Archive for March 10th, 2009

If Chavez can’t win by playing the democratic electoral game, he will simply bypass it

March 10, 2009

Chavismo has shown an amazing ability at twisting the law and the Constitution to control the country and at the same time make it appear as if there was some sort of democracy in Venezuela.

Given Chavez’ coalition control of most municipalities in the Caracas metropolitan area, it was only natural for him to propose in the 2000 Constitution that the Governorship of the Federal District be eliminated and replaced by a “Metropolitan Mayor” elected to oversee the work of the municipalities of Caracas, to be over them and in that way control the Mayors of Baruta, El Hatillo and Chacao, where the opposition ruled, while winning in the Libertador and Sucre municipalities, thus insuring political control over the whole metropolitan area. This actually was logical, bt may not have been implemented if Chavismo could not prevail in elections.

Except that Chavez chose reporter Alfredo Peña to be the first Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas and he quickly became part of the opposition as the Government began violating the rights of the citizens of Caracas.

In 2004, Peña was replaced by Juan Barreto, who turned out not only to be incredible incompetent, but had this autocratic view of life that led him to hire thousands of Chavista activists to carry out political work, rather than work for his municipality. Millions of Bolivars were spent on these salaries as Barreto enjoyed the trappings of his office.

As the 2008 regional election approached, it was clear that if Leopoldo Lopez ran for Metropolitan Mayor, no matter whom Chavismo ran, Lopez would win. Thus, the Comptroller was quickly prompted to ban Lopez from running arguing that he had misallocated some funds from one budget line to another, in violation of the law. Once Lopez was out, the opposition had no choice but field dinosaur Antonio Ledezma against Chavez’ choice of Aristobulo Isturiz for Metropolitan Mayor.

But if Ledezma was perceived as a dinosaur, Isturiz could not fool enough Chavistas into voting for him and Ledezma prevailed, grabbing the position of Metropolitan Mayor, as Primero Justicia’s Ocariz stole the Sucre municipality from under Chavez’ nose, as Chavismo fielded  overexposed and negative-charisma Jesse Chacon as their candidate.

This changed the whole outcome of the 2008 regional elections, as Chavismo not only managed to lose in the ballot box the Metropolitan mayor’s office but one of the country’s most symbolic poor areas and shantytowns in the Sucre District, including Petare.

This was clearly a huge defeat for Chavismo: The opposition not only won, but won easily in its urban territory, controlling all but one of the five Metropolitan districts and the Metropolitan Mayor, all at the same time. Only the former CNE President and later country’s Vice President Jorge Rodriguez, managed to pull a win in the Libertador District, despite his lack of charisma and almost unpleasant personality.

So far Chavismo has made Ledezma’s life impossible. Soon after his victory, the Government took away the control of the Metropolitan police from him, while all of the schools and hospitals were reassigned to the central Government. Meanwhile Chavista hoodlums took over the Mayors office weakening Ledezma’s ability to work for his constituents. Despite this, Ledezma has projected a very positive image in his first 100 days in office and his approval rating has soared, even above the levels of his November elections.

But for Chavismo, only Chavez can have any success and a new plan has been conceived: If you can’t beat Ledezma, make him irrelevant. Thus, the Venezuelan National Assembly is now looking into creating a “Vice-Presidency”, obviously to be named by Hugo Chavez, that would be above the Metropolitan Mayor, whose functions would be above those of the elected Metropolitan Mayor and would keep not only Ledezma, but all of the other Mayors of the Metropolitan area of Caracas in check.

This simply represents a double bypass of the mandate of the electorate and the Constitution. Not only did the voters elect Ledezma to be their rightful Mayor, but the idea of Chavez hand-picking regional Vice-Presidents was rejected by the Venezuelan voters in the 2007 Constitutional referendum. So much for Chavez’ infamus and pompous claim to be in favor of participatory democracy.

Thus, once again Chavez tramples on the country’s democracy, while his foreign unconditional supporters try to tell the world what a democrat he is. The truth is that Chavez has spent the last ten years trampling and twisting the law and the Venezuelan institutions to adapt them to his desires and whims, reducing them to puppets of his orders.

With this new legislation, Chavez and Chavismo will prove, once again, what little respect they have for democracy and the will of the people, despite their constant claims to act on their behalf. Remarkably, it has been the rather gray figure of Antonio Ledezma that has forced them into conceiving this plan, showing once again, that Chavez is by now afraid of his own shadow and that even someone like Ledezma can rise from his own ashes and represent a significant threat to Chavez’ autocratic goal of long term control of the country.

A democrat Chavez is not, but will democracy be able to get rid of him by democratic means?

The Battle of Guarenas

March 10, 2009

It had all of the ingredients of a high level confrontation: 3:30 AM, the workers of the state highway system, accompanied by the Secretary of the Governor of the State, ready to place signs and traffic signals so that the express lane against the normal direction of the traffic could be set up on Km. 12 of the Caracas-Guarenas highway.

Opposite to them the “enemy”, dressed in riot gear including shields, the Venezuelan National Guard stood firm to block the two trucks from the Governor’s office from proceeding forward.

In the middle, public transportation vehicles filled with passengers, you could call them the “people”, wondering who will prevail, either the National Guard, in which case it would take them two hours to drive the 12 Kms. or the Governor, implying they could arrive in 12 to 15 minutes to their destination.

This is not a border dispute, it is a silly and dangerous confrontation in polarized Venezuela, between the Governor of Miranda State who wants to alleviate traffic, and the Chavez Government, who opposes the idea, because they did not propose it first. As simple as that.

Their argument? Article 50 of the Venezuelan Constitution that says that every person has the right to “transit freely” within the Venezuelan territory, as if it said “transit easily” , something which is becoming rarer these days all over the same territory. And in any case, isn’t this the same National Guard that arbitrarily blocks roads and highways daily, stopping each vehicle and harassing travelers? Where is Art. 50 when they do that?

And, of course, these are the same guys that trampled over the same Constitution, so that they could please Chávez and hold the referendum on Feb. 15th. , because, just one example, fourteen articles later, Art. 64 says all Venezuelans who are eighteen have the right to vote, which was not respected on Feb. 15th. To do so, would have delayed the votes three months.

But going back to the battle of Guarenas, at 4:45 AM, the Governor of the State arrives. His arrival encourages the people, car lights begin flashing, horns blare stridently, the “people” shout, bus drivers threaten to shutdown the highway if the express lane is not opened.

In the face of a near riot (Isn’t that what anti-riot equipment is for?), the National Guard Captain in charge of the operation backs down (maybe he lives in Guarenas too!) and the express lane is opened. Buses arrive in Caracas in less than fifteen minutes to the delight of passengers (who will get to work faster) and drivers (who can turn around, go back and fill the bus again)

The bizarro Battle of Guarenas ends peacefully, the question is whether this was a Pyrrhic victory and the National Guard will come back tomorrow reinforced to impose the autocratic decision or whether there is some understanding that the “people” are willing to fight for this.

There are in the end no possible “winners” in such a confrontation, unless imposing your will and controlling the other side is your only goal.