The consequences of the recall election result in Venezuela
Part 2: Chavez hangover
Friday 27, August 2004
The biggest paradox of this Recall Election is that it is chavismo that seems to be on the defensive. In any “normal” country, a 60% electoral victory would have thrown scores of people in the streets for days of jubilant celebration since their beloved leader has beaten back the challenge. But this did not happen. Certainly on Monday 16 there was a few celebrations here and there, some probably gathering the public employees that saw their job secured for a while longer. The celebration of Monday 16, as it was, seemed more of an anti climax than the wild celebrations of 1998 or even 2000. Heck! Portuguese immigrants in Venezuela threw a bigger party every time Portugal won a game in the June European Cup!
One could argue that this is a subjective observation from a disgruntled blogger that lost his vote. But this blogger remembers very well the gloating of chavistas in the past. One particular image that comes back is Aristobulo Isturiz, now education minister, the day after the election of the constituent assembly, in that long gone halcyon summer of 1999. He was crowing with utter delight that had they organized differently their set of candidates the opposition would not even have gotten the meager 4 seats out of 160 it got (1). Nothing of the sort now. A few pious wishes quickly undercut by the usual disparaging remarks against the opposition.
What happened? Well, the cynical observer would think that chavismo knows deep down that fraud has been committed and cannot be delighted by a victory that they are not sure really happened. So, let’s start discuss why, in spite of all the Carter and OAS announcements, all of Chavez claims of victory, the doubt persists even among many a Chavez follower.
Fraud as the original sin of Chavez’s new lease on life
The thing that Venezuelans know and that has been escaping foreign observers, and even the Carter Center of all people, is that we all know what the signature process was all about. We have it still fresh in our mind, with all its traumas and abuses. We all know that the opposition did collect considerably more signatures than what the sneaky CNE managed to accept when pushed in a corner. Chavez claim of “megafraud” was proven dead wrong and we know it, we are certain that considerably more than 3 million signed. We all remember the incredible pressures put on us. We all knew that by signing our name and ID number we were making ourselves second class citizens. We are all tired of hearing, when not knowing first hand, the sad stories of people losing governmental jobs, being refused a passport or an ID, just because we exerted a basic civil right. We all know many people that could not go and sign, but would have done so. We all know that even if some business leaders or opposition governors forced their employees to sign against Chavez, the biggest employer in Venezuela and the one that can force such abuses in large scale is the Venezuelan state, ordered to punish dissent in the crudest term, term that would not be accepted in any civilized society.
Today, we all know that Chavez might have won but that there is no way that the SI did not even reach 4 million at the very, very least! People are not that stupid. They did not sign against Chavez just to change their mind as if nothing, to keep him in office and have him with their name in hand to screw them whenever he'll feel like it. It would be healthy for the foreign observers of the Venezuelan situation to keep this novel fact of life in Venezuela in mind. It could explain a lot of what is about to happen.
Chavez very own hangover
In the eyes of the majority of the Venezuelan people this is now a tainted victory, and I include many of his supporters. This is the way we are: we can put up with a lot of stuff but we do not like electoral fraud. We became allergic to it long ago and much prefer an outright coup d’etat.
Yesterday was not very good for Chavez. The OAS might have finally voted to recognize the referendum result but Secretary Gaviria was quite clear in denouncing that Chavez had occupied all of the public debate spaces, has filled up all of the institutions with subservient characters, that running fair elections was virtually impossible in Venezuela.
This has stung the beloved leader of the masses, big time.
Today he went ahead with a coronation of sorts. Although the constitution did not preview any particular event in case of a successful Recall Election, not even a swearing in of the vice president for a few weeks since transmission was automatic, Chavez pulled out a big show.
It started with a visit to the CNE to receive his "ratification certificate" (?), visit that he used to lambaste Gaviria, pointing out scornfully that he was in office for a few more weeks, as if it had anything to do with his words. It is popular knowledge in Venezuela that Gaviria words are true, it just happens that some of us like this street gang style to run a country and some do not. Then Chavez moved on to an arranged rally at Plaza Caracas and on his way someone "spontaneously" threw rose petals at him. I kid you not. Then to the National Assembly where pro-Chavez deputies rallied quickly from their vacation to put a show there and "ratify" on their own the glorious leader. The absence of opposition representatives was certainly a boon to seat down all sorts of flatterers that appeared from every corner. During yet another menacing speech Chavez threatened us with a constitutional amendment (which I missed), urged the Assembly to speed up the law to control media "abuses", and all sort of goodies along these lines.
This all in a series of cadenas through the day.
If anyone took seriously the offer of dialogue from Chavez last week, well, now you stand corrected.
(1) In the Constituent Assembly of 1999, with not even 60% of the vote chavismo got 97% of the seats. This probably explains a lot of the problems that we experience today as 40% of the people do think that the new constitution had nothing to do with them.