Old AD was prompt after 1958 in transforming Oriente as its bastion, getting only limited challenges from COPEI and the MAS. In 2000 it managed to retain Monagas, though Anzoategui defected chavismo a couple of years later. But in 2004, chavismo won it all but the smallest state of Nueva Esparta, the lone opposition possession with Zulia. By 2008 with the previous defection of Sucre it seemed that maybe the opposition would recover some lost ground but it was not to be: Tarek Saab got a strong and unaccountable reelection, Sucre was conquered fully by chavismo and Monagas reached among the highest chavista numbers for a state that barely a decade ago was among the highest AD vote getters. I have to admit that I was shocked at the extent of chavista victory in 2008 in that area. I had given up on Monagas but I was hoping that either Sucre or Anzoategui would return to the opposition camp. I supposed that up to 2008 I had failed to measure the full extent at which chavismo had been built at the expense of AD, something that Chavez is very careful to hide and that AD never brings to discussion as understandably too embarrassing. Maybe Orientales sensed better than the rest of the country that Chavez was just a more autocratic, more corrupt form of AD and had no problem going along with it.
Fortunately there are now clear winds of changes. If PSUV will retain a majority of parliamentary seats in that area, there will be enough losses to start open the way to a future change. Even if it means a partial return to AD. The PSUV problem today is that it seems to have taken for granted 3 of those 4 states, having no qualms in imposing some of the most severe electricity shortages in the area, some of the more roughshod politics over the few opposition that still existed. As such chavismo has been collecting a lot of enemies there, most of them coming from the ranks of the 1999 chavismo first wave. The Piper might not arrive yet this year but he will send a few scary collection notices.
The archipelago state includes the tourist mecca of Venezuela, Margarita island. As it is usually the case in Venezuela, the more urban, the more globalized an area is, the less likely it is to vote for Chavez. Margarita is no exception. From my recent visits I have figured out that all the tourist zone of the Eastern part, from Juangriego to Porlamar have suffered a lot from the current recession and crime wave, less imports to fill up the store shelves to attract tourists, more crime to scare away tourists. In addition chavismo has been promoting land invasions in tourist areas such as Juangriego. I wonder if the votes they might gain from the mainlanders they brought in to overcrowd the island will be able to compensate the "native" backlash.
Above I put native in between quote marks because the Margarita original population has been diluted a lot, first by emigration before mass tourism, and then by mass tourism as many people decided to settle in Margarita where life was very nice, at least until a decade ago. The average Margarita voter today is not born on the island or has at least one of its parents born outside of the island. The 2000 chavismo victory was an accident and Chavez took Margarita granted from the start as he does not understand at all tourism as an industry and thus had no qualms in trying to tax the island more than what it should if it needs to attract visitors. In 2004 the backlash was loud and clear as Margarita bucked the national trend of all going to Chavez, reelecting pre Chavez Governor Morel Rodriguez who had no trouble in getting reelected in 2008 in spite of a massive personal effort from Chavez. For this year vote I do not see much effort from Chavez there, though he never writes off anything, and thus the 3 out of the 4 seats at the very least should go for the opposition. In fact, if it were not for the Macanao and Punta de Piedras areas who live much more of the misiones than tourism, Nueva Esparta could well give its 4 seats to the the opposition as this one vote could double the PSUV total. I doubt it would but I would not be entirely surprised if it were to happen as chavista workers at Porlamar malls and the surrounding resorts around can see the drop of tourist numbers and the difficulty their employers are facing to keep them on the payroll..
The prediction is simple: the district of Porlamar and Pampatar is a shoo in for the opposition and the district of Macanao and Juangriego include enough anti Chavez areas that the opposition should win without much trouble. The two list representatives will split evenly. As such Margarita will confirm once again that it is kind of a maverick state, with a strong tendency to vote against whomever is in charge in Caracas.
Total Nueva Esparta: 1 PSUV, 1 COPEI, 1 UNT, 1 AD
Monagas is in many ways the opposite of Nueva Esparta. It is a land locked state for all practical purposes, considered Llanero by some for its geography but still quite different from the Llanero culture that is found once you cross over to Guarico. With significant native American population it is also different than the other Oriente states. Basically what we have there is cattle ranching and oil, lots of oil and thus lots of PDVSA influence, hence the probable explanation as to how Monagas went from staunch AD to staunch PSUV: PDVSA controls all the good jobs so you better be nice and accommodating if you want one.
