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On the campaign trail with Manuel Rosales

By Aleksander Boyd

Caracas 15.10.06 | The first month on the campaign trail with Manuel Rosales has been intense. In the last 30 days I have followed him to barrios and cities in Caracas, Miranda, Guarico, Zulia, Yaracuy, Anzoategui, Monagas, Bolivar, Merida, Cojedes, Barinas, Aragua, Carabobo, Trujillo and Nueva Esparta, that is 15 states out Venezuela's 24. There are many things that have shocked me in a positive kind of way in the last month. Between a gathering of local producers in Valle de la Pascua three weeks ago and last week's health plan announcement in Caracas, Manuel Rosales' personality and confidence before the media has grown exponentially. Little is known about this guy's career outside Zulia state, but the more I travel and learn about past experiences the more I believe that chavismo has its days counted. Another aspect that I find fascinating is that Hugo Chavez is not calling the shots anymore and the reason is simple: he is facing a very shrewd politico for the first time. Manuel Rosales is a political animal. Born extremely poor he had to abandon school to sustain his family. At a very young age he chose the way of politics and started his career in the toughest political setting; Zulia state, which back in the days was under the absolute control of an assembly of adeco-caciques known as "Los Bachacos." Natural disposition was certainly not a welcomed gift for the establishment and Rosales was presented with formidable challenges, as running on its own for Maracaibo's mayorship, against the ruling party machine. More often than not Rosales came out unscathed and successful, against all odds. Something that I did not know until recently is that his political career in different positions spans 27 years. He started out as councilman in forgotten Sur del Lago making his way up to Zulia state's highest chair. Collaborators of many years are confident about the future, maintaining that Hugo Chavez simply does not know what's in store for him. Rosales' greatest asset appears to be to turn past enemies into loyal collaborators, and after 27 years in politics he has a few of those.

Politics has returned to the command of politicians. A unity candidate, something that was almost unthinkable until very recently, is but another result of Rosales' political maneuvering. He has the backing of nearly all Venezuelan true political parties, and I say true for those associated with Hugo Chavez are but one-man operations that seek to present a thriving democratic picture within chavismo. Nothing could be furthest from reality though. While the sleeping giant is throwing its weight behind Rosales after post-referendum lethargy Chavez finds himself pretty much on its own. The 'love campaign' being the perfect example to illustrate how utterly disconnected the deranged caudillo is from constituents.

There are other aspects that give Rosales an edge over Chavez. For instance he is a family man, happily married, loving husband and father, in a country whose society is devoid of a catalogue of such examples among the political class. He does not have resentment towards the rich, on the contrary his idea is to lay foundations so that all can have a go at it and "salir de abajo" as he repeats constantly. His permanent contact with the people allows him to address issues that affect them. That is to say he speaks about bread and butter issues while the incumbent keeps talking about asymmetric conflicts that exist only in his disturbed head. That is why Rosales said yesterday in Porlamar that he would debate with Chavez once he learns about Venezuela's situation for wars, international campaigns and other revolutionary dreams are totally irrelevant for Venezuelans. My impression is that Rosales' discourse in 2006 is strickingly similar to Chavez' 1998, he is just expressing the conventional wisdom held by many. Better yet he is not part of Caracas' political establishment but an outsider, which is why the typical echo chamber sort of BS is not being picked by him. He has single handedly recovered the political agenda that was in the hands of Chavez for far too long. Example of how deeply infected the establishment is with regards to Chavez's every utterance are the press conferences where media's representatives, instead of focusing on what's being announced, keep asking irrelevant questions about what Rosales' opinions are concerning the latest presidential stupidity. The guy stays on message and that in itself is a novelty.

Chavismo, being a military-like movement led by a failed coupster, has very few mechanisms to defend itself politically against Rosales. One of them has been the launch of smearing campaigns whereby it seeks to portray Rosales as a Bush puppet, an ally of Pedro Carmona and an utterly corrupt politician as opposed to an immaculate, 'loving' Chavez. To their disgrace every Venezuelan knows Chavez's past and the intellectual dishonesty of such an ill contrived campaign is backfiring spectacularly. In fact outside radical circles of chavismo the whole country is just laughing at its hypocrisy. In addition the idea of dressing Chavez in blue to ask people to vote for him -again out of love- denotes chavismo's debasement. The whole country is covered with red propaganda that calls to defend 'the revolution' by violent means. As I have seen in Maracay and Valera there's no love between chavistas and opposition after 8 years of hate-mongering instilled by Hugo Chavez.

Then there's the marked difference in the public administration performances of the two men. Awash in petrocash Chavez has failed where Rosales has succeeded with budgets that pale in comparison. Rosales maintains that he has kept his word and exceeded delivering solutions, in stark contrast with Chavez who, for instance, said upon being sworn in that he would change his name if in one year he did not rescue from misery and abandonement Venezuela's street children.

I have no doubts that Chavez will lose the election. Beyond Rosales' track record and hands on approach people in this country are just fed up with Chavez's poisonous attitude. Venezuelans are a peaceful people and no amount of official vitriol will change that. Chavez's first electoral victory was the result of the sheer disgust that Venezuelans had towards the old corrupt and inefficient establishment. 8 years have come to pass, Hugo Chavez is the embodiment of the old establishment, however it is his constant hatred-mongering that will cost him dearly.



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