Sunday, November 30, 2008

The 2008 Venezuelan results: 3 - Yaracuy as the epitome of all that is wrong with the Venezuelan Political System

In the second post of this series I alluded to the possibility that Chavez has reached his plateau and that he will never again get a result as good as what he got last Sunday. The reason I advance is that the caudillo model he offers is reaching exhaustion: after the most brutal campaign he could come up with, he fails to recover his 2006 numbers, while the opposition grows significantly in some urban areas. Looking at the Yaracuy results where we see the ignominious end of another caudillo, Eduardo Lapi, we can see in that state the perfect mirror of a political system that I hope is reaching its end. Note: this article will be the longest of this series, I promise that the next two installments will be less than half the length of this one. Consider it a compensation for not having written on Yaracuy much during the campaign as I watched in horror what was going on.

The Yaracuy story: the decline of Eduardo Lapi


Eduardo Lapi was the very energetic governor of Yaracuy. Triumphantly reelected in 2000 he could boast of one of the best managed states in Venezuela. Even though representing one of the smallest states he did managed to get enough national recognition that he ended as a representative of the opposition during the difficult negotiations of 2003 sponsored by the OAS and the Carter Center. Incidentally, these promised to veil for the well being of the opposition negotiators and today all of them have felt into hard times, Lapi even being in exile, and not a word form the OAS or the Carter Center.

In 2004, during the hard campaign for the Recall Election of Chavez, Lapi was one of the biggest movers, even exposing his life. He did stir the locals effectively. And he became thus a Chavez target. That eventually Chavez won the referendum in Yaracuy did not help him much. Three months after in October Lapi failed to be reelected governor in questionable elections, but he accepted the results. Yaracuy had the lowest abstention that year, a witness of how Lapi was able to stir the electorate even in the post Recall Election depression.

Things went downhill fast. Soon the mediocre, Chavez appointed, drug addict governor, Carlos Gimenez, found some way to accuse Lapi. Even though no solid evidence was presented and even though Lapi was quiet at home in Yaracuy, he was arrested and jailed because "he could escape", said Gimenez. Fine, except that the trial was never started and eventually Lapi's life was put in danger and he had to escape jail. Presently he lives in exile. You can get many of these details by searching the label Lapi.

Of course the objective of these highly unjust and illegal actions was to get rid of Lapi politically. While Gimenez succeeded at that, he failed at running the state. In the barely three years he was in office Yaracuy became a beacon for crime while services started to fail, in particular the San Felipe Central Hospital which is now considered one of the worst in Venezuela. Gimenez administration has been so bad and so corrupt that he wears the dubious distinction of being the only chavista governor investigated for corruption charges. These charges were solid enough that he was removed form office. Yet, while he awaits the end of the investigation and a possible trial, Gimenez walks the streets free. Lapi, condemned and jailed without a trial for much less than what Gimenez did, lives in exile and fears for his life.

And then the elections came. Lapi, probably, I assume, resentful that Yaracuy did not protest strongly enough the injustices that were made against him, decided to vindicate himself by winning the election, even from exile. That was a mistake, at least in the opinion of this blogger because his candidature was just too easily subjected to any legal maneuver that would leave us without a viable option in front of the chavista challenge. Besides, Yaracuy is backward enough that a campaign has to be run by pressing the flesh. Quickly the whole scheme got out of hand when Lapi refused to participate in any opposition unity front. This resulted in a break up of the unity pact observed elsewhere in the country. Weeks went by and things got even worse as Convergencia and Lapi decided to launch their candidates anywhere regardless of previous agreements reached by the opposition: it was Lapi or nothing. As a state we were taken hostage by Lapi and judging from the results we did not like it.

What was going to happen did happen. Apparently Lapi was high enough in polls that the high court decided that he could not run after all, a few days before the end of the campaign. I personally do not think he was that high in the polls. I think that all along chavismo had threaded a web in which Lapi got trapped. By letting him run, the CNE ensured a deep opposition division. And by removing Lapi a few days before the end of the campaign the TSJ made sure that there was not enough time for the opposition to repair the damage while weakening the Lapi camp. It worked: irresponsibly Lapi did not accept any unity deal and put his lame brother to run the show. The stupidity of the other side of the opposition not to understand what was at stake at this point, the refusal to swallow hard to salvage at least a few town halls, did the rest of the work and you can appreciate the consequences in the table below. This tasteless naked ambition display for people that are in fact in the supplicant line made me angry enough that for a few days I even considered not voting!!!! I voted eventually, but some did not, or not for Lapi.

