Saturday, 8 May 2010

Why is the opposition in such a position? 1

Chávez's popularity keeps going down. The nation is plagued by violent crime, blackouts, recession, shortages of different products, lack of real jobs, proper housing and yet we are far from getting over this regime. Why? It is true Chávez has several times the amount of petrodollars other governments had, the National Electoral Commission is favouring him, the Supreme Court and the National Assembly are all on his side and the Venezuelan military receives salary raises that are always higher than that of the less equal. Still, there is another reason: a big part of the opposition sucks big time.

And why? Because it is to a big extent led by people who still think as caudillos and who see politics as a way to promote their family interest. Take the Salas-Feo clan in my state, Carabobo.

The Feo family has been a wealthy family from Valencia since the XIX century. Feo La Cruz was a governor in the mid of the XX century. One of this daughters married Salas Römer, who became one of the first directly elected governors of the state. Salas Römer was originally from the COPEI party, but he went on his own when he saw that was the only way he would be the centre of his party. He did a fairly good job compared to his predecessors, but that is no surprise as they were always directly appointed by the presidents. He was re-elected and then, as a third term was still not possible, annointed his son, Henrique Salas Feo (third from the left), to be the next candidate for governor. In 1998 Salas Römer ran for president against Hugo Chávez and ex-miss Universe Irene Sáenz. Salas had no chance against Chávez: he has the charm of a skunk with rabies. He could do the trick initially in Carabobo because the competition there was so bad and he had good connections. He was reelected for the first time because his work was indeed much better than that of his predecessors.

Henrique Junior was less succesful. He lost the bid for reelection in 2004 to the Chavista candidate, military honcho Acosta Carlez. Many people say Carlez won through fraud. I don't know but the fact is that those elections were anything but fair. At the end, the military took away the ballot boxes before they could be recounted. There were no international observers for those state elections. Anyway: Carlez was incredibly inept. In 2008 Chávez decided to make Silvio Silva, from the state programme La Hojilla, candidate for the PSUV. The Salas wanted to get back to power. As they were the best known politicians, the rest of the opposition decided to support Henrique Junior against the PSUV candidate. But the Salas got greedy: they wanted all opposition to support Salas candidates for each of the 14 municipalities of Carabobo. The others did not want that, so there was little cooperation. In Valencia, businessman Cocchiola was more popular than the Salas candidate, but Salas refused to step back. The opposition incredibly lost Valencia of all places.

Candidates for the position of mayor in Valencia, 2008 elections: Parra from the Chávez-party came first, followed by Cocchiola, who was supported by several opposition parties. On third place: Padrón, supported by the Salas clan. The opposition would have easily won if the Salas had thought about Venezuela first

Now the opposition in Carabobo has mayors in only 2 municipalities: Naguanagua, governed by Feo La Cruz, and San Diego, where an independent, Enzio Scarano, has been mayor for quite some time already. San Diego is a middle-middle class area, mostly professionals but no villas, and some slums.

When the referendum to allow the indefinite re-election not just for the position of president was announced for 2009, Salas was very absent from the efforts to go against it. It seems as if the Salas clan had made up their minds: Chávez would never be reelected, they may have thought, but with that law change, they had a chance to keep in power forever. The Salas said they opposed the referendum but they kept a very low profile during the opposition campaign against the reform.

The last guy on the picture from left to right is Alejandro Feo Cruz. He is mayor of Naguanagua, a city just North and now completely merged with Valencia. Enrique and Alejandro are cousins. An avenue in Naguanagua and Valencia's public library are called after their grandfather.

The Salas had a party they called Proyecto Carabobo. The only reason to have a party apart from others was to represent their interests. When Salas Senior decided to run for president in 1998, he created Proyecto Venezuela, which has never obtained much support anywhere outside Carabobo. Now the Salas have two family parties: Proyecto Carabobo and Proyecto Venezuela. In the 2008 elections, you could see both parties in the ballot. That is a way to get more votes for the same candidate.

And now, the Salas have shown how uncooperative they are with the rest of the opposition. They said the others had to "respect local leaderships" (this is a term very often used by the different caudillos now). They wanted all their candidates to be accepted.

The Chavista Electoral Council did heavy gerrymandering in Carabobo, as I wrote in earlier posts. It basically concentrated the most anti-Chavista (and mostly middle to upper-middle class regions) in one electoral circuit, one big enough to secure the Guaraca region does not get an opposition representative but not big enough to merit 3 seats. Still, based on demographics, the Valencia district should get 2 seats, but the CNE assigned it one seat only. The opposition could put there a dead dog and it would win. Salas decided to promote as candidate young student Julio Rivas, third from left. Julio Rivas is only known because he took part, as thousands of others, in street demos. He was detained by the police for a couple of days. Since then he considers himself a sort of Nelso Mandela.

When the opposition MUD or Mesa de la Unidad - AD, COPEI, Enzo Scarano, Primero Justicia, UNT, Proyecto Venezuela and others - started discussions about the candidates, Julio Rivas and some other "students" started to shout slogans and ended up beating up several people. When Rivas was taken away from the scene, he kept shouting: "I deserve the seat, give space to the youth". I actually would like to see young people as candidates, but this character has nothing to show: he can't talk, he does not have ideas and no one "deserves a seat" just by going to jail for a day or two.

Venezuelan presidents boast that education in Venezuela is free up to university level. Still: public schools are incredibly bad and pupils have to buy their own books. There is money for Chinese and Russian tanks and planes, but not for textbooks. And textbooks are more expensive in Venezuela than in the US or in Europe.

The governor (Henrique Jr) started to distribute textbooks in poor schools. The bad thing was that he was apparently distributing books with the symbol of the Salas party and, according to Chavistas, with his face. Never mind Chavista officials also distribute state goodies that are wrapped in red plastic, that have the sysmbol of the PSUV or the face of Chávez (not books, though). In general, Venezuelan politicians promote themselves in ways that are more flagrant than the ones used by the Kings of Babylon.

The Salas have a hard time now: the central government - Chávez - has taken away most of the regional revenues. Still, they could do better.

Next September Carabobo will be going to elections with a deeply divided opposition. We are bound to win the electoral district of Northern Valencia-San Diego-Naguanagua, but even if we get 55% of the votes in Carabobo, chances are we lose Libertador-Southern Valencia area as well as Naguanagua and Puerto Cabello and Chavismo gets 6 representatives for the one we get. That is gerrymandering big time. It is a pity...if we could have political parties and not caudillo parties and if those political parties were not 50, but just 5 or at most 10, Chavismo would see its end rather soon.

The blue spots represent 1000 votes for the opposition and the red spots 1000 votes for chavismo. The different colour areas represent the electoral districts (as opposed to the municipalities). We will get the green circuit for sure.

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