[Venezuelanalysis.com's editor Gregory Wilpert argues that the campaign this year
showed that Venezuelan politics appears to have matured in this eight
year of Chavez’s presidency, where "politics is fought in peoples’
hearts and minds and not in street battles and in coup attempts.
Unfortunately, significant sectors of the opposition still cannot
accept or believe that they are in the minority." --Ed]
Venezuela Enters Normality (Sort Of)
By Gregory Wilpert – Venezuelanalysis.com
December 03, 2006
Finally, a year of anticipation about Venezuela’s 2006 presidential election is about to come to an end. For Chavez supporters the campaign included some surprises, while for many anti-Chavistas it will probably end as was to be expected. In all, though, despite the uncertainties about how the opposition will react to the final result, this campaign year showed that Venezuelan politics appears to have matured in this eight year of Chavez’s presidency, where politics is fought in peoples’ hearts and minds and not in street battles and in coup attempts. Unfortunately, significant sectors of the opposition still cannot accept or believe that they are in the minority and thus are still convinced that Chavez is an illegitimate president and will continue to be so even if international observers ratify this Sunday’s election.
The Chavez Campaign
Chavez’s reelection campaign was effective, but disappointing. That is, his campaign was very dependent on him campaigning, usually by riding on the top of a truck in various parts of the country, though crowds of cheering supporters. As such, it did not seem to have too much to do with the original plan of mobilizing grassroots supporters in an organized fashion, where each supporter was supposed to convince at least ten others to vote for Chavez on December 3rd.
The other crucial component of Chavez’s reelection campaign was the almost daily inauguration of new programs, public works, or the celebration of anniversaries of existing programs. Officially, of course, such activities are not supposed to be considered part of his reelection campaign, but “official government activity.” However, it is obvious to everyone that even for Chavez’s standards of nearly constant public events, this was an unusually high number.
Unfortunately, Venezuela has no restrictions on the number of inaugurations or the amount of money the government may spend on publicizing itself. This is in contrast to many other Latin American countries, which strictly limit such activity, precisely because Presidents, if given the opportunity, tend to pull out all the stops and take full advantage of their position when running for reelection. This, however, is only the second time in Venezuelan history (the other being in 2000) that a Venezuela President is running for reelection, which explains why there are no laws in place that prevent this kind of taking of advantage of the office of the presidency.
Chavez’s campaign speeches were typical for their high level of energy and the devotion with which supporters rallied to cheer on their president, despite their length over two hours or more. Chavez often focused on how the opposition represented the interests of U.S. imperialism and how they were responsible for the April 2002 coup and the December 2002 shutdown of the oil industry. Chavez never mentioned his main opponent by name, but made fun of how he is accused of populism when his opponent is proposing the “non-plus-ultra” populist proposal, which is the debit card “Mi Negra” (“my black one”). As such, though, his speeches and his campaign were directed only to his followers and did not appear to be directed towards the estimated 20% or more of the population that was undecided. If anything, it is the numerous inaugurations that were perhaps supposed to convince the undecided to vote for Chavez. However, Chavez did not address the two main concrete criticisms Rosales made of him, which probably resonate very well with the undecided vote, that crime under Chavez has increased dramatically and that Chavez was spending too much money and too much time abroad.
Chavez’s last and perhaps most important campaign event was an unprecedented interview he conducted jointly, Thursday night before the election, with one journalist each from two private TV stations Venevision (owned by Gustavo Cisneros) and Televen and one journalist each from two public TV stations, VTV and Telesur. The interview lasted 3 hrs. and 20 min. and ranged over all issues, from Venezuela’s supposed “cubanization” to regrets Chavez has about not being able to lead a normal life. The interview presented a very intimate and human picture of Chavez, who is always able to both to make jokes and to answer difficult and important topics in a serious and thoughtful manner. Chavez’s charisma, which is often mentioned with regard to his public appearances thus also came across very strongly in this more intimate context.
The Rosales Campaign
The candidate “of national unity,” as the opposition has tried to name him, Manuel Rosales ran a fairly intelligent campaign, despite his nearly complete lack of charisma. As mentioned earlier, Rosales targeted two of Chavez’s weakest points, crime and Chavez’s time and money spent abroad. Plus, rather than attacking Chavez for being a populist, as has become a favorite pastime among his critics in the North, Rosales played the populist card to the hilt with his Mi Negra proposal, which would supposedly give all poor Venezuelans 20% of the government’s oil revenues, which would come to about $350 per month. In effect, Rosales was saying, “If you vote for me, I will give you cash.” As such, the proposal makes a mockery of the opposition’s criticism that Chavez is a demagogic populist and that he has not sufficiently invested the country’s oil wealth in the people. It is doubtful that poor people would invest badly needed money rather than spend it. Chavez, instead, has indeed invested the money in education, by giving scholarships to people who go back to school (Mission Ribas and Sucre), and in health, by providing a community health program (Mission Barrio Adentro), among many other things. Even his expenditures abroad, are almost all investments and not give-aways, as Rosales claims.
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