The governor results: the undeserving winner

The table below shows without any doubt that not only Lapi strategy to take all of Yaracuy failed, but in the process he probably contributed AT THE SAME TIME to a weakening of the opposition and a strengthening of chavismo. Since Chavez is the one that runs the campaign of the guys he appoints to be elected governor, I call his alliances through the years "Chavez votes", in red. Since Lapi is equally as arrogant a caudillo as Chavez is, though more efficient administrator, I call the opposition votes "Lapi's votes" in blue.



I have put all the results for Yaracuy since 2004. It is easy to see the decline of the opposition electorate since then. In fact, perhaps alone of all states (Lara is special), the opposition FAILS to recover its 2007 number of SI!!!! This is even more dramatic when we look at the Convergencia vote, Lapi's movement: from being stronger than Chavez MVR in 2004, it is now 1 to 3 compared to the PSUV. The result is clear, the political destruction of Lapi has been successful, and was helped along by Lapi's own arrogance and errors.

Why such a catastrophic decline? Yaracuy is a relatively backward state, and a very dependent state now that Gimenez administration brought a considerable economical decline. Yaracuyanos voted in a pragmatic way: the lower classes know very well that a Lapi victory will not bring them much benefit, no matter how much they might like Lapi and miss the good old days when services sort of worked. The PSUV candidate was the only sensible choice if you live in the country side and have very little possibility of independent income. Chavez strategy of rendering the countryside dependent from the central state for its well being has beautifully worked in Yaracuy where considerable farm land invasions have destroyed agricultural production and impoverished the state. Take a drive through the state and it is for all to see. Even the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal did special numbers on Yaracuy agricultural destruction!

In addition in the few months since Gimenez has been ousted, a provisional administration supervised by today's governor elect had time to repair in part chavismo image and deflect all the blame on PODEMOS from where Gimenez came from. When things are awful, any small improvement looks really good, and better than what it really is. A Stockholm syndrome of sorts.

The only problem in here is that the winner of the governor's mansion is Julio Leon Heredia, a sectarian ideologue, the perfect man for Chavez to do all the dirty work still to be done to destroy once and for all whatever is left of the old Yaracuy. Not that there is much left anyway, nor that there is much worth saving here, Lapi himself was an iconoclast of sorts, busy ensuring his power by ways not too dissimilar to Chavez if more civilized. But Julio Leon is not even liked by the local chavistas. He failed at previous attempts to gain office, any office. His most stinging defeat was when he run for the National Assembly in 2005 when a dissident chavista, Ricardo Capella, beat him with only 12.748 votes! The only case in the whole country as the opposition had withdrawn from the ballot. Julio Leon comes to office because the Gimenez administration was so bad, so many people were so involved with its fraudulent ways that Julio Leon escaped the damage because no one liked him at the start. An apparatchik man that manages to pass as a new comer!

As additional information I included the numbers of PODEMOS. Gimenez was from PODEMOS before he went to the PSUV. You can see the effect on PODEMOS, when this one went from 12,2% in 2006, to 0,3% last Sunday. Nice job! All were Chavez votes after all.

The Mayors results: how Primero Justicia sabotaged the opposition results?

Primero Justicia should not escape the blame for all that went wrong in Yaracuy. Four years ago Primero Jusiticia seemed a good fit to recover what was a possibly mutating Convergencia. After all both can trace their origins to COPEI brand. Rationality would have even indicated that Primero Justicia should have fused with Convergencia in Yaracuy. But it seems that Lapi would have none of it and that Julio Borges, a caudillo of sorts himself, decided that he could pick up the remains of Convergencia on his own. Well, not only it did not work out, but Yaracuy was surrendered in full to chavismo: all districts went red this time around! Primero Justicia will be held responsible for the disaster and UNT who has stuck with Lapi will probably become the Yaracuy visible face of the opposition. After a fast rise from o,3% to 3.1% between 2004 and 2006, its fall to 1,8% last Sunday is a bad omen for Primero Justicia. A look at mayoral results will illustrate better what I mean.

