I find it amazing how little written speculation there is about Venezuela’s future. All of the roads to the December 2012 election are routine, normal, ordinary. As if Chavez’ illness had not been an incredible attempt at black swanning us. But given the magnitude of the surprise, I think it is time to be what scientists call “orthogonal”, thinking outside the box. Imagine for one moment it is April 1993, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz just won the primary, he will be the next President of Venezuela, which did not happen, a dark horse called Rafael Caldera came back to the country in July of the same year and took it all. Or think 1998, Irene Saez leading the pack in April of that same year, Hugo Chavez a lone traveler with less than 5% of the preferences, another dark horse that came and won.
In that spirit, seventeen months before, not eight like in those cases, here is my fantasy, trying to really think out of the box, let’s call it:
Henri I, President of Venezuela
As I sit here being sworn in as the next President of Venezuela, hand raised in the Capitol building of Caracas, I can’t help but think of the circumstances that took me here. Who would have ever imagined I would get here in such a convoluted and random way. But I guess that persistence pays off in politics. Three years ago I was dead for Presidential politics in Venezuela, today, I stand here. Amazing!
But to understand how I got here, you have to go back to June 2011, I was trying to fend off corruption charges at the time, working the contacts, when all of a sudden we learned that Hugo had cancer. To this date, we have no idea what he had or has. All we know is that he went on a pilgrimage from Havana to Sao Paulo, looking thinner, saying he was better, cancer free and ready for Patria and Socialismo, but not for muerte. And we believed him.
Meanwhile the LODO association, also known as the MUD, went about its business, selecting a candidate in February 2012. It was a tight race, Maria Corina really poured it on, Viene Maria and Maria Corina Nos Quiere Governar signs seeded Venezuela. Even Chavista outposts in the most remote regions of Venezuela had the signs.
Meanwhile, Leopoldo Lopez tried to jump into the race, but even if the CIDH ruled in his favor, Tibisay from the Electoral Board, the CNE, said CIDH was a four letter word in her dictionary. Thus, Leopoldo was left with his curls ready for the race (get it? crespos hechos). But nothing doing, Tibisay dixit.
Thus, neither the virginal, nor the resuscitated managed to dislodge Henrique Capriles from the front running position he held since late 2010. Thanks to the Government trying to ban him, a positive image in Miranda and a well run campaign, Capriles benefited from the voters desire not to lose, getting 45% of the vote in the six man (or mixed) primary race, as Venezuelans were getting ready to enjoy their Carnival 2012 vacation. The race was now well defined, it would be a Chavez versus Capriles race and the only question was how good the President’s health would be to manage a full court press and campaign against Capriles.
But it was not to be.
As Capriles’ lead versus Chavez began to whither in May 2012, it became clear that Chavez himself was withering in the toxicity of his cancer treatment. It turned out that since March 2012, his closest advisers, including Fidel, Maradona the Chief Babalao and Adan were telling Hugo that he would not be able to campaign. But Hugo was being Hugo and refused to acknowledge the obvious until May. By then Hugo could barely speak for ten minutes at a time in public, was thin and the electorate was doubting his capabilities as a now or future President.
Given that Chavez had led a politically charmed life up to that point, he figured he could listen to his closest electoral advisers, Fidel, Adan and the General, none of which ironically actually believed in elections. But advised they did and it was unanimous, name brother Adan as Candidate, the true Communist in the family, another Chavez, the one that showed you the way, and then, when you recover, you could come back to being President in 2018 and let Adan warm the Presidential chair for you.
Knowing that there was no love lost for Adan Chavez within the PSUV party, I immediately gathered my advisers and within a week announced my candidacy to the Presidency as an alternative and openly welcomed anyone within PSUV to follow me. I told them all: I am the continuity of the revolution, there is no Chavismo without Chavez, but the route towards socialism flows through me. The opposition killed me, accused me, insulted me, but I am used to that, I had a plan.
Within weeks, it was clear that Adan’s candidacy was falling off a cliff at my expense. Capriles and the opposition continued ahead with 40% of the vote intention, I had 30% and Adan was dropping below 15%. It was an amazing turn of events.
By September, Hugo Chavez, fearful of losing it all, decided to have Adan drop out of the race. Adan argued health problems to withdraw and was replaced by then Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, with Jose Vicente moving into that position.
It was simply too late. Maduro gained four points for PSUV the first week, but began dropping soon after that. By the end of October, Maduro had 10%, Capriles had 45% and I had 35%, with 10% undecided. On November 15th. Maduro withdrew from the race with PSUV giving me all their votes. We had a little pop in popularity and on Dec. 2nd. 2012 I was elected by the smallest of margins with 51% of the vote versus 48% for Capriles.
And here I stand being in the podium, my hand raised:
“I, Henri José Falcón Fuentes, swear in front of God and the Fatherland…
I am Henri I, the new leader of the Venezuelan Revolution…