Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Lipstick on a pig 

The previous post created a segway to talking about the first candidate to test the presidential election waters. Last week, Julio Borges of the party Primero Justicia announced that he will be running for President in the 2006 presidential elections. Given that the elections are still 18 months away his announcement took most people by surprise. Further, it had been widely assumed that the opposition would come together and carefully pick a consensus candidate to run on a unity platform against Chavez. Even with only one candidate the opposition’s chances are minimal. With multiple candidates they will be increasing the size of their probable rout by Chavez.

Mr. Borges gave an interview in Panorama today but before getting into that I would like to give some background on the Primera Justicia party. It is a relatively new political party formed in the early 1990’s. It has a reputation as being the party of Venezuelan yuppies as most of its supporters are relatively young and from the prosperous sections of Caracas. It has never held power on a nation wide basis in Venezuela. For almost 5 decades Venezuela was dominated by two parties, Accion Democratica and COPEI. These mainline parties were really just corrupt political machines. For those more familiar with Mexico than Venezuela just think of the PRI times two. Those parties really are the spitting image of the Mexican PRI save that as there were two of them they alternated in power and agreed to split the spoils.

By the late 1980s, early 1990s, those parties were rapidly losing credibility and Primera Justicia is one of the parties created to try to fill the rapidly forming political vacuum. It didn’t really differ from the old corrupt parties in any appreciable way but it was new and something that is new often seems different and better even if it isn’t. For instance, the old parties were top down organizations were everything was decided by political bosses and business magnates. To the extent that any of these parties had any rank and file they had no input and were generally people worked for the party in exchange for jobs or other favors. Along those lines please note that no one selectedBorges to run as President – there were no primaries, no competition, no debates. He simply selected himself to run. The more things change the more they stay the same I guess.

Now lets take a look at some of Borges's interview from Panorama

Q:You said when you announced your campaign that you would continue with the Missions, do you really believe they help people are they simply things to use in a campaign?

A:To meet the immediate needs of the people, in theory, they are good. But as we see it they should go beyond that, we can’t offer only Missions, we have to give jobs.

I just came from the 7th of January neighborhood and I asked people what they did, if they wanted to work … and it broke my heart.

In Maracaibo and other areas of Zulia it is amazing to see how much unemployment has increased. I saw two little children who were malnourished as if they were in Africa. There has to be something beyond the Missions. But if society doesn’t create opportunities for something beyond the Missions, for jobs, we are going to remain stuck. I feel that the Missions are the first step, even though many times they have been used to exclude people politically which should not happen.

Q: What was the situation with the sectors of the opposition which immediately came out to criticize your campaign announcement?

A: What we are trying to accomplish, and what motivated us to launch our campaign so early, is the sense of unity that the country wants, all of Venezuela should be united, and I, rather than consult with people in hotels in Caracas, go from house to house and that is valuable and means the problems of the people are known by the leadership.

Q: Will it be necessary to create a united front to compete with Chavez?

A: One must begin early to gather strength as we know this is a system that doesn’t guarantee anything. The Supreme Court is politicized, the electoral council biased, we know the reality of Venezuela.

I think a united front is necessary, the country wants it, but the people will decide.

Q: Do you feel that you are the face of the opposition, including the political leader that face judicial proceedings such as Carlos Ortega, and the fugitive Carlos Fernandez among others?

A: Primero Justicia represents a new generation and only those people can unite the country again and stop the fights of the past that no one has won. If I am identified with the opposition leaders who are being persecuted it is because their it is unjust to politicize the judicial system.

Q: Would you sign the extradition request for Luis Posada Carriles?

A: Yes, if I were president I would treat him just the same, but I would not extradite him to Cuba, but rather try him here. But I would never make something like this the main item on the national agenda instead of the problems of the people like employment, hunger, and poverty. That they give so much importance to Posada Carriles is as if they don’t care about society. To sign the extradition papers is in a way a commitment to fight against terrorism.

Starting with last things first – at least the man is on the right side of the Posada issue. Lets give him credit for that. Unfortunately for him everything is down hill from there.

Lets take his comments on the Missions which are the large social programs started by President Chavez. Borges says he is in favor of keeping at least some of them. A couple problems here: First, the opposition, Borges included, spent a good deal of time fighting against and trying to stop the Missions. For example, one Mission , Barrio Adentro, sent Cuban doctors into poor areas to provide medical care. The opposition fought tooth and nail against this program. They even went to court to have it declared illegal due to the Cuban doctors not being licensed to practice medicine in Venezuela. Only shortly before the Presidential Referendum when they finally did enough to focus groups to realice that these programs were wildly popular did they change their position 180 degrees and support them. Secondly, even if you say you support these programs, given that they are Chavez’s programs aren’t you in effect saying you support what he is doing – and if that is the case why not keep him. This is the oppositions Catch-22. They can’t campeign against Chavez’s programs because they are popular. But if they say that these popular programs are good then they are just reinforcing why people should vote for Chavez. So clearly talking about the Missions is not going to be a winning formula for Borges.

Then he goes on to talk about employment. Not to beat a dead horse as this was discussed in the last post but a) employment IS increasing now as the economy recovers from the opposition sabatoge of 02/03 and b) it is the opposition that did everything it could to increase unemployment by trashing the economy. Given this, if jobs are the issue who do you think most Venezuelan’s are going to vote for? It’s not hard to figure out.

Then when discussing wether the opposition should have a united front against Chavez he says “the people will decide”. Really? How will they do that? Given that no-one in the opposition seems to be talking about primaries its hard to envision how the “people” will have any say in what any of these opposition parties do. If you want a say in how things are done you have to join the MVR (Chavez’s party) as they are the only ones who have primaries and let the party membership choose candidates.

Lastly he goes on to defend Carlos Ortega and Carlos Fernandez, two leaders of the opposition involved in the coup attempt of April 1, 2002 and the “strike” of 02/03 which devestated the country’s economy. Somehow Borges believes that these people who did everything they could to overthrow a democratically elected government are victims of political persecution. Don’t think he is going to win brownie points with most Venezuelan’s that way.

So here we have it – the first contender for the presidency. He comes from a party with a very narrow political base and not a very positive image among most Venezuelans. That's alrady two strikes against him. And if this interview is any indication he doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help himself.

Personally I can’t see how they are going to be able to put lipstick on this pig. But is should be fun watching them try.


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