THE POLITICAL FRINGES ON STAGE
August 13, 2003
As the heat wave from hot talk is sure to strike us with the recall election approaching, it would be interesting to describe two of most prominent spokesperson from each side. I have selected two emblematic figures that can be charitably described as belonging to the fringes of each block. From the chavista left wing representative Iris Valera embodies all the passion of the “Bolivarian revolutionary cause” independently of the hard facts of life. From the anti chavista right wing, well known former actor and recycled TV talk show host, Orlando Urdaneta, illustrates how oblivious of the real country the opposition can appear.
Representative Iris Valera is the prototype of the political non-entity and fringe activist that was catapulted to fame and some form of power thanks to the Chavez coat tails. An obscure lawyer from Tachira, she even confessed having toyed with the idea of joining the Colombian FARC guerilla in her youth. She cultivates a certain disheveled look that centers on a leonine curly hair-do. Her speech tone is generally excited and ideas do not seem to stay long enough behind her lips to mature. Or do they? One does wonder because sometimes she seems to be quite the agent provocateur.
She rose to fame while a member of the 1999 constituent assembly. Her principal contribution was the demise of the Venezuelan senate. “We cannot make a revolution without radically changing some stuff. Let’s eliminate the senate” she said more or less. Certainly one of the most powerful intellectual arguments ever advanced to create or demote a venerable institution.
Chavez impressed by her direct words gave her the surname “comandante fosoforito” (easy burning match commandant).
Of course, she has been extensively used by chavistas for some high profile media outings. She seems unusually able to dig out pertinent information that would take days to a normal investigative journalist to find. Surely, she and her staff are particularly efficient. One should not speculate on her mounting media shows of counter information, even if that seems to be her objective.
Her latest gambit was to propose two new constitutional amendments. The government hell-bent on delaying or stopping the recall election altogether can only be pleased by her suggestion to change the rules for naming and removing the High Court officials and the Electoral Authorities. This would be done by a simple majority, instead of the cumbersome democratic consensus seeking 2/3 majority required by the constitution. That Chavez style has made him lose by defections the 2/3 majority he had in 2000 does not seem to be a source of angst when he can try to change the constitution.
Unfortunately, this has to go to referendum, if passed at the assembly. Interestingly, the cursed, and fascist actual electoral authorities unfit to run a recall election, authorities that should be changed for “good revolutionary ones” suddenly appear to be fit to run a constitutional amendment referendum. I have to admit that only Iris Varela can pull that one in front of TV cameras, without the shade of a single self-doubt. Ah! Faith in the revolution!
Orlando Urdaneta opens his nightly talk show on Globovison network by describing the fashionable outfit that he is wearing to promote a well-known boutique. He announces simply that every night they lend him a different outfit and tie (he seems partial to Armani). He also advertises later in the show watches in the thousands of dollars that go rather well with his outfits.
Mr. Urdaneta used to be an actor until he found his calling in defending Venezuelan liberties against the bloody tyranny of Chavez. He became particularly active after one of his cousin messed up the April 11 events. The cousin, a high officer in the military establishment, eventually joined the Plaza Altamira sit-in of last October, a sit-in that lasts to this day, benefiting now the government rather than the opposition.
Mr. Urdaneta has become a celebrity of sorts with his strong statements, widely cheered as a fixture on the stage of most opposition rallies. In his defense, I must say that on occasion he has not hesitated to walk in the front lines. Less wisely, he has taken on himself to promote events that have been more of a bust than a success. Recently, when Omar Calderon, an ex-governor of Tachira and prominent local opposition leader was abducted, Orlando Urdaneta called his admirers for a sit-in on Caracas main thoroughfare. This resulted in a massive traffic jam and a universal pestering against him. This still would have been OK, except that the attendance was poor, he almost got arrested putting at unnecessary risk some of the dissident military and almost created a violent situation that would have benefited the government and damaged the opposition hard earned and still fragile pacific and legalistic image. All of that of course without bringing an iota closer the freedom of Omar Calderon.
Of course, this type of direct action activities garners him a lot of sympathy with some that still think that a military coup would free us from the Chavez nightmare.
His latest TV/radio crusade is to call for the boycott of companies perceived, by him, to make a fast buck with the Chavez administration. This type of actions, well targeted, could indeed bring some political dividends. But when announced from an Armani suit to the people in the lower echelons of the financial pyramid one is allowed to wonder of its efficacy. Surely, there is a feel good cheap activism for those who have options. However, does Mr. Urdaneta realize that the sales tax of 16% on the Armani suit goes to Chavez’s coffers? Is he aware that the company that most helps the government finances is the oil and gas PDVSA giant monopoly? Next to PDVSA all are peanuts. All what he might achieve, perhaps, is ruining the alleged accomplices and make their workers lose their jobs. I wonder if these newly jobless folks would vote for Mr. Urdaneta friends.
As the reader can see, inconsistencies are not the monopoly of either side. Oddly, both of today personages, immune to ridicule, seem the two sides of the same coin.