Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The consequences of words: how Chavez is changing the stakes in November election

This regional election is turning to be much worse than anything we have seen so far. Two elements have come to play in the last 2-3 weeks and they could (will?) have dire consequences. These two new factors are:

A presidential involvement in a local election as we have never seen in the country.

It is not that presidents did not try to influence the election of their successor before Chavez, or that Chavez has not intervened in all elections, it is that the level seen this time is just inconceivable, not to say unconstitutional. Chavez has become the real governor candidate in almost every state and soon I suppose in major urban centers. In the past, before reelection was allowed, presidents did what they could to help their potential successor, but it was discrete and without any direct involvement by the sitting president. When separated local elections became the norm presidents might have expressed tactfully their wishes, but none would have attended the meeting of their favored candidate. Chavez not only attends but runs the meeting.

A vulgarity and vileness in the political discourse of Chavez, and chavistas, that we have never seen before!

Yes, Chavez has broken the bounds of acceptable discourse in the past, an occasional insult would come through, some scatological remark "accidentally" happen. But until now the "charming" qualities of Chavez made apologists think that it was accidental, just a spur of the moment. But no matter what prowess of exculpation specialists like Jose Vicente Rangel did, civilians like yours truly were never fooled. As you can hear yourself in the video I recently posted, the level of vulgarity, violence and even hate that Chavez has been using in his recent speeches has gone beyond the Pale.

What is going on

Very simple, Chavez sees his fortunes sagging and his narcissistic ego cannot take it. Thus he thinks he is the only one that can solve the election problem and he invests himself totally in it. In addition he must be prodded by the need to score some victory somewhere since he basically has not won anything since late 2007. Considering that he has created around himself a system of yes men combined with thugs and ransackers of the treasury, there is no one that dares to tell him what is going on, nor is he likely to listen anyway.

The consequences

Crisis? What crisis?

For the foreign observer unaware of the intricacies of Venezuela politics the plain observation is that the Venezuelan government is the only one in the world not dealing with the global crisis. So far we only heard from Chavez first that Venezuela was invulnerable, then that maybe not but no worry, that measures were taken. We are waiting for these measures.

From his ministers only words such as "socialism protects us" "money is safer in Venezuela than anywhere else" and other such inanities uttered at totally irrelevant meetings of leftist intellectuals that have no idea on how a market economy runs. Apparently the ministers in question think that Venezuela has left the market economy crowd, and I am afraid reality will cruelly bring those ministers out of their cocoon.

In other words the Chavez administration is dedicated to the election, just like their boss. Nothing will be done until November 24, unless something catastrophic happens in Venezuela (it is already happening, the parallel rate skyrocketed and the Venezuelan bonds lost more than half their value but no one higher up talks about these trivialities). One thing we can be sure of is that this delay in avoiding facing the issues will cost us a few extra hundred million dollars when the reaper comes knocking at our door.

Chavez makes thing more dangerous for himself

When I first started my series on 2008 elections I did write that I expected the opposition to be happy in getting between 6 to 8 states and that a 10 states sweep could be considered a major defeat for Chavez. By turning this election a vote between Chavez and the opposition or dissident local candidate this numbers could turn against Chavez. Not only that but he makes it even worse by fixing himself the goal to win as many states as in 2004, if not even picking up the lone two states held by the opposition.

The first lesson of democracy (something of course out of the reach of Chavez neuronal connections) is that after 10 years of rule it is 99% impossible to improve a 2 to 22 advantage. If if you have the best administration in the world a good result, an excellent result even, would be, say, 4 to 18. But Chavez seems to spend more negative energy in winning Nueva Esparta and Zulia than preserving the seats that are in danger. Thus he is committing a cardinal mistake: he is lowering the perceived success bar for the opposition while making himself a more direct failure recipient if the opposition is seen as successful. That is, if 2 months ago I was calling a 10 to 14 result a great opposition victory, now a 7-8 victory would do just as well. The more so if these 7 states include Zulia, Carabobo, Miranda and Caracas at large. In fact, the degree of involvement of Chavez makes that if the opposition were to retain Zulia and Nueva Esparta, and gain only Miranda, Caracas and Carabobo, it would be perceived in public opinion as a strong advance, and a significant weakening of Chavez strength. That result two month ago would have been only nice, maybe weak, now it will be great; unfortunately for Chavez that is the way political psychology works.

The risks for post electoral violence and political instability are fast increasing

The problem with Chavez increasingly obscene language is that it is directed to his core base. For some reason he thinks that being vulgar and violent will get him two results: flush away the timorous and mobilize his core base. That might have worked in 2006 with the "rojo, rojito" speech, when Chavez favorable opinion was unaccountably above 50% courtesy of high oil prices. But today things are different. Chavez favorable opinion has been steadily eroding and such a discourse can equally mobilize his core base as erode it further and faster. It is too early to tell but one can sense intuitively that it is a dangerous gambit for him this time around.

It is also a double gambit as enough supporters of dissident chavismo (PPT and PCV) might be sick enough of being treated as traitors that they might either mobilize in larger numbers to vote for their candidates or even worse, vote opposition to punish Chavez for his insults! There are enough close mayor election that such a punishing strategy could cost chavismo a dozen of city halls, plus a couple of dozens of city hall to the dissidence that would be pissed enough at Chavez to start ruling with support from the opposition.

But that would not be the issue here: the issue is that these hard core chavistas whipped into a frenzy by Chavez might be much harder to control once the elections are gone. To begin with, those in losing electoral districts will be angry enough not to recognize the new local authorities. But more of a concern is the creation of a cult to violence, of fascist character, that will create big problems in Venezuela. We are not used to such violence as the political norm, and even if only a small amount of chavistas really go the deep end it will be a group significant enough to cause Venezuela problems for years, if not for decades.

The worst part is that this violence could remain after Chavez is gone. We just need to look across the border to see how 50 years of violence where generated by people irresponsibly stroking violence from both sides after Gaitan was murdered.

And thus we see Chavez unnecessarily creating conditions that will make his rule more difficult, that could make his departure a closer reality, that would make the transition period much more complex and dangerous. And all that for his personal ambition to be president for life. Just like Hitler who had no qualms destroying Germany. All proportions guarded of course, but it is the same principles behind that madness of Chavez.

-The end-

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