[Urgent update]These three states, called sometimes "Centro Occidente" are not in fact a geographical region and their unity in the mind of people comes more from history than geography. As you will see below, when we look at how local politics play in each one we can see that each one is an island.
This one is the easiest to start with because I found very little information on its politics. No polls, no good local papers on line. Thus I must rely on the little bit the national papers give, and my historical memories.
The first thing to know about Falcon is that it is at the same time one of the most backwards states of Venezuela while endowed with two areas of relative modernism. If you look at the Venezuelan geography, in particular its mountainous area you can see that Falcon is a rather eccentric state, in the geographical sense of being out of the main communication fares. Quite isolated in fact. The Spaniards landed there first because it sticks out in the Caribbean, but quickly moved to El Tocuyo in Lara and after that to the Andes and Caracas, leaving Coro as a haven for contraband and coastal pseudo surveillance.
The North of Falcon is almost desert and large areas inside are also very dry. Only the San Luis Sierra above Coro receives some water and the cattle area in the extreme Western corner which also has the touristic area of Morocoy. The dry shore lived because the Caribbean was the main communication highway between Maracaibo and Caracas and all boats sailed in front and needed to stop on occasion. Once roads were opened by Gomez to link these areas to Caracas avoiding Falcon, well, the state felt into oblivion. That is except for the Paraguana peninsula where Venezuela placed its largest refineries. The two districts which reached some modernity are thus the capital district of Coro and the oil industry one of Punto Fijo, Caribudana, which by themselves represent about half of the state population.
The other half of the state has been fertile grounds for chavismo. Long neglected, any tiny bit that a mision program could bring had major impact. Those are the rural areas where chavismo grew. On the other hand Coro and Punto Fijo were the seats of pitched battles during the 2003 strikes and even though chavismo sent a new crop of inhabitants to replace the fired workers, it has failed to lock up that area of Falcon. Thus amazingly the 2007 referendum was a tie in Falcon when we would have expected an easy victory, helped along by the fact that a majority of districts are held by chavismo. After all, Chavez did get 63% there in 2006
Will that change now? I doubt it. Chavismo has managed to unite behind the wife of present governor who cannot run again. It also managed to unify in most districts. In front the opposition did manage a unity candidate for the state but elsewhere division reigns, shamefully. Falcon should remain safely in the hands of chavismo although it was a state where the opposition had a chance to make some inroads. Only Coro and Punto Fijo could offer a late surprise, but not enough of a surprise to bar the road of Stella de Montilla to postpone her move out of the governor's mansion. Thus nepotism and backwardness will remain the lot of Falcon for at least 4 more years.
Lara is my neighborhood state and yet its internal politics could not be any different from Yaracuy. In appearance it is a bastion of chavismo but such appearances can be very, very deceiving.
Lara was traditionally a leftist state but in a different tradition than Aragua. There what we had was much more of an agrarian problem stimulated by the longest colonial history within Venezuela and some of the driest, if fertile, lands available. That Lara went for Chavez from the start is not a surprise. But Lara has always retained an independent streak, not surprising since it is a land of writers, politicians and artists. In my opinion perhaps the best music and folk art in the whole of Venezuela and that is no accident. There is such a thing as the Lara difference.
Thus it was a mistake when chavismo took Lara for granted. First, Lara went all the way for Chavez in 2000 because the local governor decided not to run again. He was himself a dissident of the MAS who managed to impose his folksy style in the state. Orlando Fernandez thus ensured an easy take over by Chavez close pal, Reyes Reyes. Soon enough Orlando realized he had done a major mistake. But it was too late: the abstention of 2004 cost him a humiliating defeat when he tried to retake the state, ending thus his political career. Chavismo was gloating, assuming that Lara was now a safe state. In 2006 Chavez even got 3% more than his national average.
And in 2007 the single most stunning result of the referendum came form Lara where the SI lost by 49%. What happened?
First, Reyes Reyes revealed himself to be an awful governor, in particular during his second term. He so lacks in personality and charisma that he had to resort imitating Chavez ticks. But if that were not enough, he tried to make his son the next governor. That did not go well at all with the mayor of Barquisimeto, Henry Falcon, one of the few chavistas that has understood that ideology is good, but good management also helps to win reelection. Falcon is regarded as one, if not the best chavista official in the country. That does not go down well at all in the ideological lumpen of chavismo as Falcon is accused of traitor and what not. But Barquisimeto district is more than half of the state and if to this you add dormitory and middle class Palavecino (Cabudare), whoever wins there is almost certain to carry the state.
When chavismo hinted at conceding the nod to Reyes Reyes son, Falcon calmly announced that he would run anyway creating an internal fuss at the PSUV who at first expelled him. But for once the PSUV acted in a pragmatic way and capitulated to Falcon. After all the 2007 loss was a clear sign that Larenses got tired of Reyes Reyes who was more preoccupied in finding ways to sabotage Falcon work than solving the problems of the state. The PSUV knew that Lara would go to Falcon or to the opposition if they kicked him out.
