The Venezuelan campaign of 2012 will be for the history books before we know the results. Beyond opinion polls and considerations of momentum, at this late in the game all is possible, from Capriles winning by a mini landslide to Chavez becoming, with all of his aging bloatedness, the come back kid. How is that possible?
The Capriles campaign has been brilliant, considering all the obstacles
I am not going to rewrite all that I have already said. Besides, I will admit that the opposition has basically done all what I wrote in 2011 it should do. True, often I did not like the timing, the intensity or lack of thereof but I have to admit that they did what needed to be done and then some more.
The opposition campaign did a primary. The opposition unity candidate started visiting all the nooks and crannies of the country during his primary campaign and made it an official strategy once he won in February. I am too lazy to look now for the links of the time but I remember that I was mocked about suggesting that the winner of the primary shall visit every one and each of the 300+ municipalities. That is why I complained that the primary date was too late because it would not give enough time to do it.
Today on TV you see politicians admitting that they were surprised at the success of the "casa por casa" which was nothing else but an excuse to visit all Venezuelan municipalities. That was successful because 1) Chavez was not going to do it, even had his health been better and 2) the media empire of the regime only left the option of a close and personal visit as the only way to compensate. Amen that it was taking advantage of the regime mistake in its campaign, to rely more on its media control than actual street campaign. and to contrast more the unbound energy of the challenger again the semi dead president.
Today I can write in all confidence that we would not be discussing a Capriles momentum if he had not done what he did between November and April. Which brings us to the other two things that made all the difference in the campaign.
Capriles has been a formidable campaigner. For a city kid, well educated and cosmopolitan, he morphed spectacularly into a kisser of any frog on his path. And many of these frogs became pro Capriles princes and princesses. He displayed a remarkable energy. True, he is thin, short and athletic, but still, his campaign was nearly herculean. Well, was herculean. And it showed how tired the revolution was.
The other thing was, all being said, perhaps the most decisive but cannot be documented well yet and will be for the history books. The opposition not only survived its primary campaign bruises but grew more united over time in spite of chavista best effort, going as far as printing a compromising fake program that tested weaker spirits that bailed out for a little bit of cash. But such maneuvers in the end only highlighted the unity of the opposition, from Capriles down to the candidate for mayor at Tacusiapon..
I need to mention again two names even though in all justice I should name a huge list, from Maria Corina Machado to Antonio Barreto Sira. But I will focus on Leopoldo Lopez and Pablo Perez. Both of them were candidate in the primary.
When Leopoldo felt the winds he switched to support Capriles ensuring him a no contest primary landslide. But going beyond his rightful victimization status he made his peace with all, from his break up with Primero Justica to his unjust IACHR trial and became the organizer of the "count every vote strategy". This low key but excessively essential position (alliteration meant) kept him in the shadow until recent weeks when his duties put him in the spotlight. Then we learned all the hard work he has selflessly done, without any other political quest than understanding that any political career in his future depended on a solid Capriles victory. We also could appreciate the organization of Capriles campaign where all tasks were carefully split to allow that hell ride of a campaign.
Pablo Perez, the distant second runner could have remained safely behind in Zulia. But he did not, though he did not leave Zulia that often. However he invested himself to ensure that Capriles would win Zulia by the highest of margins, offering the image of ardent supporter with even a touch of the genuine. Simply put, the man accepted his status and embraced it. Again, he certainly knows that if Capriles does not win his career would be in trouble. But still, he went the extra mile and today Capriles is looking at taking Zulia, our big enchilada, with no less than 55%.
Even if it has not been easy, all fell into place and that is why you see the fervor and momentum in favor of Capriles. His twice daily closing rallies are something that we have never seen in Venezuelan political history, even at the height of Chavez might. Whether Capriles wins next Sunday, he and his colleagues will have the knowledge that all that could be done was done.
Chavez is the conservative candidate
The Chavez campaign has been plagued with blunder and arrogance. Arrogance because Chavez thought him alone could carry it, and that his cancer could be put to good use. And blunder because an arrogant campaign is unable to keep its eye in focus as it depends too much on the whims of its nominee. On paper, Chavez should suffer a smarting defeat by at least 10 points next Sunday. And yet...
I think the biggest, by far, mistake of Chavez campaign has been to center it all about himself. Capriles has run all across the country but at each stop there was a solid welcoming committee of all of the opposition candidates for local office, also elected in the primaries of February. Chavez in comparison for his few appearances, was alone, the lone star. And that made it worse in the rare instances where he talked about whomever he would name to run for local office, AFTER he is reelected. The booing scene at Puerto Cabello when Chavez picked Ameliach over Lacava is for the annals of political mistakes.
It would be too easy to sing the litanies of Chavez mistakes, 99% of them due to his arrogance. This is the way autocrats reach their endings. And he will be paying the price soon as even a victory will be a disguised defeat by him losing at least 10 points from past elections. And yet he could win.
The chavista regime has created an authoritarian system of blackmail and dependency. Most people know that the private sector is today unable to provide jobs. Even if Capriles got a smashing victory it would be months and maybe years until the private sector offer new jobs at a rate covering 1-2% of the population every year. It is a legitimate fear that those who hold precarious public employment or small mision grants to be afraid. True, many of them realize that Chavez is already failing at fulfilling the state obligations, but right now voting for Capriles is a gamble, no matter what he says.
We know from history that authoritarian regimes rely greatly on the conservative tenet that "we are used to what we got no matter how bad it is. Let's stick with it". A Stockholm syndrome or a wife beating syndrome as you may chose to look at.
Certainly Chavez has played with the conservative card, not to call it outright reactionary when inventing a Bolivarian past that never existed.
Where it all ends
And thus amazingly the result of next Sunday "may" depend on what percentage of people that are heavily dependent on the regime will find it intolerable. The mismanagement of the country is for all to see: we are worse off today than in 2006. No doubt whatsoever. Is it worth for them, for a pittance, to put up with all the abuse and neglect, or will enough of them understand that if Chavez remains their promised conservatism will not be so and that things will get worse anyway? Such an emotional, gut wrenching decision can go either way, and explain the first paragraph of this post.