic. The fact that there are some spaces in which we can contest the regime, but those spaces were also very limited. And it's not very clear what political action should look like in this type of setting.

Francisco Rodriguez: But the fact is that ... And I will put the emphasis, where you said that phrase, on the words "totalitarian". I do think that Nicolás Maduro is essentially a dictator. But there are dictators that leave some space for political competition. And there are some that do not. The ones that do not are totalitarian. The ones that do are more of the competitive totalitarianism. And those spaces aren't proven for generating political change. I would put, as examples, Pinochet. Pinochet held a plebiscite in 1988, and he lost it and he had to give up power. The Sandinista held elections in 1990. And they lost, and then they had to give up power. Slobodan Milošević held elections in the year 2000, and he lost. He tried to rig them, but he proved unable to. And he also lost power, as a result.

Francisco Rodriguez: So basically, that I think is the crucial difference. In North Korea or Cuba, you don't have an election in which you even have a chance of competing against the regime. In regimes like our Chile under Pinochet, or like Nicaragua under the Sandinista, or like Serbia under Milošević, or like Zimbabwe under Mugabe. You did have those elections. And there, the question becomes, "Do you want to compete in those elections, even though they aren't fair?" There's a wide array of international evidence that shows that you do want to compete in them. There's a paper by Matthew Franco at the Brookings Institution that shows that electoral boycotts are massively ineffective. They fail 96 percent of the time. So when you get one of these chances, you want to do what the Chileans did in 1988. You want to go, even though the rules are set by the dictator, and even though the rules are set to advantage him, you want to go and you want to contest him, and you want to try to win that.

Francisco Rodriguez: And that's what we tried to do. But of course, it was difficult. And it was difficult because the playing field was slanted against us, but also because we didn't come with the support of all the opposition. We had to face a boycott in which sometimes it felt that some of them were hard line opposition, treated us as much as their enemies as they treated Maduro. That's what made it really difficult. And we ended up with a campaign that was very much underfunded and understaffed. And we gave it our best shot. But our best shot was not enough to grab Maduro from power.

Brian Hanson: That's a really interesting perspective because I know that there was some criticism of the Falcón campaign after Maduro had eliminated two of his rivals and blocked them from running in this election. And your explanation there helps me understand the strategy of engaging in this. And let me just ask the follow-up on that. After having seen the result of this, do you continue to believe that that right strategy to run in this election?

Francisco Rodriguez: I think so. I mean, I wish it worked. There were some factors that were completely out of our control. One of them, which really came out of left field and made things difficult, was the emergence of a third candidate, an evangelical pastor called Javier Bertucci. There's a lot of speculation ... It's just speculation. I don't have any proof of it ... that his candidacy was supported by the government. But certainly the fact that Bertucci has been very ready ... Even yesterday he met with Maduro, and he's been very ready to collaborate with the government.

Francisco Rodriguez: But regardless of what his motivations were, it was a very well-funded, surprisingly well-funded campaign. Nobody expected it. But he ended up having a lot more resources and organization than we did. And he started pulling at around 15 percent. He ended up getting 10 percent of the vote. But there were polls that were putting him at 15, 20 percent just a few weeks before the election. And that made our job very difficult because we weren't only competing with those who were pushing for abstention. We were also competing with this other candidate. So the opposition vote ended up almost being split three ways, between the abstentionists, Bertucci, and Falcón. And that made it impossible for us to convince the abstentionists that they should support Falcón's candidacy. Because the reality is that we were headed into the election on split polls that were essentially putting us tied with Maduro, or even just with a very slim advantage.

Francisco Rodriguez: So I think that there were some thing that definitely didn't play in our favor. And there were some factors in which we got unlucky. And there were some factors in which the boycott really hurt us. The boycott was very powerful. It was very difficult to get funding for this campaign. It was very difficult to get talented people to collaborate. The campaign ended up being very hostile. There were, for example, a lot of our opponents from the opposition really didn't want Falcón to get many votes. So they accused us of collaborated with Maduro in order to justify the election. And no matter how much we denied it, and no matter how much we attacked Maduro, they claimed that there was a secret plan for us to join the government. And we could decry it as much as we wanted to, but that campaign really still harmed our chances.

