On the morning of August 7, as the few of us who decided to vote got ready to do so, it seemed that the sequence of events for the year ahead was pretty much foreordained. That is, we knew that chavismo was going to win that day, win again in December to take the legislature, and more than likely get Chavez reelected in 12/2006. The only question was whether the opposition to Chavez would manage to recover enough to have a presence sufficiently strong to avoid some of the excesses of power that were foreseen.
But since August 7, things seem to be moving in a not quite expected way. Has anything changed in the chavista strategy to conquer all absolute power?
That interpretation of the situation stated that if the opposition did not manage 1/3 of the National assembly seats in 12/2005 then there would be no way to stop Chavez from establishing an autocracy, basically impossible to remove through the vote or peaceful means. The blue print is for all who care to see it. One could agree and cash in at the register at the price of one's individual liberty and rights, or one could chose considering ways to start resistance or leave the country. This is what has happened thorough such regimes, dramatically in Cuba, much less dramatically in other countries but still as damaging for the national society.
This appreciation was based on the following facts:
• Total demoralization of the opposition parties, with their almost inextricable divisions forbidding even a simple electoral alliance and even less a true untied front.
• Total demoralization of the electorate from the opposition, in spite of its recognized minimum of 40% as of August 2004, with fraud and all. More than half of them have come to believe, erroneously it seems, that abstention, alone, is the way to fight back.
• Absolute control of the electoral system where almost no opposition request is considered and where the pro Chavez parties do freely alter deadlines, electoral registers, voting times, when not the real vote total themselves. This of course aggravating the opposition party problems as they are unable to take an effective stand against such abuses, some only too willing to settle for the crumbs that Chavez is willing to give them.
• And a substantial purse in the hands of Chavez courtesy of oil price at 60 USD. Thus all sorts of social programs could keep going, even if some of them looked more vote buying than anything else.
Conventional wisdom was supported by these harsh facts.
But it is not playing like that. In fact since August 9 it seems that the glorious Bolivarian revolution has decided to pick up speed. More than ever Chavez is spreading money around LatAm to buy even more sympathies in front of the passive Venezuelan response. The socialism of the XX1 century is pushed forth and the Cuba Venezuela links are strengthened. Bush, the US and a nebulous imperialism are the whipping boy more than ever. At home the embers of the National Assembly are revived to pass yet more controversial major laws in a hurry, such as a new armed force law, new penetrations in the private media, centralization of health care, and a renewed frontal attack on private property. Why this sudden rush?
A new deal?
I had to think about this for a while. I am not too sure what is really going on (not that most chavistas are sure themselves…). But one clue can come by reviewing neglected facts pre 8/2005, and new ones post 8/2005.
• The shocker of the August vote was the high abstention ALSO in the chavista camp. Thus what should had been an ample victory and a major celebration turned out as a trumped event where not only the opposition failed to show up to legitimize the regime.
• To aggravate things, some at the left of Chavez (if that has any meaning) groups did go to protest loudly in the streets that their candidates had their votes stolen by the "official" Chavez candidates. The Tupamaros protest were a highly embarrassing moment for chavismo, even more embarrassing when suddenly their leaders called off the spontaneous street protests conveying a certain redolent air of "bought off".
• And the Cuban inheritance might be close at hand. Not to mention that Lula's troubles are an unexpected opening for folks like Chavez who love to fish in troubled waters.
How does this play? Well, one way to see that is to imagine an uncomfortable Chavez whose hoped for coronation as president for life wanna-be on 12/2006 with 10 million votes is suddenly far from assured. No, his victory is still all but assured, but there is another problem: he must reach a stunning victory in December, for two reasons. One is to erase the bad taste of the Recall Election once and for all, a bitter after-taste from having been subjected to such a humiliating experience. And the other the needed triumph to ensure his coronation as the heir of Fidel Castro. The health of Castro is clearly declining and his succession is now a matter of very few years, more than likely during Chavez second six year term. Thus Chavez needs to be in a position of maximum strength at home to be able to become the beacon of the Latin America left.
At home the consequence is that Chavez cannot wait for 12/2006 to consecrate the "socialism of the XX1 century". I suspect that the government program of socialist unmistakable hues will be running strong until December 2005 elections to make that December vote, whose victory is not in doubt, the validation of the new regime by the people, for the love of socialism more than for the love of Chavez. Chavez simply cannot wait for the plebiscite he is preparing for December 2006. He must at least secure the legal frame work now, the socialist label by a vote where he is not directly running himself, to show that result to the world who will not bother too much at figuring out how come such an outdated and unpalatable hash could be voted by a country.
With this business taken care, Chavez will be running on it fully for one year while the new parliament, once it clears some of the illegal actions taken between 2002 and 2005, and doted with a large contingent of military, establishes the new repressive laws as the will of the people, not the will of Chavez. This way in January 2007 Chavez will have no more business to do at home and will have all his energies to devote himself to the fusion of Cuba and Venezuela, with the hardened Cuban revolutionaries running the show in Caracas, in the face of Chavez obviously incompetent followers who amazingly will let it happen as long as they preserve their financial gains.
Crazy? In 1998 anyone would have thought it crazy to conceive a Venezuela as it is today, run down to the gutter by a group of people that barely reached on occasion 30% of the total electorate. But countries have ways to commit suicide.