Trading Places

With just three days to go in what is shaping up to be an extremely close race for the Venezuelan presidency, the campaign seems to have entered Bizarro World. As in that parallel universe in the old Superman comics, everything is reversed here. For much of past 14 years, while Hugo Chávez stayed on top of country’s politics by embodying aspirations of a broad swath of down-and-out Venezuelans, right-wing opposition was busy spewing vitriol at Chávez himself. (NYT – 04/10/2012)

Displaying a sometimes tragic lack of self-awareness, opposition spent years digging itself deeper into that hole: Its relentlessly negative approach created a cartoon villain version of Chávez that people just didn’t recognize as the real thing. The hyperpolarization only turned off swing voters, while cementing soft-core Chavistas’ loyalty to the president and confirming most people’s suspicion that opposition was embittered and out of touch. This year, those roles have switched. The challenger, Capriles Radonski, having learned from opposition’s long walk through electoral wilderness, has come out as voice of hope. “Venezuela’s future is far more than its past”, Henrique Capriles says to rapturous crowds wherever he goes, before launching a stump speech that centers on how he’ll make Venezuelans’ lives better in areas where Chávez has failed: in fighting crime, ensuring quality public transportation, ending chronic blackouts, opening up job opportunities for young people, radically overhauling nation’s creaky school infrastructure. Capriles has turned the opposition’s traditional message on its head, and for much of this year, Chávez has been at a loss as to how to respond. At first, the government turned to a crude vilification: at one point it even painted Capriles, whose Jewish grandmother survived Holocaust, as a Nazi. Over time, the message has become more sophisticated, with Chávez portraying Capriles as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, an old-style neoliberal eager to dismantle the Chavista welfare state and institute hard-right economic reforms. For Capriles, whose actual track record, rhetoric and ideology are far closer to Brazilian-style social democracy than to Pinochetista right, these attacks are barely believable. Chavismo is clearly fighting the last war and attacking a cardboard cutout version of a challenger that opposition roundly rejected last February when it selected Capriles as its presidential candidate by a crushing majority in nationwide primaries. Chavismo has completely given up on its aspirational agenda. After 14 years in power, Hugo Chávez no longer has anything specific to say to Venezuelans hoping for a better life. Instead he is campaigning on grandiloquent abstractions about “achieving equilibrium in the universe and guaranteeing planetary peace” and “preserving life on planet and saving human species.” This borders on self-parody. At times, Comandante Presidente has seemed downright contemptuous of the concerns of everyday Venezuelans. A recent speech of his has been likened to a tropical version of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent gaffe: “Some might be dissatisfied with our government’s failings, that the potholes didn’t get fixed, that electricity is out and water isn’t running, that they don’t have a job, they haven’t gotten their house. That may be true in many cases…but that’s not what’s at stake. What’s really at stake is the life of the fatherland!” And so the role reversal is almost complete: a president who came to power as a tireless crusader for poor now seems downright bored of dealing with their problems, while an opposition long dismissed as an embittered reactionary clique comes to embody the people’s aspirations. Game on! 


Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

6 Responses to Trading Places

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Good finale of Venezuela’s presidential election by Mr. Francisco Toro. “And so the role reversal is almost complete: a president who came to power as a tireless crusader for the poor now seems downright bored of dealing with their problems, while an opposition long dismissed as an embittered reactionary clique comes to embody the people’s aspirations. Game on! ” Just a little bit of Venezuelan political history BC – Before Chavez. For a long time, Venezuela was dominated by two political parties, COPEI and AD. These two parties were dominated by a small white elite that took turn in power to steal MOST of the money derived from oil exports. At that time, the problems of the poor –the majority of the population — were not even mentioned during presidential elections. The fact that Capriles is taking the poor into account is a novelty and a sign of progress in Venezuelan politics. Right on, Capriles!

  2. Hugo Chávez, a polarizing president who has led Venezuela for nearly 14 years, has many advantages over the opposition candidate trying to unseat him on Sunday, from the airwaves he controls to the government largess he doles out with abandon. But one especially potent weapon in Mr. Chávez’s arsenal is what might be called the fear factor. Many Venezuelans who are eager to send Mr. Chávez packing, fed up with the country’s lackluster economy and rampant crime, are nonetheless anxious that voting against the president could mean being fired from a government job, losing a government-built home or being cut off from social welfare benefits. “I work for the government, and it scares me,” said Luisa Arismendi, 33, a schoolteacher who cheered on a recent morning as Mr. Chávez’s challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, drove by in this northeastern city, waving from the back of a pickup truck. Until this year, she always voted for Mr. Chávez, and she hesitated before giving her name, worried about what would happen if her supervisors found out she was switching sides. “If Chávez wins,” she said, “I could be fired.” Although polls diverge widely, with some predicting a victory for Mr. Chávez and others showing a race that is too close to call, there is wide agreement that Mr. Chávez is vulnerable as never before. Handicapping the election is complicated by the angst felt by many Venezuelans that a vote for the opposition could bring retaliation. Adding to that anxiety, the government recently introduced a new electronic voting system that many Venezuelans fear might be used by the government to track those who vote against the president. Electoral officials and opposition leaders defend the integrity of the system, but there is significant distrust, and a big part of Mr. Capriles’s campaign has been to reassure voters that their votes will remain secret. “The government has sown this fear,” Mr. Capriles said in an interview, adding that the reluctance of people to speak their mind skewed opinion polls in favor of Mr. Chávez. “If we can overcome the fear, I believe that we can win this election by a million votes.” The fear has deep roots. Venezuelans bitterly recall how the names of millions of voters were made public after they signed a petition for an unsuccessful 2004 recall referendum to force Mr. Chávez out of office. Many government workers whose names were on the list lost their jobs (…..)

