The political opposition held primaries in 15 electoral circuits on 25 April to choose 22 candidates for the National Assembly elections scheduled to be held on 26 September. The electoral authorities (CNE) supervising the primaries behaved professionally and did not hinder or interfere in the process. The military forces deployed to safeguard the voting stations and ballots also comported themselves professionally. There was no reason for the CNE officials and military troops to behave poorly because President Hugo Chavez had nothing riding on the results of the opposition primaries.
In fact, letting the primaries play out peacefully was a big propaganda plus for the Chavez regime, which now can boast that the primaries show that democracy is very much alive and well in Bolivarian Venezuela. If someone criticizes the regime as undemocratic, government propaganda spinmeisters can reply that the opposition primaries prove otherwise.
A day earlier, on 24 April, the Unitary Democratic Table (Spanish acronym is “MUD”) announced after many weeks of squabbling internally that a consensus had been reached on 165 candidates who, theoretically, will campaign as a unified opposition.
The Teos and Maria Corinas of the oppo universe praised the primaries and the consensus achieved by MUD as proof that the opposition will lead a democratic renaissance in the 26 September elections, winning enough seats in the National Assembly to constitute a pluralist legislature capable of blocking the regime’s worst initiatives and working with the ruling PSUV to advance good initiatives. Not intending to rain on anyone’s parade, these optimistic assurances sound a lot like counting live chickens before any eggs have actually hatched.
It remains to be seen if MUD’s consensus candidates can stick together over the coming five months, or if the opposition will revert to its traditional disunity. It also remains to be seen whether the Chavez regime will play fair in the 26 September elections. President Chavez and his senior satraps could not be clearer on this point: The Bolivarian revolution will not admit any electoral defeats and will not stand down, no matter what. Chavez set the benchmark months ago. He said that the PSUV must win between two-thirds and three-quarters of the seats in play.
The opposition certainly has a good shot at winning a significant number of seats. Chavez’s popularity has dropped under 50% and 70% of the adult population distrusts him, according to several recent polls. However, Chavez controls all the institutions of governance in Venezuela including the CNE, Supreme Court, Attorney General and National Assembly, and he just gave the armed forces a 40% wage increase which the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) publicly endorsed as “justice” for the troops.
Caracas Gringo suspects that it doesn’t matter if the elections are held today or on 26 September. The Chavez regime may allow the opposition to gain some seats in the legislature. But the regime will make sure that its PSUV loyalists win a sufficiently large percentage of the National Assembly to guarantee that the president can continue to deepen his revolution.
Can the opposition derail any regime ideas about rigging the outcome?
Yes, possibly, provided that the opposition crafts a strong message that appeals to all voters, reaches out aggressively to poor Venezuelans who constitute about 80% of the electorate, and fields enough witnesses and poll workers to ensure that the regime cannot engage in any last minute ballot stuffing or alterations of the data in the electronic voting machines. But we’re not optimistic on all counts.
Viewed from afar, there doesn’t appear to be any rebirth of the opposition. Some new actors with leadership potential have certainly emerged, so one must not surrender all hope. However, MUD still is dominated largely by the same old tired dinosaurs that have little if any traction at all with the general populace. Folks like Ramos Allup, Barboza, Rosales, Salas Romer, Borges, Ledezma, among so many others. There isn’t a single inspirational leader in this bunch; just a lot of power-hungry professional politicos without an ice cube’s chance in hell of rebuilding Venezuela in less than 20 or 30 years even if Chavez and all his gangsters were to disappear in an instant.
A Venezuelan friend describes his country after 11-plus years of Hugo Chavez in power as resembling “…a very large red bus with 27 million passengers that has run out of gas, is rolling downhill at increasing speed in neutral gear, without brakes, with the tires coming off the wheels and with a drunk driver at the steering wheel.”
Most of the opposition’s putative leaders appear to believe that they can whittle down the Chavez regime in the 26 September elections, and create a beachhead from which to launch a successful presidential challenge against Chavez in the 2012 elections. It has been suggested from outside MUD that the opposition presidential candidate should be chosen in national primaries. That certainly would be a vast improvement over the triumvirate – Rosales,Petkoff and Borges – who decided amongst themselves that Rosales would challenge Chavez in the last presidential elections. But the next presidential elections won’t happen for another 32 months, and meanwhile the Chavez regime won’t be daydreaming in the shade.
Caracas Gringo doesn’t buy the notion that Chavez and gang will be ousted from power democratically. There won’t be a peaceful electoral resolution to the disaster that Venezuela has become under Chavez. The president and his top gangsters have warned repeatedly that the revolution won’t give up or share power. But Venezuela is going to crash hard whether or not Chavez is in power. A national crash is inevitable, unavoidable. Impossible to predict the precise timing, characteristics or forces involved in the coming crash. But the damage to Venezuela is too great, and the groups aligned within MUD have no power whatsoever to change outcomes.
President Chavez likely will determine the finale. But Venezuelans will have little say in determining the destiny of their nation. Venezuela already has new owners, and they are not Venezuelan. Chavez boasts about kicking the Gringos out of Venezuela and rescuing the nation’s sovereignty. But Chavez has literally given away Venezuela to foreign states and non-state actors that collectively and individually have no interest whatsoever in a democratic and independent Venezuela.
Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, Belarus, FARC, among others, have strong vested interests in Venezuela. The Russians want state-to-state contracts to ensure that if and when Chavez departs Miraflores, his successor cannot walk away from Venezuela’s contractual obligations to the Russian state. Ditto for Beijing, which already is reaping immense cash rewards by lending $32 billion to Venezuela’s government and getting repaid in oil at prices discounted by $20/bl and higher, and with all freight and insurance costs borne by Pdvsa, some three-quarters of which is diverted to markets other than China and resold at huge profits by CNPC, Sinopec and Petrochina.
Cuba is vitally interested in Venezuela’s future, with or without Chavez. If that weren’t so, there would not be over 50,000 Cubans in Venezuela today in senior positions in practically every Venezuelan government entity. Chavez said recently that the Cubans in the armed forces are there to “help” the Venezuelan military, but the president’s justification is BS. The liberating army of Bolivar today is controlled de facto by the communist army of Fidel and Raul. The Cubans aren’t going to run for cover if all hell breaks loose in Venezuela; not at all. If Chavez pulls the trigger, the Cubans will do everything in their power to mop up and remain in control of the state. And, given the corrupt nature of the Bolivarian revolution, the Cubans will find plenty of Venezuelans willing to sell out their sovereignty and independence to Havana in exchange for crumbs.
A Venezuelanm friend asks: “But surely the gringos will step in to prevent such an outcome?” Nope, there’s not a chance of that happening. There won’t be a repeat of Panama, Grenada or Haiti during the Obama administration. The current US administration has other, far more important priorities on its plate than Venezuela or Latin America.