Francisco Rodriguez: But the fact is that abstaining, not participating in the campaign, and not participating in the election, doesn't lead you anywhere. And that, I think, is the big problem that Venezuela has right now. By all counts, abstention won. So those who were pushing for abstention actually got the majority of Venezuelans to stay away from the polls. So the boycott was effective. What difference does it make for Venezuelans? Day after the elections, people still have to put up with Maduro. And Maduro is still in the presidency. And he might be perceived as being illegitimate. He was perceived as being illegitimate before the election, internationally. That doesn't make Venezuelans' life any better.

Brian Hanson: Let me turn to that, the domestic political situation, economic and social situation is really dire, as you've already mentioned, hyperinflation. I've seen numbers as high as 4000 percent inflation rates, which is just stunning. Severe shortages of food and medicine, of course. Concerns about public health emergencies. Off-the-charts levels of criminal violence. And unprecedented wave of an exodus of people who are leaving the country. That's the situation at this point. Does Maduro have a strategy, or any approach, to actually address any of these domestic issues?

Francisco Rodriguez: No, he does not. And this is something that's very much a reason for concern. Maduro has not given any indication that he understands how to handle these issues. There's nobody in the administration who really appears to know anything about economics. If you think about what this regime is like, this regime has essentially driven out of the inner, and even the outer circle, any people with technical expertise on the economy, or with technical expertise, say, with the oil sector. So the economy is pretty much in free fall. When you look at the ideas of the government's economics theme for how to handle hyperinflation, they're essentially non-existent. They have not discussed or said anything about the need for a macroeconomic stabilization program, for closing the fiscal deficit, for stabilizing the currency.

Francisco Rodriguez: And on top of that, even if they did, it would be very hard because this country essentially has run out of money. And this is a country where 95 percent of its export revenue comes from the state-owned oil company. That state-owned oil company has seen a decline of 45 percent in production over the course of the past five years. And it's continuing to decline. It's gone down from 2.8 million barrels a day, to 1.5 million barrels. And most analysts expect it, by year end, to be at around one million barrels. And because of all of the economic controls, there isn't really an economic system that has the ability to start producing other things if it starts producing oil. So I think that there's a pretty strong chance that Venezuela's current humanitarian crisis could get worse, and that we could see a full scale humanitarian tragedy in Venezuela over the course of the nest few years.

Francisco Rodriguez: And I think that the government has no idea how to handle it. And the fact that it's becoming more internationally isolated, the fact that there are going to be even deeper economic sanctions, the fact that the oil industry isn't in such trouble that there's no international financial access because the country's in default. All of these make it very complicated. So I really can't see a way out, economically, for the country unless you get political change. And it's terrible because it means that Venezuelans are going to go through even harder times in the next few years.

Brian Hanson: And one of the manifestations of those hard times has been the exodus of people out of Venezuela into neighboring countries. Do you have a sense of what types of people are actually leaving the country. Are there demographic groups or skill levels that are particularly part of this out-migration? And what is the implication for Venezuela going forward?

Francisco Rodriguez: Well this is a process that has gone on through the past several years. Now that the beginning, it was more highly skilled labor. It was people who could get a visa or work permit to go to the US, or to another country. So what the country started losing at the beginning was some of its educated middle class and upper middle class. What's happened over the course of the past year or so is that there's been very large integration of unskilled workers. And this is because hyperinflation has led to a collapse of the country's minimum wage. The minimum wage right now it just two dollars a month. I mean, it's really quite amazing to see that type of wages. The Latin American average is 360 dollars a month.

Francisco Rodriguez: So quite obviously, anybody who has some international mobility has huge economic incentives to go abroad. And what's happening is that this is actually almost functioning as a safety net for the Venezuelan economy and for Venezuelan people because workers go abroad. Usually it's the young members, the adult but younger members of the family that don't have that many ties. Maybe they're not married. They don't have to directly support their kids. They have more labor mobility because it's easier for young people to get jobs than for older people. So they go to Ecuador, to Columbia, to Panama. And they send dollars to Venezuela. And if you earn the minimum wage in Columbia, you can with just a fraction of that, 50 dollars, 70 dollars, you're sending home like 30 minimum wages. That makes a huge difference to those Venezuelans who stay here.

Francisco Rodriguez: So what's happening is that, essentially, Venezuelan families, working and lower class families, since they cannot live on what they produce in Venezuela, they have to send members of their family abroad so that they can generate the income that's necessary to sustain those who stay here.

Brian Hanson: In response to this situation, the Trump administration has been increasing sanction pressures, as they're done in other countries as well, but really wanted to put, and has put more sanctions, on Venezuela. At one point, it was even an implication that the US might consider military action to remove Maduro from power.