The results of San Felipe are in the table below.


The first thing to look at is the Chavez vote. It is in ascent but dips badly in 2007 where the NO makes a surprise strong showing. But then it was the worst time of the Gimenez administration. However the recovery of 2008 is noteworthy in that chavismo fails to recover, by far, the 2006 vote number. Furthermore, cross voting was important when you observe that the chavista candidate, Francisco Capdevielle gets ONLY 37.4% of the vote while Julio Leon gets 52.6%. The opposition does not have much to brag about anyway since it also fails to recover its 2007 NO vote when you combine the Lapi and non-Lapi oppo vote. Even Primero Justicia does not escape that cross voting, a clear sanction to its choices. Miguel Ponente a decent candidate whose main endorsement was Primero Justicia did manage a second position and got more than half of its votes from Primero Justicia. But at the governor level for San Felipe PJ votes drops from the 3979 gained at the mayor level to 1827 votes at the governor level where it did not back Lapi. Considering that San Felipe should be by far the starting point for a P.J. conquest of Yaracuy and seeing that it barely brought half of its state wide votes, clearly, whatever strategy Julio Borges had went horribly wrong with the voters. Leaving many like me really angry at Primero Justicia for having brought us the curse of a total state loss.

For Convergencia the result is equally bad. The imposed at the last minute candidate de la Cruz came in third, ruining the chances of Ponente, a decent candidate. Not only that but de la Cruz fails to get the Convergencia vote: at governor level for San Felipe they get 7393 while at town hall level they get only 4617! I regret that exit polls are scant in this country because there would be a fascinating story of voter sanction to be written in San Felipe. True, the appearance of a slimy third party candidate, Salame, who had the most visible local campaign (paid by whom?) could explain a lot; but one thing is certain, if the opposition had rallied behind Ponente who could only afford a discrete campaign, the dynamics might have pushed him above Capdevielle.

A Ponente success was possible because the PSUV candidate was a very poor choice for the PSUV as the result plainly show. Francisco Capdevielle used to be the editor of a local rag, Yaracuy al Dia, and thought that this was enough credential for politics. Whenever he run he lost, and bad. You can see in 2004 when he run as a dissident chavista how little he got, wrecking the chances of Gamarra to get elected in a year where the opposition abstention was heavy. The PSUV named him because they probably did not think he would win anyway and also because he worked in the local state government to try to recover some the mess left by Gimenez. Now, thanks to the PJ/Lapi fight, we, in San Felipe, are stuck with a nightmare mayor, delusional about his worth, and without a mandate, which probably will radicalize him even more.

For illustration I am also showing an even more pathetic case, the one from Independencia district which is in reality the Western part of San Felipe. There mayor Parra Barrios was running for reelection. This Convergencia mayor was barely elected 4 years ago benefiting from a chavista division (Gimenez had been such a bad mayor that his sister came in third). This time, Gimenez out of the way, the dissident chavista of 2004 comes back as the official PSUV and carries the district. Unfortunately for us Parra Barrios was considered possibly the best mayor of Yaracuy in the last 4 years, and you can see it by the cross voting where a lot of supporters of the "other" oppo option went to vote for him anyway.

What is very damning for P.J. in this case is that its total votes that went to Pastora, 135, would have been more than enough to put Parra Barrios over the top!!! Did P.J. not realize that Parra Barrios was ahead, that he was a good mayor, that he deserved reelection, that Pastora had no chance? The loss of Independencia is solely attributable to P.J. insistence in supporting a candidate that had no chance whatsoever!!! We, the people who are goign to suffer the possible negative consequences of this, are not going to forget the dreadful role of P.J. in Yaracuy. At least in Independencia I got a better feed back from Alvarado than for Leon or Capdevielle.....

To complete the Yaracuy survey and to illustrate how strongly the cacique Chavez has managed to impact the traditional political culture of the country side I include the results of the Veroes district. This district is the low lands close to the sea, the site of old sugar cane plantations and slavery. As such it has the highest proportion of African American and agrarian conflict. Chavez should get there 70 % of the vote, and he does.

