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The Discreet Charm of the Venezuelan Opposition

Caracas.

Hugo havez had motivated his supporters to do a great job of organizing up to the vote, then got everyone up at 3 AM to get out to vote in the referendum. The lines were long and slow, with many waiting upt to 10 hours. Poll closing was extended from 6 pm to 8pm then to midnight, and the last people voted at about 2:30 or 3 AM. The last closings were mostly in the poorer regions, which have always had more voters per voting table than the middle class neighborhoods. This was not changed for this vote, unfortunately. The opposition complained that the automated fingerprint machines, included to avoid electoral fraud, delayed the process, so at about midday, the fingerprint part was ordered to be performed after one voted. At quarter to 4AM, the head of the electoral commission (CNE) announced, in a very brief statement, that Chavez won 58%, versus 42% to remove him, in the 94% tabulated of the electronically delivered voting machines ballots. Just before this, the two opposition rectors of the CNE pointed out a number of problems with the tally to be announced, such as that they and the opposition had not had been present at the tabulation.

After the preliminary totals were announced, the thousands outside the presidential palace erupted into cheering, fireworks, etc. Soon Chavez, in Peron style, came out on the balcony and addressed them, first singing the national anthem along with them, and then a solo second song demanded by the crowd. CNN Espanol carried his whole ~1 hour speech, live. As it ended, as if someone yelled “send in the clowns”, CNN switched to the opposition meeting, where almost all the Democratic Coordinator leaders were piled onto a stage. One of them then proclaimed that a monstrous fraud had been perpetrated, and that you could read the real results on the faces of those in the voting lines.

Their data said that they’d won, 59 to 41%, or 20 points difference, he pointed out. He said that tomorrow they’d present the data. Even though they had very long faces, and some seemed to be trying not to be conspicuous, there they all were, as if they were being forced to fulfill the conditions of their contract. Perhaps this was needed to confuse things with a first report, even if later it proved ridiculous, and to allow some tendentious analysts to question the results, as was done with the 1984 Sandinista 70% electoral victory. Also, as the opposition had become fervent believers in their own fantasies, they were dumbstruck, and looked pitiful.

In an immediate interview with the opposition spokesman, Henry Ramos Allup, the head of the traditional party, the Adecos, the CNN anchor’s tone was very skeptical. It didn’t help that the guy speaks poorly, and had to follow the master’s (Chavez) oratory.

Today the opposition leaders are all saying they won’t accept this, the greatest fraud in Venezuelan history, lying down. Principal electoral observers OAS president Gaviria and Jimmy Carter, at 1:30 pm, said that they’d received no detailed results of fraud, that it looked clean to them, and that the results announced by the CNE were consistent with their own straw tallies. They even mentioned that the numbers they had from SUMATE, the Nat. Endowment for Democracy funded opposition group, were 55 to 45% in favor of Chavez. Gaviria suggested that the opposition count again.

A demonstration by a few hundred of the opposition blocked the major highway through the middle of Caracas, but, wonder of wonders, only one of the generally fervently anti-Chavez private TV stations, the most radical, Globovision, had live coverage. In fact, the TV’s were been showing movies and cooking shows, and had not even been mentioning yesterday’s vote. They didn’t play up the claims of fraud, and didn’t even have their regular daily Chavez bashing interview programs. Very strange.

One hypothesis: The opposition are mainly a bunch of has-been and wanna-be incompetent bozos, the same kleptocratic pols who kept 80% of the richest country in latin america in poverty. Everyone knows that, and even most of the people against Chavez have nothing good to say about them. They only looked good when the media transformed the anti-Chavez campaign into a glorious struggle for freedom and democracy with sophisticated US campaign techniques. They’ve never had a program nor any ideas except anti-Chavez rhetoric and the implied notion that they will give the country back to the better element, while placating the poor. It seems that the spinmeisters (the calvary, or the marines, if you will) didn’t arrive in time for their campaign, which really never got off the ground. The failure of the media now to follow the pathetic opposition claims of fraud, although they always have made their lies into truth before, is also striking. As implied by Forrero in the NYT, could it be possible that the powerful northern interests decided that Chavez was preferable to instability that would increase oil prices?

Did Chavez cut a deal to allow more multinational oil companies access to the hydrocarbon resources, and to increase oil production? Will the oil prices stay high, and will Chavez, with two years respite until the next presidential election, continue the dizzying pace of the social programs and infrastructure spending? Can the programs be converted into sustainable institutions? Can the government efficiency and competence be improved? Will the demoralized opposition, who always insisted they were the majority, be able to wake up to the reality in the country, will they be able to work together on the development and social programs they insisted they wouldn’t eliminate, or will they look for new ways to try to block progress? Will Kerry again complain that Bush didn’t support the Venezuelan opposition enough, and then blame him for losing Venezuela? Will the US president (whoever it may be) prefer short term oil price stability in the next few months and wait until after the election to renew attempts to oust Chavez?

In the Chavez bashing NYT op-ed piece by Bernard Aronson on Saturday, he listed a number of the programs he said were need for real economic development in Latin America: microcredits for small industry to allow it to pass from the informal to the more formal sector, help for medium businesses, etc. The list was remarkably similar to the programs that Chavez has already been instituting in Venezuela. Aronson also had a number of factual errors.

For instance, he said (and it was also stated in the WP editorial of 2 wks ago), that Carter and the OAS convinced or forced Chavez to allow the referendum. Actually Chavez had been offering the referendum, which he put into the constitution, as a remedy for the opposition complaints, and it was the opposition who had to be convinced by Carter and OAS president Gaviria in the negotiations of May 2003 to go the route of the referendum that THEY HAD REJECTED in favor of more violent actions to force Chavez out by unconstitutional means..

The truth about the opposition is that everything they’ve tried has backfired, losing them support, and consolidating support for Chavez, both in and outside the country. Their comical declaration of victory will lose them further support.

The referendum, however, forced Chavez to get moving rapidly on social programs. Elections for mayors and governors next month, and presidential elections in 2006 will likely make sure that they continue. The Chavez government’s work to develop the country has still only just begun. There is now a greater responsibility for US citizens to see that their government does not impede their difficult task.

ALAN CISCO is an America living and working in Caracas.

 

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