The Venezuelan Opposition Debate I Did Not Watch

December 7, 2011

Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the debate among opposition politicians due to travel. But I have watched clips and read impressions from all sides. My conclusion: It is unlikely that the race will change much between now and February.

The format did not help, asking different questions to each candidate is simply useless in terms of being able to evaluate the field. It is clear that Maria Corina Machado was the best performer, but that type of performance is not what wins debates or changes a race. She started too far back and maybe we should start understanding that the average Venezuelan prefers a gray populist than a sharp visionary. It is, after all our history: Populism sells well. Chavez promised the world, but only delivered on the populism, he forgot about crime, democracy and corruption, but through over promising, remains popular despite his failed decade in power.

Those in Diego Arria’s camp had high hopes that he would once again win the day, but he failed to have the same spark he did the first time around. He had no big announcements and continued to sell his experience as the salient point. Diego’s run is valiant, he is making lots of good points, but my gut feeling all along is that Venezuelans do want new faces, even Chavismo does not seem to get that.

Leopoldo Lopez emphasized fighting crime too much. I did expect him to do much better, he did well, but not enough to move the numbers which is what he needed. Leopoldo should follow his instincts more, he got to where he is on his own, maybe he thought too much about what to say. I still think he should have made more out of the box proposals if he wanted to gain ground.

I think Pablo Perez did well, he was more relaxed than the first time and did not blow it, staying in second place behind Capriles. He needs this, as Venezuelans don’t like to waste their votes and any bad vies surrounding Perez could drop him like a stone. He avoided that.

Finally, there is Henrique Capriles, who won by not shaking the boat, which is what front runners are all about. Ever non-confrontational, Capriles seems to think he is ahead and does not want to offend the former Chavista voters he wants to attract in the Presidential race. So far, HCR has played every step of the way right. He is stiff, non-ideological and non-confrontational, which I would have thought was a sure recipe for disaster, but it seems to work. His CHACACA (Chavistas Con CApriles) joke, obviously prepared became amazingly one of the high points of the night. Maybe it was the realization he may have a sense of humor. I still don’t get him.

Debates are funny events. The format on Sunday did not help, but typically those in the lead try not to screw up and those behind try to catch up. Diego Arria managed in the first debate to create a bigger impression on the electorate. So far, he seems to be unique. Maria Corina did well this time, but there was nothing dramatic in her performance, she was uniformly better. Pablo Perez and Henrique Capriles did not blow it. That is a victory for both. Barring surprises, on primary day voters will all think about those two. Capriles seems ahead, but Perez has more traditional party machineries backing him, he has a chance

Oh yes, there was Pablo Medina ranting every fifth question. That is all he has done in his life, including backing Chavez’ coup in 1992. He has never been electable, but give him credit, he has a point he wants to make and does it.

16 Responses to “The Venezuelan Opposition Debate I Did Not Watch”

  1. moctavio Says:

    Cristina: If after having his rights violated the way they have, Tascon’s list, Affiuni, etc. etc. Capriles does not believe that Chavzre has violated people’s rights, then he does not deserve to even be a candidate.

  2. A. Barreda Says:

    I’ve just read this in an article in The NY Times discussing the Republican debate*:

    “The best evidence of how capable candidates are of fruitfully interacting with intellectuals would be to see them doing just this. Concretely, I make the follow suggestion for the coming presidential election: Gather small but diverse panels of eminent, politically uncommitted experts on, say, unemployment, the history of the Middle East, and climate science, and have each candidate lead an hour-long televised discussion with each panel. The candidates would not be mere moderators but would be expected to ask questions, probe disagreements, express their own ideas or concerns, and periodically summarize the state of discussion. Such engagements would provide some of the best information possible for judging candidates, while also enormously improving the quality of our political discourse.”

    The MUD should take this idea to maximize the exposition of the candidates. If they don’t, Globovision, El Universal or El Nacional should. Soñar no cuesta nada… 😛


    • Kepler Says:

      Oh, my God! I just imagine Romney or Gingrich trying to answer a single question posed by British journalist Robert Fisk…no way, Fisk would be in the next plane to Britain in no time, freedom-of-speech thank you very much. 🙂

      I have little hope for the primary debates in Venezuela. But by all means: we should demand, demand, demand until the bitter end and in a million ways a series of debates between our candidate and the Fat Man in the Palace.
      If he doesn’t accept – most likely scenario, we can rub it on his face time after time…and even José Rodríguez of Calabozo and Yubiley González from Punto Fijo would say: he should have had the cojones.

      • A. Barreda Says:

        It’s quite obvious that Chavez will never – under any circumstance – debate with an opposition candidate. However, just imagine Venevision or Televen organizing a program in which each candidate separately faces a panel of experts in economics, international affairs infrastructure and whatnot. They can give a date to each one, or propose different dates for them to choose.

        If Chavez says no, it won’t matter, because the opposition candidate will have a tailor-made stage where he will be able to shine. If he shows that he has the mettle to face tough questions, it will draw a clear contrast with a charlatan incapable of giving straight answers to anyone.

        You can even add a town hall section and let regular people ask the candidate some questions, like VV timidly did the last time.

        If the MUD play it bold, they can get a huge victory from that.

        • PM Says:

          IDK abt that. If Manuel Rosales was to debate an empty chair he would have probably lost. Thank God Chavez refused to debate him!

