Today opposition party Primero Justicia, PJ, did what it should have done years ago: create a party platform where ideas and objectives are clearly stated. This post is not about those ideas, nor even why it took so long for PJ to finally organize itself for the long run (under chavismo as I will illustrate later in this post, such a thing is very difficult). No, this post is an amateur report from inside a political celebration in Venezuela where this blogger had the luck to be invited even if he does not belong to PJ (nor to any other political party for that matter). Consistent and established blogging has its privileges and I was even issued a press card which allowed me to take some close ups that I did not think I would have been able to do.
So off I went early this morning to pick up my "contact" and get the press card. I did not know anyone there, except from the papers, so I was not encumbered by any social obligation, just another reporter, walking around, camera in hand. However I did know someone indirectly, Katy from Caracas Chronicle. And we arranged to meet and get to know each other a little bit besides occasional e-mails. Although she is a gorgeous blonde (Quico is so lucky to have her on board) there will be no pictures of her here. Though we have taken pics of us together and if any chavista site is willing to pay me the adequate amount of money I might forward them anonymously :)
But enough of the social page of this column, let's get to PJ. First, it should be pointed out that an "ideological congress" in Venezuela does not sound too bad. From our political tradition there is no one on the right, not even on the center. Every political organization in Venezuela managed to include the word "social" somewhere in its name or definition. AD belonged to the social democratic international world association. COPEI name was "social-cristiano". On this respect Chavez is hardly an innovator, and probably will end up being as fake a socialist as these parties were. But some of the left terminology stuck over time and political ideology in Venezuela is not a bad word and can even be used today, after 8 years of chavismo, by their main opposition, Primero Justicia.
It is not the point here to discuss the PJ ideology although I will make a couple of comments through the post, however considering that PJ has the best mayors of Venezuela, whatever their ideology is, it is working for the people who vote for them. So who are these people? I have two shots from the crowds attending. The one above is to give an idea of the hall where PJ was hosting its congress. The other on the left is a close up of bored people early waiting for the leaders to arrive and get started with the show. I think the pictures speak for themselves.
It is important to know that the meeting was not really open to the public. That is, anyone from PJ could assist but invitations and ferrying of people from away was not the objective: the objective was to gather the regional leaders to let them meet the national leaders and get the word, while giving their word to the different work shops they could attend. So, in these pictures, what you see are some of the representatives of the local PJ groups around the country.
Since this is Venezuela political leaders must project an aura and as long as the "welcoming" of the leaders is not complete, nothing starts. Speeches were scheduled to start by 10:30; at 11:45 when I had to leave nothing had started yet. Not that it mattered for me much: ideology, from wherever it comes from is always boring for me, be it in a Chavez's cadena, a preacher's pulpit or PJ folks which I am likely going to vote for someday. At least from them I will not have to listen to offensive stuff such a justifications to restrain individual freedoms or why is it that the beloved leader must stay in office until he dies because he is just so essential (read preceding post). However I had a glimpse about how serious the work of PJ has been doing about building up a coherent platform. There was printed material circulating and on it I could see some pleasant things: leaders were not prominent, at all. What we saw were people of all walks of life even though middle class characters were a majority, which I think is good. PJ must assume its difference and offer the country the prospect that all can join the middle class and not only the political apparatchiks AFTER they sell their souls to Chavez.
But these reflections were interrupted because the leaders finally started approaching the podium (my pass allowed me to stay close from the hot area). In this first picture you can have an idea on why it took about an hour for Borges (right, all fans cameras on him) the president of PJ to make it to the stand (on the left there is Ocariz, black blazer, the general secretary of PJ).
I cannot resist including this picture, not very good but showing how women lined up to try to get a hug from Borges earlier in his procession.But Borges also had other friends in attendance showing that the Venezuelan opposition is much more ecumenical than chavismo is, now that it is trying to brutally eject even PODEMOS and the PPT to which it owes so much. We saw representatives from the MAS, a socialist party, who sent Felipe Mugica (brown jacket on the left). Front row seats has been set apart for them and Borges stopped to salute them as I got the all smiles moment. Perhaps the historical MAS, the one that managed the Chavez 1998 campaign, is almost nothing these days, but Borges still acknowledges them, a nice gesture in my modest opinion.
