May 20, 2003
Venezuela is experimenting these days quite a lot of maneuvering. It is rather difficult for the casual observer to make sense of it, and in all truth what I will be trying to explain now might be contradicted by events within a few days. The root of it all is of course Chavez trying to keep on the offensive since last February snub (see Vignettes form El Firmazo) while the recall election date is approaching, inexorably. With a sinking economy and popularity Chavez is reduced to find creative ways to hold to power and pursue his authoritarian “project”. In other words he needs to find ways to suspend that referendum until he has a chance to win it, either by increasing popular fervor, or by “tricks” has Carter mentioned in his January visit.
The strategies that Chavez is using are several fold. In no particular order:
1- The currency control exchange in place since January 22. This one is clearly destined to weaken the ability of the private sector to finance the electoral campaign for a recall election. An economical war in due form, waged by the Chavez administration on the biggies of the private sector. That the small guys are the unwilling victims is not to be a distraction from the ultimate goal. Add to this that now the money produced by the State Oil company PDVSA can be disposed of by the government as it pleases, without anyone knowing how much is produced nor where it is spend.
2- The social offensive to try to recover some of the popular support that Chavez enjoyed once. By creating rural movements, installing its own trade unions, letting crime increase, and spreading money around, he is basically trying to convey the image that “there is a pot of gold somewhere but to dip in it you must be with me”. The beauty of this is that if it does not work there will be enough trouble generated to claim that it is impossible to hold an election with such an agitation.
3- The legislative offensive is quite clear cut: with the impending economic collapse that is hanging over us, Chavez needs to do some spin control, or damage control. This can be done by negating dollars to the Media or by passing a law, based supposedly on child protection, to limit the type of news that the media can transmit during daytime and prime time. This legislative offensive is assorted with an attempt at controlling the composition of the electoral directors, attempts to revamp the high court to ensure a locked pro Chavez majority and assorted other measures to limit the autonomy of the local powers that do not swear allegiance to the master.
Obviously, a multi pronged approach to trump the deck in case an election must be held. In the next posts I will be trying to develop each one of these themes.