Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Jungle and snakes or political suicide?

What is rural?

In the map below you will see all cities with a population estimated to be over 100000 persons for 2007. The 2009 referendum was won by chavismo. I firmly believe there was "voting optimization" (it was not just that the votes abroad were not added), but even if there hadn't been any, chavismo won. Official results were 54.85% for chavismo and 45.14% for the opposition.

The vote cannot be seen completely as a vote on the president, no matter how he presented it. I belive there were many caudillos among the opposition who wanted the law passed so that they could also run for mayors or governors forever. Still, we can safely say that most of those who voted for SÍ are rather chavistas, and those for NO are oppos.

The blue spots show those urban centres were the NO won. The orange spots show where the Sí won by less than 3%. The red ones are those where the Sí won by 53% to 60%. Those in red are the urban centres where th Sí won by over 60% of the votes. As you can see, many areas are in densely populated regions (like the centre-north). Also: we should rethink what we understand by "monte y culebras". A place with more than 100000 persons is seen in other countries as a city.

Grass and snakes

Venezuelan urbanites, specially those of the capital and to a lesser extent those from the other 2 or 3 major cities, often talk about "monte y culebra" or "grass and snakes" to refer to all the rest of Venezuela. This urbanite way of looking at rural or small cities is present everywhere on Earth, but in Venezuela the feeling is very strong.

Many people, Venezuelans and foreigners alike, have written a lot about the urban-rural divide in Venezuelan politics: chavismo is quite strong in rural areas and the opposition is stronger in the main cities (see here for some numbers). The tendency of rural areas to be politically more conservative (and chavismo is a conservative movement, as conservativism goes beyond left or right) happens in many other countries. It is like that in the USA and Belarus, Iran and even Switzerland.

Still, this is not the whole picture. Venezuelan opposition parties have greatly failed to gain ground even in urban centres with more than 100 thousand people, even those very close to the main cities as the capital and Valencia. How come? There are many reasons. Some are not the opposition's fault:

1) Venezuelans read very little and newspapers that go beyond baseball or nudes or crime or car-cow collisions are read mostly in the most urban areas, more so than in New Jersey or Murmansk

2) access to TV stations critical of the regime is possible only in the capital, Valencia or in houses with cable or a TV dish (<30%); href="">here Radio Nacional, don't tell me I did not warn you!)

3) Internet access is possible for less than 30% of the population and they are mostly in the biggest centres.

4) the national government drastically reduced the budget allocated to the elected local governments since 2008, effectively emasculating them; it can and does divert resources to those regions or institutions that are with the so-called "proceso".

5) the government uses government resources for a permanent campaign (from subsidized TV sets to free beer)

6) the quality of basic and secondary education in rural areas tends to be much worse than those in the cities (and this is a big difference to Europe) and people are less likely to look up for alternative explanations

Opposition's Culpa

Still, there are other reasons. Although the regime party, the PSUV, is completely dominated by Chávez and although what chavistas call "ideology" is riveted with all forms of contradictions - a still undefinable "Bolivarianism" trying to mix with communism, socialism with selling cheap imports from abroad, a boyant boliburguesia and so much more-, chavistas do try, at least pretend, to have some form of ideology. The personality cult is the definite glue, naturally.

We should not learn much from the personality cult. This only works if the personality is someone in control of the petrodollars as we have in Venezuela or if you have someone like Gandhi (who still had a comprehensive ideology and plan). We should forget about just finding one big "leader", even if we must promote a charismatic, honest and well-educated group of leaders.

The biggest problems we have are about values, ideology, projects and working methods. I know: that is a lot.


Old parties such as AD did have some - perhaps wobbly - values, but they got diluted: corruption and absolute lack of transparency to define leaders diverted all energies and focus. The leaders just followed the usual Caudillo tradition of XIX century Venezuela. That is how we have right now something unique in Latin America: a dozen or more "social democratic parties", a dozen "conservative to centre-right" parties and several dozens of other parties that claim to have ideologies ranging from standard ecologist to the most contradictory and largely un-historical "Bolivarian" ideas. The current regime may be more corrupt than the very corrupt AD, but it still has much more petrodollars than any other government in decades. This washes away all contradictions and blinds away a lot of the corruption. We need to be more catholic than the Pope or halal than the mufti or kosher than the rabbi. This is right and this is also the only way.

Ideologies and projects

If we forced all the 12 or so parties that claim to be "social democrats" to go to a TV show and demanded from them to explain in front of the cameras why they are different parties I am sure they would be in real trouble. The same goes for those parties that consider themselves more liberal or conservative. They are mostly parties for some amigos and none has a national reach. People talk a lot about unity in Venezuela, but the meaning is kept as fuzzy as possible and it refers mostly to agreeing on a single candidate for an election.

Obviously, if you have 30 parties, you end up with nothing more than machines to promote at best a local caudillo, his family and friends. This is how we got Proyecto Venezuela for Carabobo and how Yaracuy does not have COPEI but Convergencia (a party almost only active there and which was created by late Caldera when he was not chosen as candidate for Copei). In Europe I only know of the German CDU/CSU divide and some parties for ethnic minorities like in Germany the Danish party.

As Juan (formerly Katy) wrote, with such a disarray and with such lack of perspective and interest for other regions, we fail to gain the resources to shoot for Parapara. We need to merge parties and to do that we need some of them to present real, clear ideologies and concrete projects and challenge the rest. They also need to put forward a national project and concrete implementation proposals for all regions.


One of the things the opposition has failed to see is the way many extreme lefties have been proselytizing for many decades now. Although those lefties were not well organized, they had their networks and a rich "mythology" to draw upon. They also had and heve methods that are actually very similar to those used by fundamentalists of many religions.

In many cases, chavismo knew how to take over the previous networks of the old parties in the rural areas. Many of the chavistas from rural areas are former adecos (Aristóbulo Isturiz is one) or copeyanos (the president's parents and many other people in that region or others I know of). It was not difficult to take over: after decades of tear and wear through corruption and the dilution of any set of principles, people were ready for a change. The petrodollars that chavismo got and the neglect in which those rural areas were did the rest. Their conservatism, th government's sole control of the free petrodollars and the opposition's continuous focus on 3 or 4 regions keep those regions so red now.

I will later talk about how the lefties were doing their brainwashing before they got to power, how they do that now and I will give some suggestions about what we need to do.

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