Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Elections in Venezuela? You mean, those are the options?
Part 4: chavismo divinely enthroned candidates

Whether the electoral result is probably pre-written, one must still examine who are the guys running for office. The Electoral Board, CNE, has announced 140 candidates for 22 governor mansions. The first conclusion is that the opposition is not showing a unified face. But that, curiously is also true for some chavista candidates.

Although not explicitly stated in the 1999 constitution, it was understood that the transformation of the CNE into one of the 5 powers of the nation meant that it would supervise the nomination process for elected offices. In other words, a system of primaries would eventually be installed. Chavismo has demonstrated that it would have nothing of the sort. Most candidates have been anointed by Chavez himself, regardless of what the local bases thought. What is surprising is that even in spite of Chavez ascendant, or dependence as the case might be, in some areas chavismo is going to the battle in disperse order. Let's look at the chavista offerings.

The first observation is the predilection of Chavez for governors coming from the Venezuelan armed force. They might come from those that followed the Chavez adventure of 1992 or those that have thrown their lot with Chavez since he made it to office. This is perhaps the most telling evidence that we are in fact into a military regime. Chavez seems only to trust other soldiers, if he trusts anyone. Outgoing governors that come from the army can be counted at 6. They are all running again. To this you can add 5 more that are running for the first time. If all are elected, half of the governors would be ex officers, and they would control all but one of the major states.

From the track record we know that these soldiers are not well versed in the art of democratic negotiation. Not to mention a clear track record of authoritarian predisposition.

In Carabobo Chavez has named Acosta Carles, the noteworthy general that rode fuel trucks, burped in front of cameras while seizing alleged hoarded goods, and beat to the ground a woman here and there. When getting the divine unction, he declared that he was already the governor of Carabobo and would act accordingly. This meant last week, for example, a series of squatter movements against lands held by opponents of Chavez.

For Miranda state, the anointed one is Diosdado Cabello, leaving a ministerial career as none but the Vice President can boast of in the Chavez administration. He was in all the positions that had to deal with money grants and one can be assured that he organized flawlessly the "special" transfers that these ministries oversee regularly. He is thought as being a radical, but one of the few ones with enough political intelligence. Gossip has that he has amassed quite fortune in the last 4 years and several of his relatives have found employment in key administration positions. He clearly works at becoming the heir of Chavez for whenever that time comes. Meanwhile we can see his class in the incipient campaign, from easily lowering himself to effect sexual innuendoes to Miranda current governor when needed to all sorts of lies when required. He is one candidate that has trouble meeting the camera's eye.

These decisions from Chavez have encountered some grumbling. For example, Reyes Reyes, yet another soldier governor in Lara state, is not a popular choice to succeed himself. His administration was poor and many chavistas there just dislike him profoundly. It must be said that he totally lacks character and has striven to look like Chavez to the point of imitating his ticks. More would prefer Barquisimeto mayor, Henri Falcon, who has at least shown some vague managerial skills. In at least 4 other states chavista dissidents have decided to throw their hat into the ring.

The big problem for chavismo is that all of its governor, in spite of lavish grants from the central government, cannot show a significant body of work to be able to run on their record. The only one that had at least something to show for, the governor of Bolivar state, defected a couple of months ago when Chavez did not give him the nod. Of course on April 11 2002 he was not too unhappy as to the Chavez ouster. But I personally think that his main crime was that his poll numbers were rumored to be above those of Chavez in the region. Bolivar state was the state that followed the least the 2002/2003 strike, incidentally. But Chavez does not like political debts.

No matter, since Chavez decided on most candidacies, he is making these local elections as a referendum on his rule. How will the opposition handle this?

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