  3. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The result of Venezuela’s election rests with undecided voters that represent 25% of the electorate. When Pres Chavez came to power in 1999, the poor and lower middle class (80% of the population of 29 million people) became the centerpiece of his economic policy. For the first time ever, the huge cash inflow from oil exports was used to help the poor and lower middle class. No doubt these two groups are better off with Chavez. The downside is that Chavez wants to be Pres for life. In order to stay in power he promoted class warfare and concentrated power like Fidel Castro in Cuba. Political freedom has been curtailed while public corruption continues unabated as in the old days of AD and COPEI. One thing did not change with Chavez. Economic management continues to be as lousy as in the past with higher rates of inflation, crumbling infrastructure and scarcity of basic foodstuff, most of it imported. Venezuela and Argentina have the worst macroeconomic management in South America. Capriles is a young politician untainted by corruption of the past. If case of victory, he can set up an economic team to implement sound economic-social policies. Brazil is a good example to be followed.

    The downside is that Capriles became converted to the cause of the poor while in campaign. Even though the 25 % undecided want a change in leadership, they don’t trust Capriles and are afraid of social unrest by Chavez followers in case of defeat. If they stay home, Chavez will win.

  4. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Another question related to my earlier comments. Prior to Chavez coming to power in 99, the oil industry and the state oil company PDVSA continue to be dominate by US interests. PDVSA, despite being nationalized in the 60s, operated as an American enclave in the Venezuelan economy. There was no public supervision on how the oil company operated and how the huge inflow of money was used. In the State Department, Venezuela was referred as an oil producing democracy. Thus, Washington establishment never accepted Hugo Chavez decision to break up the status quo and ally himself with Washington’s nemesis, Fidel Castro.

  5. AS Hugo Chávez, the icon of Latin America’s left, struggles to hang on to his job, it’s tempting to read tomorrow’s closely contested election in Venezuela as a possible signal of the region’s return to the right.

    That would be a mistake, because the question that’s been roiling Latin America for a dozen years isn’t “left or right?” but “which left?”

    Outsiders have often interpreted Latin America’s swing to the left over the last dozen years as a movement of leaders marching in ideological lock step. But within the region, the fault lines have always been clear. Radical revolutionary regimes in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua joined Cuba, the granddaddy of the far left, in a bloc determined to confront the capitalist world, even if that meant increasingly authoritarian government. A more moderate set of leaders in Brazil, Uruguay and Guatemala put forth an alternative: reducing poverty through major social reforms without turning their backs on democratic institutions or private property rights. As Fidel Castro’s favorite son, Mr. Chávez has always been the leader of the radical wing. And Brazil’s size and economic power made it the natural leader of the reformist wing. Outwardly, the two camps have been at pains to deny that any divisions exist. There have been many pious words of solidarity and lots of regional integration accords. But behind closed doors, each side is often viciously dismissive of the other, with Chávez supporters seeing the Brazilians as weak-kneed appeasers of the bourgeoisie while the Brazilians sneer at Mr. Chávez’s outdated radicalism and chronic incompetence. As recently as five or six years ago, there was a real ideological contest.

    A wildly unpopular American president prone to military adventurism helped Mr. Chávez rally the continent against Washington.

    One country after the next joined the radical axis. First Bolivia, then Nicaragua, Honduras and Ecuador, joined a growing roll call of radicals in 2005 and 2006. Now the political landscape is almost entirely transformed. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory badly undermined the radicals’ ability to rally opposition to gringo imperialism. Meanwhile, the alternative was becoming increasingly attractive (…..)

    And the region has noticed. The key moment came in April 2011, when Ollanta Humala won the Peruvian presidency. Long seen as the most radical of Latin America’s new breed of leaders, Mr. Humala had run on a Chávez-style platform in 2006 and lost. By last year, he’d seen the way the wind was blowing and remade himself into a Brazilian-style moderate, won and proceeded to govern — so far, successfully — in the Brazilian mold.

    Now, in a final indignity, Mr. Chávez is facing a tight re-election race against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a 40-year-old progressive state governor who extols the virtues of the Brazilian model. Although Mr. Chávez’s government has done its best to paint a caricature of Mr. Capriles as an old-style right-wing oligarch, he is unmistakably within the Brazilian center-left mold: Mr. Capriles pitches himself as an ambitious but pragmatic social reformer committed to ending the Chávez era’s authoritarian excesses. The rest of Latin America has already been through the ideological battle in which Venezuela remains mired. By and large, other nations have made their choices.

    The real question in this election is whether Venezuela will join the hemispheric consensus now, or later.

  6. IF HUGO CHAVEZ is an autocrat, how could he be in danger of losing the Venezuelan presidency in an election on Sunday? The question, posed by one of Mr. Chavez’s dwindling band of American supporters, is a fair one: Polls show a race to the wire between the caudillo and challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski. An opposition victory would mean an epochal change of political direction in one of the world’s largest oil producers, with far-reaching consequences for Cuba and other leftist Latin American regimes. The answer begins with the fact that Mr. Chavez, like his allies Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, feels obliged to stage elections; the totalitarianism of Cuba or North Korea would risk rebellion by his population and international isolation. So elections are held — but in an environment that heavily favors the regime. Mr. Chavez controls Venezuela’s courts, election commission and most television channels, which bombard the population with propaganda. That includes hours-long appearances by the president on all channels simultaneously. Mr. Capriles is allowed three minutes of air-time per day (…..) Mr. Chavez’s illness probably means that his days as Venezuela’s leader are numbered anyway. The question now is whether he will give way if he loses on Sunday. Venezuela’s neighbors, and the Obama administration, should be ready to react if he attempts to remain in power by force.


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