Brian Hanson: I know that you've written in the past that you believe that the sanctions policy is the wrong approach for the US to take. You've also, as you've talked about, had some optimism about the possibility for domestic political processes to unfold and create opportunities for political change. At this point, what is your view of US policy? And do sanctions make sense given this election experience we've just had?

Francisco Rodriguez: I think they don't. I think that they're very misguided. And this is really a very controversial topic in public policy circles, and also among Venezuelans because of course the more hard line opposition is pushing for sanctions. They want the US government to be very tough on Maduro because they want to impose very high costs on Maduro, and they believe that this might lead to political change. But I think that if you really look at these issues carefully, and you look at the evidence on sanctions, as well as what's happening in Venezuela, you'll find that if anything, they're counterproductive.

Francisco Rodriguez: Well, there are two types of sanctions. There are sanctions on individuals. And there are economic sanctions. The sanction on individuals do have some logical and some rationale. And of course, if you have individuals who are guilty, say, of corruption or of human rights abuses, there's a very strong ethical reason why you would want to sanction them. Now however, it's still the case that one of the problems in generating a political transition is that you have to make exit costs for the regime sufficiently low. And the sanctions, what they're doing, is that they're actually increasing the exit costs. So they lead for the regime to be more consolidated around the idea of staying in power. The fact that it's harder for them to visualize going into exile anywhere, paradoxically makes race as the incentives for them to cling to power, and therefore to be able to stay in power, which is what has happened.

Francisco Rodriguez: Now economic sanctions against the country as a whole, I think that there are many reasons why they're wrong. Number one, they harm Venezuelans. They don't harm the government. They don't harm government officials. Surely, they make it difficult for the government to obtain money, but they also make it difficult for the country to obtain money. And I want to go back to this issue of how the Venezuela economy works. 95 percent of export revenue comes through the revenue of the state owned oil firm. That means that the money with which this country feeds itself goes through the government. You try to strangle the government buy cutting its access to resources, you're going to end up strangling the country.

Francisco Rodriguez: Now, there are some people who take the most hard line view, who say, "Well it doesn't matter because if you create a serious enough economic crisis, then that's going to lead for Venezuelans to rise up in arms against the government and to overthrow the government." And it just doesn't work that way. It actually, I think, works the other way around. I think that as the country becomes poorer, the government becomes more powerful, vis-a-vis people.

Francisco Rodriguez: Now I'll take you back to 2012. 2012 was Chávez's last year in office, and also the year in which he got re-elected for a six-year term. And that was a moment of relative prosperity. Oil was at 100 dollars a barrel. Things weren't going that wrong with the Venezuelan economy. And maybe the causes of the current crisis had already been sewn at that time. But they hadn't yet had their effect. And Chávez therefore had to face a relatively strong challenge from the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. And Chávez had to spend huge amounts of money at that time in his campaign, promising people houses that were stocked with fridges and appliances and washer dryers. So buying votes, for the government, was actually quite expensive.

Francisco Rodriguez: This time around, where Venezuelans are earning two dollars a month, Nicolás Maduro promised them a bonus equal to 10 dollars. And that was enough to make many Venezuelans think that they couldn't afford not voting for the government. Because not voting for the government actually could mean that you starve. So that shows you how the poorer that the country becomes, the more powerful that the government becomes. And that's where I think that this idea of pushing for sanctions as a way of generating a regime change is totally wrong. I think that actually the sanctions that have been imposed by the US administration over the past year probably helped Nicolás Maduro win this election, regrettably.

Brian Hanson: So in that case, what do you think the best US policy would be? You've talked very frankly about the challenges in the country, the political difficulties of displacing Maduro from power. Can the US play an active and helpful role? And if so, what should that be?

Francisco Rodriguez: I think it's very complex. I think that the US doesn't have that much that it can do now. I think that it can help the Venezuelan opposition, the first full consolidated unified strategy. And I think that rather than just supporting the more hard line groups, it should try to help find ways for the more moderate groups to get together with the more hard line groups, in order to forge a common strategy to face against the government.

Francisco Rodriguez: And if anything, what I think that the US can do, is fund efforts that have direct relevance to Venezuelans and that can directly help Venezuelans. So going back to this idea of winning the hearts and minds of Venezuelans. And one of the things that we find in opinion surveys is that the majority of Venezuelans are against sanctions. And the majority of Venezuelans therefore believe that the US government is really harming them. Not to talk about an oil embargo. If the US actually went ahead with an oil embargo, opinion surveys say that more than 80 percent of Venezuelans would reject an oil embargo.

