A plebiscite must be scheduled

By Luis Manuel Aguana

In the midst of the most dreadful economic, political and social crisis of our entire republican life, today's Venezuela is in great uncertainty. After abandoning a street agenda where citizens had as one of their most important civic achievements a Popular Consultation on July 16, 2017, Venezuelans seem to have lost their course.

On the one hand, political Venezuela - the MUD and its new Front - tell us that we must demand conditions to go to an electoral process with the regime, placing that as a solution to the country's serious problems; and on the other hand we are told that we must abstain in a militant way, sabotaging a process that we all see as fraudulent. However, in both cases, the country is not told how attending or not attending an election process will resolve the Venezuelan terminal crisis; Nor does anyone explain how we got rid of a National Constituent Assembly of the government with supreme powers, which makes and unmakes at its discretion, to the order of a foreign government and of the regime, and to which a supposedly next President of the Republic must submit, and which can be expected to be sworn in before that Constituent considered by the whole world as irritating, illegal and unconstitutional.

Venezuelans have lost their faith and confidence that the political establishment will rise to the challenge we face. But the agenda and public debate remains between going and not going to vote. What's going on? Who sets the country's agenda? Why should we only debate that? Are there no other options to consider?

And I certainly find it very strange that only proposals that refer to elections - or their refusal - as a solution to the country's problem, and not other equally democratic and constitutional proposals, which point to the core of the political problem, discussing the formulas for dissolving this unconstitutional Constituent Assembly of the government, such as a plebiscite or popular consultation, or a referendum, before even considering any new electoral process, exist in the public debate.

There are very important groups and public opinion generators that are deliberately ignoring and/or rejecting the issue, burying such an important debate in an ocean of sterile electoralism that prolongs the suffering of Venezuelans. And if we add to that what many expect, a foreign military intervention, the public opinion agenda becomes even more rarefied and complex.

Only by understanding a problem can we begin to move towards a solution. Let's look at the following definition: "Agenda-setting theory describes the "ability of the news media to influence the importance placed on the topics of the public agenda". With agenda setting being a social science theory, it also attempts to make predictions. That is, if a news item is covered frequently and prominently, the audience will regard the issue as more important…" (see Agenda-settiung Theory, at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agenda-setting_theory).

According to this theory of communication, the answer to why something is important or not to the population is found in the mass media and in those who set the opinion. This would seem obvious but it is not. Being this a concept taken as proven and universal, the Agenda Setting in our country has always been guided by few people and/or media. To ensure that what is discussed in the country is on the public agenda, it is necessary to convince these “opinion leaders” that the issue is important.

In the near future, programs such as Aló Ciudadano and Buenas Noches on Globovisión generated much of Venezuela's Agenda Setting. Important opinion programmes by well-known radio and television producers were also part of the creation of this political agenda and to a certain extent still are, although they are very much diminished.

As the government's"communicational hegemony" was imposed, a large part of the Agenda Setting has been transferred to opinion makers through digital video/audio programs and their dissemination through social networks, but always by the hand of few credible operators, without leaving aside the few important print media of national coverage of opposition tendencies that have not yet closed their doors, such as El Nacional and others of relevance.

It is of key importance that these operators of social communication study and accommodate new alternative ways of solving the political problem without expecting it to be"news" first, but rather that it is they who create this alternative reality by accommodating these new proposals over and above the interested wishes of a political claque that refuses to die and has amply demonstrated that it does not want a solution for the country.

Many people have told me that the National Constituent Alliance-ANCO plebiscite proposal is unknown and that we need mountains of money to get it to the people. And I ask myself: should we have one or more patrons, or should we have millionaires in the old-fashioned way behind us who hope to collect future political favours in order to put something on the country's agenda that is in the interests of the whole world? I would agree that you need money to push someone's candidacy forward because that would be in the interest of that person or political group. But is it the same when the proposal is in the interest of the country?

The debate on what is on the agenda is that it sets the course of action for what will end up happening in Venezuela. But if it is not even on the agenda of the public discussion the possibility that the people will decide their destiny through a plebiscite, much less will it be considered by the thinking citizens as a real solution to the country's problem. Hence, I believe there are hairy hands interested in keeping this crucial issue for Venezuela off the agenda. And those hairy hands are full of money to achieve that, which magnifies the problem.

In all the public forums around the country where we have debated the possibility of a Plebiscite or Popular Consultation, invariably and without distinction of political tendency, all have agreed that it is certainly an inclusive, democratic and constitutional alternative solution to the Venezuelan crisis. But it should be scheduled for general discussion and debate. I wish that this would be the thinking of those who currently set the country's political agenda. Perhaps the fate of Venezuela is in their hands...

Caracas, March 15, 2018

Twitter:@laguana