Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Chavistas recall efforts in Venezuela and Margarita Island

Tuesday 25, November 2003

I did spend 4 lovely days in Margarita Island, swimming, avoiding the sun and de-stressing through long Cocoloco induced naps by the shore. I did not read the papers, except for a cursory perusing on Sunday. No Internet either. But a little bit of television at the hotel room, and the radio on my way back from Barquisimeto airport to San Felipe tonight.

I was right, it was a good timing for a break as the Pro-Chavez signature gathering was newsworthy for its lack of news.


During a road drive through Margarita Island on Monday afternoon I passed by several of the stands set up there to gather signatures to revoke a local opposition assemblyman. The stands were usually nattily dressed in red, Chavez’s colors. A few National Guards were setting vigils, but at least in one case more worried about the pretty girls walking by. As far as I could tell nobody was standing in line to sign. Folks on vigil waiting for electors were chit-chatting amiably. All seemed good natured, as it should be.

I am not going to speculate as to the obvious absence of voters. After all it was Monday afternoon, the 4th and last day of the signatures gathering for the Chavez side. And Margarita is after all a state with a small population. But if they needed only 20% of voters to sign up and that they were still open Monday afternoon this may suggest that they were not sure of having gathered the necessary signatures.

What was actually way more interesting to observe were the very numerous road advertisement for the local governor, Alexis Navarro. I do live in a state whose Governor is from the opposition and is reputed to be a little bit arrogant, but right now as I type this I cannot remember clearly the last time I saw such type of advertisement for Mr. Lapi. Mind you, he is not adverse on occasion to post a large billboards to promote his “works”, but what I saw in Margarita was downright ridiculous.

The roads of Margaritas seem to display every couple of miles a billboard depicting Mr. Navarro, more often than not accompanied by Chavez. The background is usually red. The pose usually “inspired”, with a look in the distance (the future?), quite often a raised straight hand (blessing us? Or saluting us fascist style?), the text of course alluding to all the millions spent on Margarita. Well, I have not seen any visible improvement for tourists since my last visit one and a half year ago, and the people do not look any more content than they used to be. There are still as many holes in the streets, and visibly the currency control exchange has hurt badly the tax free port status of Margarita, probably increasing the jobless numbers a lot. These numbers are not reported on the billboards. Imagine that! However, what is also noteworthy is that much more often than not the billboards to the glory of Mr. Navarro are defaced.

Questions come easy. Why does Mr. Navarro need so many billboards? Why so often with Chavez? Can he stand alone in a free electoral context? After three years in office, does he still need Chavez that bad? And, by the way, where do the monies for these expensive billboards come from?

You got to love local “leaders” personality cult.


What is there to say? I mean, really. Apparently there are all sorts of questions as to whether chavistas gathered the 20% needed to recall up to 38 opposition assembly men. But when I arrived in Margarita I read that chavistas had already conceded in Zulia on some seats, our largest state. Yaracuy, my home state, even with 4 out of 5 seats in the hands of the opposition was not a target of the pro Chavez effort! And Lapi does not litter the country side with billboards to his glory (OK, so he uses TV spots but I am sure that Margarita’s governor does that on his local TV shows).

Does it matter really? Well, in a way I hope that they did collect their signatures. If they had to falsify a few as claimed by some that means that they know that they are in trouble for real. That could drive them to something crazy this weekend when the opposition takes its turn at gathering signatures against Chavez. My bet will be that they failed in several districts to gather the 20% of registered voters which is necessary to force a recall election but they also did manage the 20% fair and square in some districts. After all polls give a solid 30% of hard core support across the board for Chavez. If Yaracuy and Zulia are below the 30% that must make a few other states close to 40%. [1]

One thing is certain, the declarations I saw on TV were less than convincing. Our ineffable vice-president of course declared that everybody and their brother did sign up. The even more ineffable BBC news seems to have bought that inanity, though the numbers advanced by the VP were easy to check agaisnt the electoral roster. But then again BBC bought the glorified version of the video “The Revolution will not be televised”. The BBC needs to talk to local Brits, if you ask me.

Meanwhile I watched the amazing scene of Eleazar Diaz Rangel, the editor of the pro Chavez daily Ultimas Noticias, on TV saying that the Vice-President got it wrong![2] Diaz Rangel declared that it was around 2 million signatures collected, candidly conceding that it was more than he expected. What all of them seem to have forgotten was that in some districts one could sign for more than one recall election and thus even these 2 millions do not represent 2 million people, perhaps one and a half at best. Even if you add the states that were left behind, and you assume that the signatures were clean, the total gathered does not reach much more than 2 million folks out of around 12 million registered voters, barely 20% at best!

It is indeed quite amusing to observe how the chavistas do not even manage to agree on the same bloated numbers. They are trying to pull a good one on the opposition but the opposition needs not to do much to reveal the truth as chavistas contradict themselves.

It will still be a few days before we know how successful, or failed, was the chavista collection against the representatives from the opposition. But from what I could gather in the last few hours, and my accidental observations in Margarita, Chavez is still far from sleeping soundly at night.

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[1] The last two months have seen a real electoral campaign by Chavez even though no official election is on sight before June 2004. Of course the campaign is aimed at making people desist from signing up for a recall election. This heavy campaigning, with assorted goodies handed right and left has born fruit. The hard core support of Chavez remains stuck at 15 % but it seems that the total support raised from 30 to 40%. This pattern has been the same for the last two years, as Chavez numbers are consistently shifting between 30 and 40%, regardless of the disastrous administration he provides the country with.

[2] State TV, VTV, show, Contra Golpe, Monday 24.

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