But if Falcon in the end carried the day and looks a sure bet to win in front of a divided opposition, the next mayor of Barquisimeto is not a sure thing for chavismo. Even though the opposition is still divided, there is a clear trend towards Ramos, a trade union guy from the area. He is helped by another mistake of chavismo, this time from Henry Falcon himself who tried to impose his own successor. The hard core chavista base is sorely tempted not to vote for Falcon anyway, or maybe punish him by not voting for his candidate. The politics of revenge they call it, and when you see that Chavez himself two days ago complained that Falcon did not want to sign an engagement to follow the directives of Caracas above those of his state you wonder if Henry Falcon will not bolt out of the PSUV before November 23, Chavez probably preferring to lose Lara before having a chavista with his own power base for 2012.
Thus my predictions for Lara. Falcon will win because part of the opposition living in Barquisimeto will vote for him. But Barquisimeto could go for the opposition in spite of its division, as well as Palavecino. If this happens it will not affect Falcon chances as cross voting is expected. The interesting district to follow in Lara is historical Carora, a modern rural district with lot of backwards areas. Chavista hold there is not that certain and a weak victory of the chavista candidate there will be full of bad omens for chavismo's future.
Yaracuy is a mess and I will deal with it fast.
Former governor Lapi is in exile in Peru. Charges unproven and a travesty of justice jailed him without a trial and he had to escape from jail as his life was in danger (the jail had a famous bout of internal rioting and an "ooops" moment could have only to easily happened as Lapi could be caught in a cross fire). These shameless actions were directed by Gimenez who narrowly defeated Lapi in 2004. Gimenez a low life, vindictive, druggie, inefficient mayor of Independencia was unaccountably promoted by Chavez who had other options. Gimenez of course knowing full well that he could not manage Yaracuy as well as Lapi decided to eliminate him by jailing him.
Sure enough the rule of Gimenez has been so catastrophic that chavismo itself felt in the need to oust him from office!!! He is accused of major acts of corruption and yet he walks the streets freely and even threatened to run again!!!! Lapi, if he stole, stole much, much less than Gimenez but he is the one in exile.
Somewhat the CNE decided to allow Lapi to run for governor. This created a major division inside the opposition. There were those who considered that if Lapi were elected that would remove any charges against him and he could return safely to rescue Yaracuy. And there were those who pointed out that Lapi could be easily removed from office after his return giving chavismo the chance to appoint an unelected governor. Although I understand the pro Lapi point I think that it is irresponsible to act as such because the well being of Yaracuyanos should go first after the dramatic years of Gimenez who brought to Yaracuy crime and dirt and mismanagement and indigency not seen in bigger urban areas, such as next door Barquisimeto. An agreement with a front candidate engaging himself in working at clearing Lapi and promising to resign for new elections to allow Lapi back would have been an example of responsible politics.
As it is Lapi decided to run anyway but also decided that he would not make any alliance with the rest of the opposition. That is he would launch his own candidates in EVERY district, counting on the disaster of Gimenez to take over ALL of the state. I do not know if his strategy will work even though I have heard many a chavista remember fondly the Lapi years. But the result is clear: the opposition is divided at all levels in Yaracuy and I doubt unification will arrive before November 23.
Fortuantely chavismo is equally divided as the PSUV imposed its own candidates, in particular Julio Leon Heredia a chavista who so far has lost any election he run into as he is uncharismatic, ideological and vengeful. Minor allies of chavismo are running anyway and that Chavez supported dismal Gimenez is a burden that Heredia cannot just wish away.
Yaracuy result thus cannot be predicted. As you can see from the table above San Felipe and Yaritagua are the only real urban areas and they are a minority in the state which remains a mostly rural place. The rural areas have been goign to Chavez but after 4 years of Gimenez and a city boy candidate as Heredia nobody knows for sure right now how pro Chavez they will go this time. I suspect that Lapi strategy will work in the end and signs of that are seen when suddenly new judicial actions are threatened to remove him from the ballot. We'll see.
Update. The electronic ink of this post was barely dry that the TSJ decided that Lapi could not run for office in Yaracuy. Thus failed his strategy. I am not surprised and in a way I am relieved that the suspense is over. In fact, I am relieved that Lapi's arrogance did not pay off. Sure, he is a victim, but is is also certain that his victimization is no excuse to make us victims too. What next? Well, the union will have to be made in a rush behind Edvard Capdevielle, the runner up of the opposition. Wisely he did not withdraw from the race waiting for something like today to happen. His foresight (obvious foresight perhaps but foresight anyway) makes him deserve the nod. Not to mention that if a primary had been held I woudl have voted for him.
Besides this update I do not really need to change anything else in this post except to say that the outcome of Yaracuy is now completely unpredictable. Lapi's victimization if handled well could create a tide wave against chavismo, but if handled badly could allow Heredia to sneak in. We'll see.
In these three states we see how unity benefits the side that manages it, but how disunion can wreck the electoral chances. Union, be it willingly as in Falcon or forced as in Lara, practically ensure the victory of the candidate if the other side cannot mount a coherent response. On the other hand when each side is a mess, caudillos prosper. Although I have no choice but to vote for Lapi's candidates, I do so under protest, knowing full well that I am choosing between two stubborn men, Chavez and Lapi. I resent it.