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Something is up in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal

Things that go bump in the dark? On the road and busy is not easy to try to judge what is going on in Venezuela. But I am quite certain that some people are making some really strange moves. A little summary of what I have been able to piece together, assorted of what can only be speculative opinions.

Chavismo in campaign

Chavez is full time on the campaign trail again. We already know that this is the only thing he is good at, because he sucks at running the country. Still, the extent to which he is campaigning for the pro Chavez candidates is unprecedented, and with few parallels in democratic countries, assuming we are still in one. For a fraction of what Chavez does daily Lula was reprimanded recently on some of his acts in the recent regional elections in Brazil. I mean, it is OK for a president to point out who he likes best, but Chavez comes all fire and brimstone to not only support his candidate but damn to eternal hell any opposition candidates and any chavista that thinks that another pro Chavez candidate might have been better choice. And let's not get started on all of the promises in case HIS candidate wins, and all the use of public monies for these campaigns.

In fact there is a certain air of sudden desperation. Chavez is trying real hard to get back the agenda which he seems to have suddenly lost! Be it the Burning Tower (1), the opposition resignations, the slowly imploding Electoral Board, CNE, the refusal to come of the international observers, etc...

The imploding CNE

The fraud talks are not going away. The massive abstention talk is not going away and might even include a substantial fraction of the chavista base who feels equally that there is no point to go and vote when their candidate will win anyway. The 4th and lone Director persists in her accusations against the 3 other directors. The 5th one has not been replaced. But this does not stop the CNE to ask in next year budget almost as much money for "entertainment" than is required for Caracas Police. As a result a few days before the election of the 31 the board has all but stopped gathering to vote the necessary rulings, pretty much letting the show be run by committees. This of course is not propitious to improve an atmosphere of trust that could reduce the probable abstention.

In what seems now a fruitless effort, the CNE mini "cadena" campaign, on the hour, to a level NEVER seen in our democratic history, redoubles intensity as it is assorted with adds in between cadenas. One spot features a few kids passing along a rumor that gets of course totally distorted. A silly add if they hoped that the people stopped listening to swirling rumors and only listen to official CNE announcements.

But the hard facts are that the electoral test run for the new system was a failure, no other test run has been done, the electoral registry is now so contested that the CNE is reduced to reply by plain denial without showing the data they claim they have, more evidence of non-legal acts keeps coming up, more legal actions are introduced against the CNE on the High Court, etc, etc…

The CNE has stopped functioning even if its employees are trying to muddle along hoping to reach October 31 one way or the other as the speculations to a suspension of the election are growing. Carrasquero now only drives around Caracas with a gigantic escort. Rodriguez has stopped meeting the press, an activity he dearly loved in the past. Battaglini is all but AWOL. Sobella Mejias seems to be left to a constant bitching at the other three and Kornblith has been waiting now for a month to be allowed to take the 5th chair.

Will we vote on October 31?

It is anyone's guess. But the odds look lower and lower.

The opposition might go and vote. Then again it might not.

Now it has become quite fashionable to announce that one will not go and vote on October 31. Usually people that propose this form of "resistance" are of little importance and little following. And they all forget that Chavez laughs at abstention. One vote is enough for him and niceties and legalities are not very high in his concerns. They all also forgot that on April 1999 abstention was promoted, abstention won but we still got a new unworkable constitution. They NEVER learn.

But do we see anyone actively organizing street protest? Civil disobedience on the 31? Offering concrete solutions to force the CNE stop cheating? No. But we do see some serious candidates dropping out of the race! Speeding up the possible suicide of the opposition in some areas! Can anyone imagine Juan Barreto as Caracas Mayor at Large? I am ready to bet that a significant portion of chavistas are not pleased by that idea!!!!! But he will become the mayor as the only other candidate left is Claudio Fermin and he is almost as despised as Barreto is.

The hand of AD?

It is difficult to understand really what is going on within the opposition. Obviously it has been unable to reach unity and this is in large part due to Accion Democratica, AD. It has stopped long ago moderating its tone on its opposition rivals, sometimes attacking them as hard or harder than the chavista candidate! Yet it seems that AD strategy is partially successful. Its insistence on running and forgetting about the fraud in spite of the Alvarez report is paying off in that the rest of the opposition is not only further demoralized but is even abandoning Alvarez in spite of his brilliant work. Most candidates that have dropped off so far are not from AD. Is that the price that AD is charging the rest of the opposition to accept a minimum of unity and rejoin the fight against Chavez?

Now let's be clear about AD motives here. Whatever the game of AD is, it is very simple: what is in here for me? AD still has no project, no plan, no nothing. Just the remains of a structure that it hopes to save for future days. And for that it needs a few town halls, a couple of states, and no other opposition. AD has decided that Chavez will be there until 2012 not because he is so great but because AD is bereft of any charismatic leader. They know that the only way to create a viable presidential candidate for them is to create a successful mayor or AD governor. A populist one of course as AD cannot rule in any other fashion. This will take at least 4 years, until 2009. Thus their strategy:

deal with Chavez, perhaps secretly now, perhaps openly at some point. They know he will need a façade opposition to present to the world and AD has no problem becoming such ectoplasm.

eliminate the other opposition, or at least the one that does not think like AD or does not want to subordinate itself to AD. That way the country will have to turn again toward AD as the only option to remove Chavez.

For some reason AD thinks that it can survive the chavista onslaught. Though the Alvarez report predicts that AD would lose at least half of its town halls due to the manipulated Electoral Registry. And the Monagas governor, the only one from AD, has been savagely attacked by Chavez the other day. Apparently if AD was hoping to become the chavista designated opposition, it might be in for a rude awakening. AD is making a big mistake: to think that they are still in 1998 and that Chavez eventually will come around and deal like your regular pol. They are in for a rude awakening, and dragging us to hell in the process.


(1) The latest rumor on the burnt Eastern Tower is that some explosion started the fire. And some other explosion in the lower floors might have taken place later. And also that the "situation" center for the fraud might have been located in one of the burnt floors. Conspiracy theorists are of course all out in force. It is very easy to speculate that the Alvarez report triggered the need to burn everything down. Thus the explosions. We'll see, maybe, because one thing is certain, investigations will be sloppy and we will never know the truth, as we will never know the truth on any event that is an embarassment for Chavez, such as Montesinos, April 11, the guerilla penetration, the financial allocations, the real output of PDVSA and on, and on.

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