Francisco Rodriguez: So I think that we have to go back to thinking about how, if the US wants to do anything, how it should try to win the hearts and minds of Venezuelans. Now, it's difficult for the US to do anything inside Venezuela because Venezuela is controlled by the government. So if the US offers, say, humanitarian aid to the government, then the government will reject it. But there's a lot that the US could be doing to helping Venezuelan migrants. And there are many migrants who are in their refugee camps outside of the country that are formed by poor Venezuelan migrants that have had a very difficult time settling and incorporating into the countries that they've immigrated to. And that's a place where the US can help Venezuelans. I think that the US can get a lot more get well from Venezuelans by helping those people who've immigrated, and in any case, by trying to strengthen that immigrant community because I do think that that immigrant community, that diaspora can have a significant effect on the possibility of a regime change.

Francisco Rodriguez: And remember that ... And we were discussing this a few minutes ago, that approximately four to five million Venezuelans who have immigrated, each one of them has a family that they've left in Venezuela that they're supporting economically, who's political thinking they also have an influence on. So I think that the force of the Venezuelan immigrant community can be a significant factor for political change in Venezuela. But really, in the end, and this is what's tricky about it. In the end, it's going to be very difficult for you to get change in Venezuela, unless it comes from an internal dynamic. I mean, stopping short of external military action, which some people are calling for, if that's not under consideration, it really has to be Venezuelans, which in one way or another are going to have to find a way out of this regime, be it through electoral organization, or be it through the other means.

Brian Hanson: Yeah, and I want to ask about one other potential mechanism for political change in Venezuela. Some observers have commented that the best possibility for political change would be action by the military, a military coup. How do you see the role of the military, and do you believe that that is a possibility for political change?

Francisco Rodriguez: Well, I'd like to answer that question by considering two difference scenarios. One of them is internal action by the Venezuelan military against Maduro. And the problem with that approach ... I mean, I think that that can happen. I think that it's a real possibility. And when you look at political transitions are typically, there's a moment of fracture within the government coalition that opens up the space for change. So I think that that's a scenario that, as an analyst, I would place a significant weight on.

Francisco Rodriguez: But however, it also happens that military coups tend to not very often lead to the constitution of stable democracy. So in other words, generally they tend to be displacements of one sector of the military by other sectors. And I think that that makes it very possible that you could get a coup against Maduro, and maybe people will be very happy that Maduro's overthrown. And then you'll see that rather than our having a call for a competitive election, you end up having the faction of the military that takes power, actually just consolidate itself into another military dictatorship. So that's one concern that I have with that potential avenue for change.

Francisco Rodriguez: Well, the other possibility is that of an external military action, or kind of what happened with Noriega in Panama. And there, I would say, to be fair, if you look at the Panamanian example, it didn't turn out that bad. Of course, there were some very difficult ethical calculations that I don't necessarily want to get into here, in terms of how to evaluate the cost in human lives that a military action may produce. But ultimately, when you think about it, Panama right now is a prosperous democracy that is certainly a much better place for Panamanians than it would have been if that action had not taken place.

Francisco Rodriguez: The problem that I have with that, is that I have a hard time seeing the time of multilateral support emerge for that action, regarding Venezuela, that would be necessary, given with current international institutions. I don't think that you would be able to get support for that, say, in the UN Security Council, given that China and Russian would most certainly use their veto power in order to block it. And I don't think that our ... Oh, also this US administration is somewhat unpredictable. But it seems to me that it's very likely that the US would not decide to do something unilaterally, or without the support of multilateral bodies.

Francisco Rodriguez: So I think that the problem with that alternative is that it's not feasible, and therefore it's very unlikely to happen.

Brian Hanson: So as we close, I want to ask you to reflect for us on something that you have a unique perspective on, both being a Venezuelan, as well as someone who is following the press coverage in the United States and in the west, the situation unfolding in Venezuela. And my question is, what do you think one of the greatest misunderstandings, or underappreciated understandings is, of the situation in Venezuela? And in that, what should our listeners gain a better understanding of, that they're not necessarily getting from the current press coverage?

