The December lull is gone. As usual Chavez used the time to make lots of noise (naming Diosdado, naming Rangel Silva, threatening this and that) but the opposition this time did not have to reply as it was busy doing the door to door thing instead of wasting time in public rhetoric. All good things however come to an end and this week politicians of all stripes are returning to the newspaper and talk shows. Thus it is time for a general update.
Since all the real action and drama is within chavismo, puzzlingly the opposition with 6 primary candidates look almost restful, so let's start with them.
They all did their homework through the holidays and left Chavez own words damn him. Though they were not totally away from the limelight as they lent themselves to the silliness of the "Buenas Noches" talk show of Globovision at 10 PM. I did not watch any of it because it is a bling-bling show and because I cannot stand Kico or Carla while they do not let the only worthy member of the trio, Carreño, figure as much as he should. The man, a fashion chronicler writer is in fact one of the most perceptive journalists around, if you ask me. But I digress.
The first week of January, the deadliest one of the year, nothing happened and the airwaves were for Chavez, and bloggers criticizing him. This week Globovision started a new series of shows, with a real debate that is not a debate. In short: they taped on the same day the 6 candidates with more or less the same questions and without the other ones knowing what the heck they replied. And they are playing these shows everynight at 8 PM starting last night with Diego Arria. I suppose the format is better in that you do get to see the candidate more in depth than the previous "debates", and Chuo Torrealba seems up to the job.
Arria was good but without any pretense, almost sounding already the elder statesman resigned to his upcoming electoral defeat and positioning himself as the "indispensable" man for the campaign and foreign secretary seat. Of course, he would not say so but his language and body language implied it: his objective is to try to reach 10%, but a solid, values based 10% that cannot be ignored February 13. I truly wish him well because with a 10% show he is still around and preserves his chances if suddenly the plans change(Chavez croaking, for example, and suspending the October vote, ushering a transition of sorts).
The surprise comes from Pablo Perez who apparently did not show up for the taping even though he was warned in advance. Globo does not mention it but my sources inside one of the campaigns tell me so. Maybe Globo will give him "special" treatment? At any rate it is not surprising because the poor guy is facing a public transport strike in Maracaibo and in polls he is having a tough time to keep in second position as I understand Lopez is now fighting him hard for that spot. Then again another source put Lopez in 4th, behind Machado. I would believe more the fight for 2nd place because, let's face it, the campaign of Perez is less than stellar and his people have found a need to launch a mision of their own to rescue Perez, mision "Victoria Total". At least Perez did a good thing this week: he went out to condemn relations with countries that do not respect human rights, sort of leaving Capriles alone in not condemning things like Ahmadinejerk visit in Caracas.
The thing is that by now we should be getting new reliable surveys but we are not, except for two for Miranda state published over the week end in El Universal (one and two). No surprises, Capriles seems to be leading the state into remaining in Primero Justicia grasp with Ocariz leading more than expected ex-governor Mendoza and Caldera almost a shoo in for Sucre, Easter Caracas. This makes me wonder about the actual lead of Capriles, if it is not based a little bit too much in Miranda and Aragua polling... But more on that in another post to come later this week.
Medina is unheard of and Machado keeps working hard as if nothing, so we give her a bonus point for stamina and dedication. El Nacional had three experts discussing the six candidates (subscription only). In their opinion it would seem that Perez is doing better image wise, if I understand well, but there is really no major difference between Capriles, Perez and Lopez as to their plus and minus sum. Leading us to speculate that one month of campaign left could have an effect on the rankings. However the three experts seem to agree in that in spite of their virtues the other three candidates do not have what it takes at this point to become real challengers.
Here, as we say in Venezuela, "la procesion va por dentro". Loosely meaning that there is no public displays but that does not mean that things are not difficult inside.
The problem of chavismo is that they do not know how long is left for their leader and succession wars seem to have taken the best of it, and may be actually settled provisionally. There is a dangerous price for chavismo in these maneuvering because to date they have officially named no candidate for governor and mayor whereas the opposition is holding its primaries in a month. The contrast is glaring and damaging, the more so that organizing a PSUV primary is becoming quite difficult in the remaining time if they want to avoid an internal battle that could damage further Chavez chances in October. In other words the disease of Chavez is exposing the less democratic spirit inside the PSUV, forcing it to gamble it all on a Chavez victory in October so whomever he appoints for local candidates will be elected anyway. I think that even chavismo is past this type of politics now.
But is that strategy even viable? No, I do not think so and Chavez recent appointments seem to indicate that chavismo has a Titanic kind of feeling and that mision SOS has started. What chavismo should do is hold primaries in March and set a body politic ready to step in if Chavez were to falter. But the autocrat understands that such a move could threaten his grasp on power if he were to find a cure and as any good sociopath he prefers to take everything down with him if he cannot have his way. Leaving remedial steps for later if he has again a chance to do so.
It is this way that we must understand the moves to name Diosdado and Rangel Silva. It was kind of a palace coup if you ask me. Chavez had to chose between the "civilian" ideological wing of the PSUV, the one led by Maduro, Jaua and Isturiz, supported by Cuba, and the pragmatic side of the PSUV willing to do the dirty work to reelect Chavez but decided to strike on its own if Chavez gets sicker or loses in October. It seems that fear of the military has forced Chavez to chose Diosdado and Rangel Silva. These two characters have a lot to lose if Chavez loses power but they are also the ones that can build enough strength to force the opposition to negotiate with them, the more so if a weakling like Capriles is elected president. In other words it is "I tried to screw you up as much as I could but you won anyway. OK, now I am giving you Miraflores but my property is mine [Diosdado] and you will pass me to honorable retirement and do not pursue me in court [Rangel Silva]. Though if you want to bring a few ones down I will not stop you [if they come from the ideologues like Ramirez who is a perfect scapegoat]. We got a deal or we are going to have a civil war?". It is important to note here that neither Diosdado or Rangel Silva on their own control or can control the military. But together they may go a long way to that effect. The military after all do not want to kill civilians, do not want to lose their privileges and would like to have a country less dysfunctional where they can enjoy themselves better. The Diosdado faction allied with the drug trafficking faction could give it to the military, you know.
Now you can understand better the nature of chavismo campaign strategy starting this week: money, and more money thrown to buy votes, cheating, and more cheating, and if it does not work, negotiation with the opposition so that at least a portion of chavismo saves its ill acquired goodies. Chavez knows the new game but will he play? That is the question...........