Today I was driving across Carabobo and Aragua and bored I turned the radio on instead of my MP3 device. It was a good move as Rosales was announcing his program of government for the next few years, in case he manages to unseat Chavez. I was duly impressed, not by the populist content (you cannot win an election in Venezuela unless you promise lots of goodies, it is now in our genes, there is nothing we can do about unless we change our society dramatically), but by the rather convincing delivery and organization. I was left with the impression that Rosales actually means to fulfill as much as possible from his program. Once one ignores the costs of what such a program would entail, well, it is a doable program.
So, since I mention the costs, let’s start there. In addition of the rather daunting bill that his social programs would represent, Rosales promised to remove sales tax from food items included in the basic food basket, and lower it on some other items. Now, this is a good move because chavismo still has us saddled with a 14% sales tax which hurts considerably lower classes when they buy clothing or household items that are essential for everyday life. In addition it promotes the considerable tax evasion that the buhonero system of street vendors represent. It is a mystery to me why in 8 years Chavez has not cleared up sales tax on basic food items (at the production level they are included and even if some items are free, their final price is affected). Another mystery is why Chavez has not set a flat 10%, easy to understand, easier to handle, on items that affect the most the pockets of the lower economical sectors of the population. Then again we had to wait until this year to finally see the minimum wage of the countryside brought up to the one from the cities, one of the worst inequities in the Venezuelan social system that chavismo was unwilling to tackle until a presidential election year finally came around.
But according to Rosales, by eliminating all the subsidies that Chavez gives away to less needy countries it would enough to cover all the new social expenses that he will undertake. Again, a shrewd move because at one single stroke he avoids discussing what he will do with the Misiones, letting people deduce that their funding will be basically maintained at least for those who do bring some result (Barrio Adentro, Mercal). If you have in mind the oil rebates for London buses or for New York heating in Harlem, it is only a part of the picture: the actual target is the scandalous subsidy that keeps Castrism afloat at the expense of Venezuelan poor. People do understand that and it is clever to be able to imply a cut on Castro’s alimony without having to name him. Rosales will be able to name Castro later as needed to stress his point later. He can also name Argentina who has obscenely benefited from the largesse of the regime.
The implication of these different segments of Rosales program and speech is very simple: had we been better managed, less openhanded with our money, we could have done twice as much as what Chavez has done. And Rosales does not even need to brandish the money lost to corruption and inefficiency, more arguments to stress later in the campaign.
The other aspect of the program that I liked very much is the total commitment of Rosales to decentralization of the government. And on this point, as a twice elected mayor of our second biggest city, and as the twice elected governor of our most populous state, I can believe and trust that Rosales will fulfill as much as he can on this promise, the single most important item that in my opinion Venezuela needs. After eight years of continuous re-centralization to Caracas, public services in the provinces are once again frayed, infrastructure crumbles, innovation and growth lags. The Venezuelan states and town halls need to manage again a significant share of resources AND responsibilities! The current program to go directly to the neighborhood from Caracas, bypassing the governor and town hall is a hoax, a move to increase the control on the people as only communities with chavista leadership will be able to access to the rather limited credits that will be handed out as a sophisticated dole system.
If those are the two details most likely to appeal to people like me in the audience, Rosales also included items that appeals to other constituencies. He made sure to give a prominent role to crime and how little the present administration cares about (again, remember how “shocked” was Chavez when a Cuban medic was shot when dozens and dozens of Venezuelan youth are assassinated every weekend without nearly a tear shed from Chavez).
Rosales did also bring the institutional aspect into his program: reduction of the presidential term to 4 years with a single immediate reelection, like in most modern presidential systems. He also announced that he wanted a new National Assembly, a given if he wins as the present one will lose any legitimacy it might have pretended to have. And he wants the Central Bank to recover its autonomy, which implies a return in to accounting in Venezuela.
All in all it was a good program, making sure it was about Rosales proposals and not a simple minded attack on Chavez, a satisfactory contrast with chavismo campaign which has lowered to a set of negative campaign and vague “socialist” promises to hide the true unpalatable nature of the regime sought for by Chavez and the thugs who accompany him. Still, he managed an excellent barb when he said that he would deal with street kids because he “did not want to lose his name”, in reference to a 1999 Chavez promise to change his name if street kids were not dealt with effectively. Any observer of Caracas streets, and even San Felipe one’s, will be an eyewitness that there has never been as many street kids as today.
What is important to underline as a conclusion is that there is a way to effect at least a significant amount of the program, that Rosales has shown ability to fulfill electoral promises otherwise his Zulia career would not have been as successful, and that he has a vision for the country where people at the local and regional level will have a real role, away of Caracas. This last one is for me the single most important item as it will bring back democratic stability to Venezuela and it is the only way to try to solve some fo the problems that haunt Venezuela and the mess that Caracas has become.
I am starting to become a believer in Rosales. In August when Teodoro left I was slightly miffed but thought that Rosales could be OK. I am seeing now that he is not only more than OK, but that he might have been all along the best candidate the opposition could have come up with: a man of the province to free us from bureaucratic tyranny from Caracas.