Francisco Rodriguez: Hmm. Well that's a great question. I think that there are a set of potential candidates. But I would focus on the following. I don't think that we understand very well how Venezuelans think, and how different groups of Venezuelans think. The opinion surveys continue to identify President Maduro as having an approval rating that's in the 20s. Now, there are many different ways to characterize that, and one hypothesis is that these are just people who are fearful of saying anything against the government. But those people also go to government demonstrations, and they also vote for the government. Now again, this might all be fear? But is it really? I think we need a lot more research in trying to understand. The research that has been carried out in Venezuela, be it opinion surveys, focus groups, anthropological studies, tell you that there's something deeper there, that there is a type of connection that Chavismo has generated with a group of Venezuelans, which is still very important, and which people still do feel strongly about.

Francisco Rodriguez: And then I think that we also have to understand how ... the rest of Venezuelans. I think those who are in the opposition, those who are against the government, those who are neutral and somewhat disengaged from politics think alike. And something that ... The more closely involved that one gets in politics here, one has a chance to observe, is that there is a group of people who are politically very mobilized against the government. Now there are those who at some moment are willing to go into protests and are willing to participate in anti-government rallies, and are very vocal about their opinions. And in social media, they're extremely influential. But you have to bear in mind that social media, in a country that's as impoverished as Venezuela, doesn't have as much reach as it has in the US.

Francisco Rodriguez: So for example, some of the surveys that we have of the amount of Venezuelans who have access to Twitter is just 12 percent. That's very low. And I can give you a very biased sample. I think that there are a lot of other Venezuelans who would like to see their economic problems solved. And they don't really care how they're solved, but they're going through a very hard time. And some people just disengage completely from politics, among other things because of their economic problems. For example, a lot of young people, it was very difficult to get them to actively think about the election because they're thinking about what they do to immigrate, what they do to leave the country. So they don't change their country, but in another sense, they want to go live in another country.

Francisco Rodriguez: So there are all of these different heterogeneous realities in Venezuela, which I think that when you look at it from abroad, you can very simple fall into the narrative of, "This is a very evil government," which, by the way, I believe that it is. And there's this brave opposition that's fighting against it and that's politically mobilized but oppressed. And again, I think that that's part of the reality. But they're just parts of the reality. There are all of these other groups of Venezuelans that think about and engage in politics in a different way. And I think that if you don't understand them, then it's going to be very difficult to find a way out.

Francisco Rodriguez: The other thing that I would like to point to is ... And again, when you asked me the question, I told you that there are many different factors, is what's the best way to fight against this government? Because a lot of the Venezuelan opposition has been very focused on seeking short-term regime change. And I can understand how powerful that concept is. If You can achieve it, then it's the best way out. But there's another way of thinking about political organization. And it may be that it makes more sense to see this as a longer term struggle. And in fact, if you look at what's been happening in Venezuelan politics over the past several years, you can argue that this big failure of the opposition in unseating Maduro had to do with focusing on those short-term objectives.

Francisco Rodriguez: To put a very concrete example, when the opposition won the 2015 Parliamentary elections, it emerged strengthened out of that. And it had two choices. One of them was to push for a regime change, which is what it did. The other one would be, for example, to push for regional elections, which at that moment it would have surely won, and it would have allow it to capture more stasis. The opposition opted for the first one, but in retrospect, the second one may have been more effective as a way to slowly advance then undermine Maduro's power. So maybe there's been too much focus on thinking about the short run. We have to see this as a longer run problem.

Brian Hanson: Well it's certainly an issue and situation that we will continue to follow closely. Francisco, thanks so much for being on and helping our listeners get a deeper appreciation and understanding what's going on in Venezuela. Thanks for being here.

Francisco Rodriguez: Thank you very much.

Brian Hanson: And thank you for tuning in to this episode of Deep Dish on Global Affairs. As a reminder, the opinions you heard today belong to the people who expressed them, and not the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. If you like the show, please take a moment and tap the "subscribe" button on your podcast app. You can find us under Deep Dish on Global Affairs, wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you think you know someone who would be interested in this episode, please tap the "share" button and send it to them as well. If you have any questions about anything you heard today, or if you want to know about upcoming episodes in advance, and to submit questions to upcoming guests, please join our Facebook group, Deep Dish on Global Affairs.

Brian Hanson: This episode of Deep Dish was produced by Evan Fazio and Amila Golic. Our audio engineer is Joe Palermo. I'm Brian Hanson. And we'll be back soon for another slice of Deep Dish.


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