Is the Beginning of the End for Chavez?

By Antonio Corrales

After more than twelve years as president, Hugo Chavez is again facing re-election. Venezuela is accustomed to turmoil and conflicts, and after another year of chaos, the upcoming elections are to represent an end to the soap opera of Venezuelan politics. The opposition and its conglomerate parties will have primary elections in February to elect a unity candidate to compete against Chavez and his monumental governmental machinery. The opposition will also elect united candidates to participate in county and state elections. With general elections set for next November 2012, the question is who will have the final leverage and political momentum to carry out the winning results.

Chavez is recovering from a suspicious cancer: suspicious because there were no institutional medical statements to elaborate on the president's sickness. At the same time, there was a huge uproar in regards to the treatment that he received in Cuba. Part of the population was furious because the president chose to receive medical treatment in Cuba instead of his own country, while other Venezuelans in similar circumstances do not have that opportunity. Additionally, the opposition accused Chavez of following the typical strategic secretive style that the Castros use to manage their political lives. Many people questioned the veracity of Chavez’s sickness. Chavez seemed to have atypical energy to provide speeches right after chemotherapy. Some analysts questioned the timing of the illness as it occurred when Chavez’s popularity was at an historic low. Some find it convenient that his illness was announced just as his administration showed a lack of problem solving skills in critical areas in the country such as criminality, housing, unemployment, inflation, and consumers’ indexes based on minimal wage.

Unfortunately, the opposition did not capitalise during Chavez’s weaker moments.  After winning the popular vote in the past legislative elections, the opposition fared poorly as they engaged in debates with members of Chavez’s cabinet. During these debates, the opposition appeared to be out of touch with the problems of the country and the regular people. This demise made it seem that the opposition was not prepared to lead the country, prompting an increase in support for Chavez. 

The opposition executed a detailed manoeuvre by reaching an agreement to elect united candidates. This provided them with advantages not only to compete with a united front, but to campaign and promote candidates before the final and real election in November. For the first time in many years, there were televised debates to contrast ideas and visions from different candidates, instead of the eternal and boring obligated televised monologues from Chavez. This has not been seen often in the country during the past years - not only because Chavez has avoided debating with any opponent, but also because of the communication monopoly the government has established by acquiring the national and local media through forced nationalisation.  

The lack of trust in the electoral system, as well as the lack of independence of the judicial, legislative, and military powers, basically establishes that there are few alternatives for the Venezuelan people.  There seems to be little hope to democratically and peacefully change the status quo. If Chavez does indeed lose the election, many believe that the electoral power will change the results by implementing commonly and formerly applied delay tactics. A manual recount is a formal, bureaucratic and complicated process.  The recount is only allowed on 49 per cent of the entire votes. Since the ballots are safeguarded by the military, who are supposedly content with Mr. Chavez for recently raising their salaries by almost 50 per cent, avoiding an electoral fraud is almost impossible. If we add to that scenario that the opposition is not a solid and monolithic entity, many believe that Chavez will accept losing some key states and counties in order to divide the opposition. This would create a contradictory and divided position for those opposing Chavez. On one hand, there will be a tendency inside the opposition, especially those favoured by the local elections, to force the entire group to accept the results however they are, and move forward as if nothing has happened. On the other hand, how can the opposition discredit the electoral power for the presidential elections but validate it for the local ones?

This analysis leaves a very small chance for the Venezuelan opposition to capitalise in the upcoming elections. If Chavez wins, the country will have seven more years of the Bolivarian revolution, making almost 20 years in total since Chavez took power. Economically and politically, this would consolidate Chavez' allies even more. If Chavez loses the elections, it could be almost impossible to legally demonstrate it without the help of the military. If the opposition convinces the population that a fraud occurred, they will have to convince their supporters to take to the streets in protest and force a new election under different circumstances. This is also very unlikely because of the former experience that the opposition has in regards to a general strike a few years ago. At that time, the oil industry, the most important industry in the country, stopped as a way of protest. The opposition called his followers to take the streets and promoted an indefinite closing of businesses and primary services. At the end, Chavez took over the industry with the help of the military and put it to work again. He broke the opposition in an unprecedented way. Many people were penalised, others were fired, businesses went broke, and the majority of the participants regretted the move. 

The opposition has previously been unsuccessful in convincing the international community about Chavez’s fraudulent acts and dictatorial intentions. Chavez has solidified and institutionalised his anti-USA leadership within the region. He recently demonstrated this as he led the last CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean) summit in Venezuela. Commercial trade and agreements between Venezuela and the rest of the developed world have not been affected by the bad propaganda against Venezuela nor the anti-Chavez movement during the last twelve years. Chavez is still recognised as a legitimate democratically elected president by most of the international community.  Venezuela continues to be the third largest oil producer in the world.  

Some analysts say that the most experienced members of the opposition have been working to convince the highest ranking military leaders that their privileges will not change under a different government. This, however, is difficult to do as there is an understandable lack of trust between the two. 

In a fairytale scenario, Chavez would peacefully and honourably accept a potential electoral defeat, the institutional powers of government will function in an unbiased way, and a relatively easy and unavoidable transition in power would occur. This is the scenario that the most optimistic factions in the opposition are counting on. However, twelve years of Chavez in power has been constantly showing a different reality - a reality that could consolidate the Bolivarian revolution for another seven years and change the destiny of the country indefinitely. As the situation shows, the final decision will be determined by the people’s will and military actions.


Antonio Corrales is a businessman, politician, educator and poet. He is currently working as Director of the Bilingual / English as a Second Language Academic Programme, and the Gifted and Talented Academic Programme at Angleton Independent School District, USA.


12 January 2012