          But, seriously, I think the opposition can play the debate card very well to show Chavez is unable to confront his ideas, that he’s all about monologues and ad-hominem attacks

        • Kepler Says:


          I am not sure you get my point. I think there is a 0.000000001% possibility of Chávez accepting the challenge. Worst case scenario is that. The point is to do everything to challenge him and show and say a zillion times we believe he won’t accept to have a real debate without getting protected by others because he has no cojones. The purpose is to rant about that 24 hours a day, not just for a week or two but for months: Chávez es un cobarde, no se atreve a responder en vivo, no puede, no puede”.

          I try to explain this to Venezuelans and they always come with “there is no point, he won’t accept”. That is NOT the point. We show he is unable to do that and we show videos of Colombia’s president and Chile’s and Brazil’s while they were debating. We say over and over and over and over again: and Chávez is a coward.

        • A. Barreda Says:

          @PM:I wouldn’t dare to propose such thing if the candidate were Rosales, but Machado, Capriles, López and the others have shown they’re capable of facing tough questions.

          @ Kepler: I still remember Arias Cardenas and the chicken. I don’t like the empty podium either. Those won’t fly. However, I totally agree with you: the MUD must throw down the gauntlet and ask for a debate. However, you must also show that our candidate has ideas and that he can hold his own in a debate, unlike Chavez. How can you show that? Let him face a panel of experts! After that, it will be obvious that our candidate is not a “majunche” or “bate quebrado”. Quite the opposite, Chavez will lose face.

          Let our candidate show that he has what it takes to challenge the champion by kicking some ass first. After that, If the champions refuses to fight, everybody will know the champion is scared.

          • Kepler Says:

            I am all for it. Grill them all. Please, use expert. Ask them about pensions fonds, about economic sustainable development, ask them about how they will really fight corruption and clientelismo, etc, etc.
            It will be much more difficult for all the reasons we know about Venezuela.
            I don’t think one thing (the grilling with experts) excludes the other (debate against Chávez)

  3. Andres F Says:

    I don’t know the candidates very well, but from watching the debate would think the best ones are Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez. Perhaps Henrique Capriles’s not shaking the boat is a good strategy for him, but for me he seems a weaker candidate. For example he avoided the question about indicting Chavez with “a president does not judge”, very weak, I think. Maria Corina is very sharp, and I don’t agree with her not projecting to the masses. I do agree with you on Leopoldo Lopez over emphasizing the crime problem. Thanks for your analysis anyway.

    • Frank Muci Says:

      I think HCR’s response to the question about indicting Chavez was actually one of his best ones. In the 60 seconds he had to answer, he highlighted the importance of separation of powers, that he as president would not be the judicial sector, and therefore would have no place in judging Chavez. This was a wise thing to say for a twofold reason. Firstly, by deferring the question to another sector of government, HCR avoids having to criticize or laud Chavez. This ensures he does not lose voters on either side, especially the Chavista side, which is largely afraid of what will happen to the ‘misiones’ Chavez has implemented. Secondly, revealing the intention of prosecuting the current president once he is out uncovers traits of egotism and heroism, which is not what we want in a public servant. We want someone who knows his place and function as president, and HCR’s response affirmed he knows these things, that he is an restrained, judicious candidate. Of even greater importance, HCR emphasized that as President, he will be looking towards the future, seeking to rebuild a country that has had broadly detrimental governmental policy and administration for over ten years, not looking back and wasting his energies on what happened in the past. That is what we need: a president that can concentrate on what is really important, saving Venezuela. Personally, I was quite inspired by the response. It showed HCR’s caliber as a politician.

      • Andres F Says:

        I am glad you liked his response, and probably know him better than I do, but, “egotism and heroism”? I see no relationship between enforcing the law and your analysis. Maybe your rationale is a more common one, but to me the constitution is more important than winning a Chavista vote.

      • moctavio Says:

        I disagree, he was not asked if he would indict Chavez, he was asked if he agreed with Arria’s accusation in The Hague, it is a completely different question. He is not the President, he is a citizen and a politician today, just like Arria. He sidestepped the question. As a politician that may be valid, as a defender of human rights and the rule of law, it is not.

        Additionaly, it is the job of the President to uphold the laws. If he sees a violation, he has to ask his attorney general to accuse and let the Courts decide. Every time Chavez fires someone for corruption, nothing is done, if he did it for every case, he would be doing hi job.

        • liz Says:

          Finally! someone says it like it is! my tweet at the moment was something like “oh boy… bad answer”.

          To bland for my taste.

          • Cristina Says:

            If he doesn’t agree with Arria’s accusation, not because he doesn’t believe the guy is guilty but because he thinks it’s not a case for the ICC, then his answer was excellent.

            • Cristina Says:

              Keep in mind the case could be dismissed and Chavistas could end up looking as bullied by the opposition’s farcical accusations.

      • Frank Muci Says:

        When I commented, I only had a rough idea of what the question that HCR was asked was. I only remembered that it was related to getting Chavez in legal trouble for what he has done. What I liked about deferring the question was that HCR essentially sent out the message “I am not the law, and I will not be the law once I win.” This can be starkly contrasted with Chavez’s attitude and power today. That distinction is really what I liked. A little humility, for a change.

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