If you examine this table carefully you will also notice that when Lapi was managing himself Yaracuy and the campaign, he was getting reasonable results in Veroes. But once he is out, the Convergencia apparatus dwindles fast and limits itself to urban centers as they do not have the guts Lapi had to seek votes even in Veroes. Caudillos share this characteristics: be it Chavez or Lapi they have the gall to speak their mind and go where it takes to win (though Chavez does that less and less). That explains the extraordinary decline of the Convergencia vote. One thing we can also note there is the stupendous decline of voting in 2007! Veroes is a true Podunck backwaters area interested only when there is a need to elect the Cacique. Other elections simply do not register there. And P.J. 49 votes, well, I need not explain... As long as it cannot have at least 300 votes in Veroes it can forget about Yaracuy.

Conclusions

Yaracuy is the perfect example on how the caudillo/cacique qualities of Chavez have managed to conquer the rural areas of Venezuela. The more urban areas resisted better but any encouraging result was made impossible when you found also another caudillo pretending to impose his will. When Lapi was in charge he could influence enough rural votes to be reelected because people sensed that they could vote for him and still keep receiving whatever services they were receiving. Besides the cacique Lapi was next door whereas the cacique Chavez was in Caracas. Lapi was more scary...

But these same people knew perfectly well that a Lapi in exile, even if he won, could not guarantee access to whatever they had access to today. Never mind the brutal campaign of Chavez that was really scary for people hanging on a thread for their daily bread. The large and undeserved victory of Julio Leon Heredia is at least in part explained by this social reality since it cannot be explained at all by his inexistent charisma.

The good news here is that Lapi is now politically dead and probably buried for good. In his arrogance he took such gambles that now he is left with no one to speak for him in Yaracuy. No one elected that is, with some political clout to keep Lapi in the martyrdom news. You do not get fame or win future elections through a battery of lawyers fighting a judicial system staked against you: you get fame by confronting the abuses against you by being there yourself. Lapi's arrogance left him worse, much, much worse than what he was a few weeks ago. Not only politically but in the mood of the people who will blame him for 4 years of deep chavismo, in case, as it almost certainly will be the case, the new mayors fail. He probably will remain in exile for years.

We got rid of one caudillo. Now we need to wait until the drop in oil prices coupled to more arrogance from Caracas teaches us not to trust in caudillos ever again. With this thought at least the results of last Sunday have a silver leaning for Yaracuy.

Epilogue

The recovery of Yaracuy for the opposition has been made tremendously difficult. Not only it will have no district where to base itself as a showcase of good administration, but its only and lone leader is politically dead. The only ones that could have replaced him are also out such as Parra Barrios. Convergencia only gets a lone representative at the Legislative council. There is nothing she can do when you consider the well known sectarian nature of the incoming administration who will try to find ways to silence her from day one. Obama it ain't.

I think that Convergencia days are now over and the party should examine itself closely, say bye bye to Lapi and seek new horizons with an out of state machinery that will help them launch a credible challenge in 2012 where it should be able to recover at least San Felipe, but not much more. Yaracuy is in PSUV hands safely until at least 2016. Even a bad Leon Heredia administration will not hurt chavismo considering that the disastrous Gimenez rule did not stop the PSUV from increasing its vote count! By wrecking the independence and self respect of the state the Gimenez administration has been at least very successful in one thing: giving Yaracuy tied up to Chavez.

AS far as I am concerned Convergencia should dissolve itself and go over to UNT. There is no UNT leadership yet in Yaracuy, so the good Convergencia local leaders could get the UNT nod without too much trouble and get help from Zulia. Going to P.J. would be a huge mistake as this one needs first to clean up its act, to apologize to Yaracuy. But I do not see Borges doing that, if you ask me, he showed too much contempt for us last month. Too many people in what should be the starting blocks of PJ in the state, San Felipe and Independencia, are mad at PJ. This one would be better advised to go elsewhere to invest politically. This blogger, for one, who gave 2 of his 4 votes cast last Sunday to Primero Justicia will probably never give his votes again to P.J., or at least as long as Borges is its leader. If UNT people want to contact me, I am open to propositions.


-The end-

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