Sunday, March 14, 2004

A summary table on the Venezuelan political situation

Sunday 14, March 2004

I have been postponing for a few days an analysis of the situation. Indeed the speed at which events move forward, in particular the breathtaking judicial cheating taking place in the high court makes any analysis run the risk of becoming outdated by the time it is posted. I decided instead to create a table where I list the advantages and disadvantages of each camp at this time. These of course can and will change too, but they will remain basically true for the weeks to come. Any movement made by the political antagonists is based on what they have in their cards.

I hope that from reading both tables, it will be clear that no side has really the upper hand. Not Chavez in spite of his heavy display of force since February 27. Nor the opposition that can only benefit from the good will of the international observers and that could be helped as well as harmed if for example the OAS decided to apply sanctions.

It is a very complicated and dangerous game.

 On the political front
Uncontested leader. This allows him to control tightly his followers, no dissension within the ranks. Last dissenters have left early 2002.Has few genuine feedback, mostly from people interested in keeping their jobs, or cashing in their positions while the going is good. Implies relying on corruption to buy fidelity.
His will applies.A lot of subservient people implement whatever is needed until Chavez forgets about it and then the program sinks into oblivion. This causes a rudderless administration, only worried about day to day survival.
Controls the Nation's institutions. National Assembly reduced to a rubber stamp body, with an intractable opposition. Justice rulings tend to favor the administration. Investigative bodies unwilling to deal with corruption.No serious counterweight besides the press. This has become obvious as the function of the state machinery has become the defense of the "Bolivarian project", costing international support.
In particular the control over the electoral board and the judicial system is now for all to see, casting serious doubts about the possibility of any real and fair election in the future.
The preoccupation of the judicial with the preservation of the regime causes an impressive backlog in other areas of people's security. Crime keeps on the increase, fueled by the economical recession and the careless judiciary and penal system.
On the armed forces front
Neutralized the Army.If he is sure that the Army will not rise against him, he is still not sure it will accompany him all the way in the road of repression.
Controls the National Guard, allowing him the recent and effective repression.Major tarnish to his international image as the defender of Human Rights has been transformed into your average repressor. Might have doomed the National Guard in a post Chavez administration, or at least the serving personnel.
On the economical front
Control of the State Oil company, PDVSA, which acts directly as the petty cash of the Bolivarian project.The financial needs of the company are neglected. Necessary investments in oil well recuperation and new exploration are not met. The national production has shrunk and a pre 2002 strike level cannot be reached unless massive private investment is allowed. This will result in a slow but sure privatization of the oil production.
Free spending policies, unchecked by the national assembly, the Central Bank or the Office of the Comptroller.Bed seed of corruption, never prosecuted in spite of mounting visible evidence.
Runaway spending, increasing debt, fiscal fragility, currency depreciation, a time bomb, probably short term.
Ability to launch all sorts of popular and populists programs, little bit more than a give-away to shore up the electoral base.If the effects are positive in the polls, their very unsustainable nature and the continuous shrinking of available resources makes these programs less and less effective and more and more difficult to launch. Eventually people will realize the fraud as no matter how many programs are launched few, if any, benefits reach them.

In general
By accepting in February 2003 to play the recall election card the opposition has effectively cornered Chavez in an election that he cannot afford to lose.Losing a recall election is the worst possible case scenario for Chavez. A politician can recover from losing a presidential election, a politician cannot recover from a recall election that is a direct sanction on the actions of the politician. Having hastily promoted the recall election in January 2003 to put an end to the strike, Chavez is now trapped and must resort to extreme measures to avoid the referendum. This is what we are seeing now, from judicial treachery, to repression. All great dangers for the country, and the opposition.
 On the national scene
The opposition has strong local leadership.Increases the centralization of the government which deliberately starves of resources the local communities that do not support its project. The effect on a future fair election is open to question.
It has a fervent following that really think that with Chavez the democratic values of the country have no future. This fills the streets that Chavez cannot fill as easily and at great expense.Sometimes the crowds, becoming more and more exacerbated with the inability to make any headway in removing Chavez from office, are difficult to control. This creates delicate situations such as the long stay of the dissident military on Plaza Altamira or the spontaneous recent street rioting.
The opposition is an eclectic group, vital in ideas and democratic aspirations. It rallies solidly the largest part of the population that want real solutions and not the will of a single man.The lack of a clear front runner, or a coherent organization able to propose real post Chavez programs is seen by some sectors as a weakness that pushes some of these sectors to indifference or back into the arms of Chavez.
On the economical front
No advantage besides the press. Most muscle power has been lost during the general strike of 2002/2003. Must husband its resources carefully as Chavez has free access tot he treasury.The sensitivity of most the media to the authoritarian temptation of the power makes the media give as much support as possible to the opposition, opening both to charges of unfairness by those that do not understand the real workings of the Chavez project.
Stimulates a constant war of cadenas. Costing money to the media, and more money to counteract the free TV exposure of Chavez.
Fervent following. Offers uncounted numbers of volunteers for all the logistics required to mount an effective political challenge.Makes the power nervous. Stimulates all sorts of accusations such as US funding, SUMATE conspiracy, eta... While the government dips freely into PDVSA funds.
On the electoral scene
Consistently strong lead. Consistently hard core support for Chavez. Dialogue is difficult if not impossible.
Chavez has not been able to sustain the charges of signature collection megafraud. Radicalizes the Chavez position and thus increases the dangers of further adventures from this one, adventures that the opposition might not be able to withstand.
On the international scene
It has regained the sympathy of the West and of most of Latin America, what really counts around here.The political adventures of 2002 are still in the memory. Doubts still remain in some international observers.
Allows Chavez to attack the opposition as a servant of "powerful foreign interest" in a cheap nationalistic defense.
The Carter Center and the OAS have all but declared fraud by the Electoral Commission, CNE.Still, there is little that the opposition can do once the international observers declare fraud and leave the country.
Also opens the opposition to cheap nationalistic, even jingoistic attacks from the Chavez camp.
It is now clearly the victim of excessive repression from the government.A government that has crossed the threshold of repression, torture and political prisoners has set foot on a never ending spiral of more and more repression.

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