The regional elections are an issue of the first importance in Venezuela’s current political situation. We might be tempted to treat them as trivial if they were just new elections after so many others. But that’s not what they are.
Under current circumstances, a new electoral contest between Chavismo and the politicians of the United Democratic Table (MUD) is very different from a contest over mere quotas of administrative power.
The events prior to these elections and those now happening inside and outside Venezuela explain the significance of the election in mid-October. For that reason, it is highly appropriate to explain the relevance of these elections.
The elections are being held in a context of sanctions and the imposition inside and outside Venezuela of a narrative that Chavismo is a “dictatorship”. It is paradoxical but also not unusual in Venezuela’s extraordinary politics that the MUD, whose leaders have spread the “dictatorship” story at home and overseas, have rushed to register candidates, thirsty for quotas of power. By that one act of political neurosis they dismantled their alleged “non-recognition” of official institutions and the State that they proclaimed for much of 2017.
This is relevant in that the open electoral process wipes out the MUD’s efforts to sketch out some alleged dictatorial control of Venezuela’s institutions.
For its part, the Trump Administration is weighing in against Venezuela’s economy and is signaling a military intervention. The US Congress is currently discussing legislation to give “humanitarian” cover to any US intervention in Venezuela. This is the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017. In effect this serves as a tablecloth spread out for the overthrow of Chavismo.
Given the moves in that direction, holding the elections may seem irrelevant for the promoters of intervention. But it is worth bearing in mind that in terms of settling domestic disputes and legitimizing Venezuela’s democracy the elections are absolutely crucial. The US needs a policy disconnected from domestic politics and the regional elections contradict that.
The regional elections will take place in an economic context of sabotage and blockade. Major popular demands figure in them involving very serious levels of discontent along with great expectations. The MUD hope to to win new political space in these elections whereas for Chavismo the task is to hold on to political spaces already won.
The violent actions of the MUD through 2017 ahead of these upcoming elections make clear for Chavismo that it cannot afford to lose any political space or give in to the plans of the anti-Chavista forces. We don’t need to imagine the horror facing people living in States like Tachira or Merida, who already suffer from the absence of policies in their regions as a result of the prolonged constant violence that are routine in their areas.
The anti-Chavista forces have worked out how to use every municipal authority, every public office and entity they control to encourage the elements among them committed to violence. During street blockades they use the institutions they control to promote chaos, anarchy and confrontation. Both the MUD and Chavismo are categorically clear about why they have to win the regional governorships. Their respective visions of peace versus violence are extremely clear.
The current governorships controlled by the opposition are celebrations of anarchy, incompetence, and perennial tortoise-paced public administration. Those governorships are self-evidently inoperative, devoting their time to political scheming. As often as not they argue unjustly that “we don’t get assigned resources because we’re the opposition” to justify abandoning their voters and their State’s inhabitants to their fate.
This argument is relevant in that the MUD is clearly determined make public policy unworkable in every possible context. The clearest example of this is the way they rendered inoperative and then abandoned the National Assembly itself. The MUD seek to win governorships so as to render them unworkable and disconnect them from the overall system of public policy. They only want control of governorships so as to get hold of resources to use in destabilizing the country. Their objective is to spread every kind of misrule, chaos and discontent.
It is a foregone conclusion that in any State where a Chavista governor gets replaced by a governor from the MUD opposition, social policy initiatives, like the different Missions, will get cut back and slowed down. These social coverage programs will lose institutional help from regional governments, whereas Chavista governorships make available to these programs personnel, infrastructure, funding and political support.
As they have shown repeatedly, the MUD is completely against the attention to people’s needs made possible by the social programs and others of strategic reach and relevance, like the Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAPs). That is the main reason why winning governorships is vital for the MUD, since they hope to make unworkable the social programs benefiting people in very adverse economic conditions.
They know very well that the strategy of the social programs has mitigated in great measure the effects of the current economic situation for very large numbers of socioeconomically vulnerable people. That is why they want to get hold of these political spaces. This is very relevant in that the MUD need to create economic chaos so that discontent among people marginalized in that way will feed their electoral chances.
The regional elections will measure the country’s political health. But in relation to another context they are also an element that shows how well Venezuela’s democracy is doing and how political parties are out to win votes rather than dodge bullets. The other context in question is the international one. The powerful people working on a US intervention in Venezuela don’t want the elections t be publicized, nor that the MUD opposition are participating actively in them. This is a dangerous reference point for them.
The elections will clear the way for scenarios which may be either of stability or of confrontation. But they should put a political stop to the violent escalation still trying to push Venezuela into war.
First published in Mision Verdad, October 3rd 2017