But there were other guests, such as a representative from Mexico's ruling PAN and more importantly in these days of crisis, Bolivia's former president Jorge Quiroga. This is important in many, many ways. First, of course, because Quiroga has become one of the main leaders of the opposition to Evo Morales, trying to stop him from doing to Bolivia what Chavez has done to Venezuela: establish a dictatorship of the majority over the minority. In fact I suspect that Quiroga leadership has been good enough that the constitutional assembly at Sucre in Bolivia seems near death, having failed its initial objective. Now Morales is confronted with either a violent outcome to force his will and risk a blood bath and the break up of Bolivia in two parts or become more of a democrat and accept a more gradual but more productive road of reforms. Obviously the advice of Quiroga, a proven democrat in a difficult circumstance is the kind of advice that PJ needs these days.
However the visit of Quiroga is very important in another way as it has revealed how far chavismo political pressures have reached, how much of an authoritarian regime we have already become. As it turns out Quiroga as an ex-president of Bolivia has in his perks a diplomatic passport. Even though he flew discretely commercial that did not stop immigration officers to retain him at his Caracas arrival and question him for over one hour!!!! Can you imagine Chavez subjected to such an humiliation if at JFK US customs were even to ask him a simple question during one of his UN junkets? Quiroga points out that before leaving Bolivia he had taken care to say that he was not intending cause trouble in Venezuela. Of course, after his airport intimidation he demonstrated that he was not afraid of Chavez nor Morales becoming now free to say a strong anti Chavez speech in Caracas: "Chavez is building a wall of oppression and tyranny in Latin America". Certainly we will hear more on that. If I may add a personal comment, knowing the educational level of Venezuelan public servants at the airport, I doubt many of them even knew who Quiroga was. His harassment at the airport was a deliberate act, decided by higher ups in the foreign service or Miraflores Palace, tipped by Bolivian government.
This is no accident and forms part of the deliberate policy followed by chavismo against any political opposition in Venezuela. For example I was told that PJ had a lot of trouble setting up its meting: most areas in Caracas where such political activities would normally occur declined to rent the space to PJ. Many services were hard to get. In fact, the guys responsible for the stage declined at the very last minute forcing PJ to set up a make do stage which seemed to me rather perilous considering the number of people who were intended to get on (it did not stop me to go up to try to get nice pictures :). Some even, off the record, admitted that they did not want to be harassed by any government agency once it was known they rented to PJ. The effects of a SENIAT having become a punitive tax collecting agency are know well known: private business known to oppose Chavez are constantly audited while the Antonini of the world get into all sort of fraudulent schemes such as getting away of Tax authorities at the airport with 800 000 USD in cash. The papers today even carry articles telling that the SIP cannot find a hotel willing to rent space and rooms for a meeting they want to hold in Venezuela! That is how far the vindictiveness of chavismo reaches, just because the SIP keeps pointing out all the violations to freedom of the press that Venezuela is piling up.
But this post is long enough, I want to end with a close up of main stage showing the only result that Chavez manages with his silly and undemocratic games: to steel the resolve of all who oppose him, Venezuelan politicians and their allies.
I also want to say something that I really liked at the Primero Justicia assembly: there was not a single military anywhere. Not even the retired ex-military that we see elsewhere such as the "Commando de la Resistencia" and other political groups of the opposition. And that, my friends is not only precious but the best introductory card that PJ can offer us, the surest break with our primitive past and even more primitive return to that past that chavismo wants to impose on us. For those who do not know or are not aware of it, Venezuela is now for all practical purpose a military regime. OVER HALF the bureaucratic positions of importance in the regime are held by the military, most of them still serving and on "loan" (according to recent census of Tal Cual published last Thursday). The political party of Chavez, his real power base is the army which he has corrupted and bought off by offering them good jobs, power, good access to money, and corruption dividends. The list of generals and lower ranking officers implicated in "sweet deals" becomes longer everyday.
But in front of me I saw today a still young party, joyful, with lots of growing problems, but with ideas, and detached from that military authoritarian tradition that we thought we had outgrown. No matter what Chavez is trying to do, no matter how long he will hold to power, the future is PJ and the like, not to the tiny military elite that incessantly tries to abuse its hold on weaponry to assert its power across our continent.
Good luck Primero Justicia, may you succeed!