There is not much for the opposition to expect in Monagas today, although a general fatigue of chavismo is certainly taking a toll on the PSUV there. The good news for the opposition is the significant infighting of chavismo as many factions want a share of the loot. The best the opposition can hope is to make sure chavismo does not double its vote share so at least one list representative goes to the opposition. It is a sign of chavismo confidence in that state that they did not feel compelled to gerrymander the three representative district of Maturin, as it would have been fair to give a larger voice to the rural pauper South by including it within a "Maturin South" single district (which would have been won by chavismo anyway).
Another factor, probably not that minor, is that chavismo is running there Diosdado Cabello at the top of the PSUV ticket. True, he was born there, but is he not just coming from being governor of Miranda state two years ago? What kind of native son is that!? Still, chavismo will carry the state, though with a vote drop of at least 10% as divisions and imposed candidates will turn off a significant share of its electorate.
Total Monagas: 5 PSUV, 1 AD
This state is the most populous of the lot, the more industrialized and developed. Still, compared to Carabobo or Zulia it lags quite a lot in spite of its oil wealth and oil industry. There has been enough development in the area to have allowed trade unions to play a role in the local politics and those ones went PSUV after 2003, probably accounting in part for Tarek Saab election in 2004. The governor was dispatched by Chavez from his Caracas circles because he was a native of the state and from El Tigre area, I believe, a representative of the large middle eastern immigration that went to Anzoategui. Tarek wanted to be the poet laureate of the bolibanana revolution and showed a significant past of human rights activist. But once at the right side of Chavez he was quick in adopting the maxim that some equal rights are more equal than others and became fast a hated figure for the opposition.
Tarek does not seem to have taken with pleasure his nomination for Anzoategui. In normal times he certainly would not have won but 2004 was a special year. Making the best of a bad situation Tarek grew to like the joint and the feel f power, even if local. He wasted no time in suing the former governor. His reelection campaign was certainly more convincing than his first election one. He has also become one of the most sycophantic governors you would be able to find around, probably hoping to return to Chavez inner circle after his 8 years exile. But such power wielding does not go without some consequences and Tarek has alienated many chavistas such as the ex mayor of El Tigre, the third city of the state. Ernesto Paraqueima is young and dynamic even if of questionable ethics (in Oriente ethics are particularity irrelevant I must say). The fact of the matter is that he has become a problem for Tarek who had him barred from running for public office for 8 months, for a minor administrative technicality. Eight months, how convenient! Ernesto was considered an almost shoo in for district 1 which now elects two representatives instead of one. Ernesto by himself would have brought two points for the opposition, even though they would come through PODEMOS. So the opposition did the next best thing, Paraqueima senior is running instead and Ernesto campaigns hard next to him, at every step, so you might be forgiven to wonder about who is really running.
The other district where the opposition has a good shot, in fact better than for district 1, is district 4 of Puerto La Cruz. There Marcos Figueroa is running. He run for Sotillo mayor as an independent in 2008 where he managed a very respectable 46%. I think he should finally get the nod.
In the other districts the opposition has less of a chance. District 2 is too rural and to PDVSA dependent to be challenged at this time. District 3 which elects 2 seats includes the state capital, Barcelona. On paper a 5% shift on 2008 results leaves the district comfortably inside chavismo, but in 2007 chavismo lost while in 2009 it won but below national average. In a way it can be considered as a bellwether district: if the opposition picks the two seats on September 26 then the overall result will have been a very bad day for chavismo. As for the list vote, it should split evenly, no surprise expected there.
Eventually the final outcome will depend on how upset people are in Anzoategui about the semi constant power outages, so much so that you need to go to the Andes region to find people suffering more from these. If in my opinion Tarek Saab is a terrible and vindictive governor, he has been good for chavismo, cultivating a populist aura, a close association to Chavez and a dynamic us versus them language. As such his weaknesses compensate his strengths and he would not be such a negative for chavismo as it happens with other chavista governors. In addition, even though the opposition has found a grudging unity, divisiveness is never too far from the surface and Anzoategui had to hold primaries in two districts. Thus primaries there might help less than in other places in stimulating opposition vote.
