Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Venezuelan 2008 election: update 18 - Bolivar: real trade unions versus populist hand outs

We turn now our gaze towards the South, the Guyana highlands and the Orinoco domain. This is perhaps the easiest post of this particular series to narrate: two dependent indigenous state, one of them not voting and Bolivar, the energy and mining state of Venezuela. Historically it is the oldest area of Venezuela and the youngest one. The oldest because it has the largest stretch of Natives still living as they have always done (with a few added trinkets, of course). The newest, because even though Angostura (today Ciudad Bolivar) figures prominently in the independence wars, it is still a state that was settled mostly in the XX century, in the second half at that. Thus the political traditions of the rest of Venezuela do not appear as such in this area. The Native Americans that can be bothered to vote do not worry that much about the subtleties of Caracas jousting. In Bolivar, folks are still looking for a tradition of sorts, though the leftward tilt is a fact of life as it is state with strong trade unions and large state owned concerns.


That state does not vote for governor, due to some quirks of electoral laws. That is, when elected, a governor is entitled to his 4 full years in office. In the case of Amazonas the election of 2000 was overruled months after the fact and a new election had to take place. This has been carried through and Amazonas will vote for its new governor next year. But town halls are in play. Unfortunately very little information is available on line. If to this you add that some of these elections are tribal contests between the different ethnic groups and the few white/mestizo settlers, you will forgive me if I dropped further research on this subject. However one thing is certain, considering the alleged pro native articles of the constitution, and considering the chief culture prevailing in the area, voting will be pragmatically cast for chavismo.

Delta Amacuro

From my visit there we can deduct that it will be a similar situation as in Amazonas: the natives will tend to vote to the one that will give them the most. Then again they have been rather disappointed by chavismo behaving towards them in an equal fashion as before(criollos is the qualifier applied to chavistas as it was applied before to COPEI and AD). True, chavismo brought more, but the corruption was also obvious to the natives and the self respect they should have got from the 1999 constitution is hardly to be seen. The sitting governor cannot run again and that might be a good thing for chavismo. Recently a mysterious diseases carried by bats was even ignored by Caracas officials for way too long, confirming the locals that Caracas was still far, far.....

The surprise here is the local divisions on chavismo side which should make the state more competitive. The opposition more united has actually a fair chance at unseating 8 years of inefficient and not even politically correct chavismo. After all we can observe that Tucupita, the state capital, has about half the votes and almost said NO in 2007. But as the campaign close I think we can mark this state safely for chavismo anyway. Delta Amacuro and Amazonas can be counted for at least another decade to vote for whomever seats at Miraflores, and to tell you the truth, I cannot blame them. At least they assume bravely their dependent status since besides tourism and some wood and cattle ranching there is no other significant goodies to be produced.


The story is different here. If more than 2/3 of the largest state in Venezuela are still a wilderness of sorts (and a growing ecological problem zone), the remaining third carries huge dams and steel mills. In fact, Venezuela watches nervously over the Guri dam reservoir level as we depend so much from the electricity generated there, be it by Guri itself or by the dams downstream.

In 2000 chavismo calibrated well its possibilities there and launched a military, Rojas Suarez, close to Chavez and his 1992 coups. The trade union strength there always promoted a class war language and a leftist agenda, thus Bolivar was ripe to be picked by chavismo. The Causa R who had used Bolivar as a base in 1993 was then divided in Causa R and PPT, the last one embracing Chavez and carrying the state for him.

But things did not go as planned. Rojas Suarez actually took his election seriously and decided to manage Bolivar with local independent criteria. Soon he run foul of chavismo centralization mania to the point that in 2002 during the brief Chavez overthrow he did not seem overly perturbed by it. Sure enough by 2004 he had broken with chavismo. This one had not much trouble getting rid of him in 2004 by replacing him with a general this time, Rangel Gomez.

In 2004 one was allowed to assume that Bolivar was conquered once and for all by chavismo. But that did not take into account the incompetence of Rangel Gomez. Even though Bolivar produces huge amounts of electricity and has more water than any other state in Venezuela, Bolivar suffers extensively from power outages and lack of drinking water. Insecurity of course increased a lot, drug trafficking is rumored to use some of the isolated areas of the state, etc, etc... the only visible thing brought to the state by Chavez was a bridge over the Orinoco which is still far from being fully finished up (lights, facilities, connecting roads...)

In his reelection campaign polls Rangel Gomez reaches at best a 40% of the vote. That is also due to his military outlook which makes him look much more like an autocrat Chavez style than some socialist revolutionary. Some trade unions are not happy with him. But that might not be enough as the opposition is bitterly divided there between Rojas Suarez who wants to make a come back and has the credentials for it, and Andres Velazquez who wants to return to his glory days of 1993. Thus amazingly we have three folks running for reelection at the same time!

Rojas Suarez suffers form being a coup monger military even if he might regret it these days. Paradoxically he is carried by Primero Justicia! That I must admit shocks me somewhat even if Rojas Suarez has shown much more civility than any other chavista or ex-chavista. Andres Velazquez suffers of being too much of the trade union man, and from having been hanging around for way too long (he even tried once for Anzoategui governor!). As such, polls have been unable to offer a difference large enough of voting intentions and neither one of them has been willing to withdraw for a unity candidate that would certainly carry that state. Lately it seems that Velazquez has been losing some steam while Rangel gets even more unpopular. A possible surprise result would benefit Rojas Suarez by a very slim margin. No matter what, the stubbornness of these two man will be paid dearly if Rangel Gomez wins, but at least we will see the end of the political carer of both Velazquez and Rojas Suarez. I would not be sorry for that side benefit myself.

There is however a quirk here. Two districts carry more than 2/3 of the state voter rolls and there Rojas and Velazquez seem to be doing better. If abstention is low and if in the last days support for one of them starts bleeding in a pragmatic way, Rangel Gomez could be shown the door. Pragmatic voting is more given in urban districts. Meanwhile these two districts, Puerto Ordaz and Ciudad Bolivar also run divided options in both camps for town halls so their result is pretty much a guess at this point. Expect lots of cross voting in Bolivar.

I have added a third district to watch, Piar, the agrarian suburbs of Ciudad Guayana / Puerto Ordaz. Interestingly here the urban district goes more to Chavez while more rural and mining Piar says NO in 2007. If the new mayor of Piar comes form the opposition ranks it could be signalling a deeper shift in the politics of the area.


Those should be chavismo lands without problem. And yet chavismo has managed to inflict itself severe wounds through the lousy administration of its governors. The NO in Bolivar did a surprisingly good score in 2007! Amazingly, no matter how awful they have been, chavismo still retains good possibilities.

-The end-

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