Total Anzoategui: 2 PSUV, 2 leaning PSUV, 1 independent, 1 AD, 2 leaning opposition
This is the most maritime state of Venezuela, after Margarita of course. It is also the closest in mood and culture to Margarita. But unlike Margarita it has failed to develop a vigorous tourism industry (mostly limited to national tourism) and has no industry really worth writing about. Thus fishing and agriculture (a large part of the state is too dry for any agriculture) has made it a state who easily became dependent of state handouts. It was not surprising then that the MAS managed to take Sucre before Chavez became president through the figure of Ramon Martinez, reelected in 2000 and 2004.
Ramon Martinez has a reputation of being a corrupt administrator, not alien to rough methods to get his way. As such he was a darling of Chavez who loved his rather disgusting sycophantic ways. But this did not prevent a break up in 2007 when Martinez could not take it anymore: he seems to be a democrat deep down. The more so that Chavez is always eager to get rid of people he is indebted to: you would be hard pressed to find major political figures of chavismo in 1999, those who helped his election in 1998, still around today.
For all of its efforts Martinez failed to carry the state in 2007. Chavez promoted the terrible mayor of Cumana to replace Martinez in 2008 who was not allowed then a third term and the Martinez sponsored candidate, ex mayor of Carupano, was not even picked as unity candidate. Never mind that a divided opposition lost the state Capital, Cumana, where united they would have beaten the PSUV candidate. As such it would seem that the chavista take over of Sucre was even more complete than the one of Anzoategui. Now Ramon Martinez is in exile and was barred form running for the Cumana seat that he woudl have taken easily, believe it or not......
But the state might not be as safe as chavismo might think it is. Through Twitter I got a picture of the latest visit of Leopoldo Lopez in Cumana and I am surprised at the crowd following someone who after all is not the candidate for Cumana, and who looks very little like an Oriental in speech and ways. Since this series of posts is rather dry, for once I will indulge and post an image. You can see Leopoldo Lopez working it, messy hair and sweaty shirt (then again Voluntad Popular is running one of its lone candidates in Cumana, so he should work it out there). But let's not be fooled by it: of the three districts of Sucre, the opposition only has a rather remote chance in district 3. That might not be too bad though as it is a two seats district.
District 3 has another detail possibly favoring the opposition: the governor of the state, ultra vulgar and violent Henrique Maestre is running there his brother, Jesus Maestre. Since the short rule of Maestre at state is as bad as his rule as Cumana mayor, corruption wise among other things, we can see chavista nepotism at play, putting all the famiglia at key posts. After all Maestre was reelected in 2004 with only 47% of the vote in what was a banner year for chavismo (Ramon Martinez carried Cumana with 61%). In 2008 he did carry Cumana after all, but with 2% less than the state average. Maybe two Maestre for Cumana might be a tad too much for the locals?
But if Cumana with his little bit of economic activity, his major university, fits the mold of being less chavista than the hinterlands, the other two districts of Sucre are a lost cause. True, at least district 2 must be getting tired of unfilled promises (the raid to Macuro was never finished) and must be upset at the end of fishing industry due to smugglers and drug traffickers who want no one but them on the waters as they ship cheap gas to the Caribbean and drugs wherever. A few months ago El Nacional run a special report on how fishermen could not take anymore to the seas because their boats were stolen or sunk, and in the best case they would remain alive, barely, to tell the other to desist sailing, too scared to complain to nonexistent authorities, too busy smuggling gasoline to Trinidad. As for district 1 I fear the situation there is hopeless, too poor over all, too dependent a district, even with a 10% drop in the chavista vote.
Total Sucre: 3 PSUV, 2 leaning PSUV, 1 AD
NOTE: I feel like reminding readers that accompanied me so far that I am writing these analysis in the frame of early August, before the campaign started, before polling was done over the effect of Pudreval and other scandals. Although I have made some adjustments based on local events, I am trying to stay clear from national events. Once I finish my last post on Aragua and Carabobo next week, I will try to design some table to summarize these posts and will update my predictions there as needed.