Saturday, April 01, 2006

The opposition pegged 

Some of the best, and most balanced, articles on Venezuela are written by Juan Forero of the New York Times. Neither side in Venezuela is a fan of his, in fact its save to say they both stongly dislike him, which is probably yet more evidence he is doing a good job as a journalist as opposed to toeing a line. I think the reason he gets whats going on there more than many others is that he has been involved in the country for a long time. When you've been covering the place for years as opposed to just doing a little two week jaunt you easily can easily see through the propoganda of both sides and get to heart of what is really happening. That is what makes his articles, such as this one on the Venezuelan opposition, illuminating and worthwhile:

Rifts Plague Anti-Chávez Venezuelans

QUÍBOR, Venezuela — Julio Borges is an unusual politician among Venezuela's fragmented opposition. He is running for office.

While much of the rest of the opposition is intent on boycotting the presidential election this year, Mr. Borges was busy here on a recent twoday campaign swing, shaking hands, kissing cheeks and trying against long odds to win over supporters of President Hugo Chávez.

"We spent seven years trying to get Chávez out of Miraflores," Mr. Borges said, referring to the presidential palace. "What we have to do is get Chávez out of people's hearts."

He is the first to admit that it is a lonely task. Mr. Chávez remains hugely popular, with a 55 percent approval rating in opinion polls, for having funneled billions of dollars in oil revenue to the poor. Perhaps more important, he has put his stamp on nearly every aspect of life, and every institution of real power.

Mr. Borges argues that boycotting elections only adds to Mr. Chávez's power and has already made Venezuela in effect a one-party state. Proponents of a boycott say Mr. Chávez has undermined the institutions of democracy, so they seek to undercut his legitimacy by spoiling elections.

They charge that the president stacked the Supreme Court and the five-member National Electoral Council, has registered fraudulent voters and keeps tabs on how Venezuelans vote — all accusations that the government denies.

Many supporters of a boycott are in the segment of the opposition that failed to oust Mr. Chávez with a coup attempt and a two-month oil strike in 2002, and a recall referendum in 2004. Last December they organized a five-party boycott of the elections for the National Assembly, losing all representation in the government.

Some opposition leaders called that boycott a success because 75 percent of the voters abstained, showing their unhappiness with the electoral system Mr. Chávez had established.

"It's a diabolical system," said Antonio Ledezma, a leader in National Resistance, a group of opposition leaders that favors a boycott this year. "We win by resisting, to not be under the thumb of a government that wants to dominate us."

While international monitors have called past elections here fair, they have also noted deep public distrust of electoral officials and called for an overhaul of the Electoral Council, which oversees the elections.

A newspaper editor, Teodoro Petkoff, and the governor of the state of Zulia, Manuel Rosales, are considered possible presidential candidates, but Mr. Borges is the only one who has declared his candidacy so far. He says his biggest obstacle is uniting a disillusioned opposition, whose fractures have been among Mr. Chávez's biggest advantages.

"The most difficult challenge is to get past the noise of our own opposition," said Mr. Borges, 36, a lawyer from Caracas. "The opposition does not have the luxury to just give up on politics. Here, some people say: 'Let's not do anything. Let's hope for a miracle.' I don't believe in that."

As in the rest of Venezuela, people in this state, Lara, are solidly behind Mr. Chávez and at best indifferent to Mr. Borges's small First Justice Party, whose members are mostly young professionals from wealthy districts of Caracas. Potential voters were polite but distant.

When one unabashed supporter, Carmen Martínez, embraced Mr. Borges — whispering, "May God and First Justice be our hope" — it was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult campaign swing.

Mr. Borges does not sugarcoat the obvious: his campaign is far behind, underfinanced and spread thin. His one advantage may be that most Venezuelans — 84 percent, according to a recent survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Washington polling firm — support taking part in the election, even if they question the impartiality of the electoral authorities.

His first big battle was with his own party, which went against him and voted to sit out last year's legislative elections. But he also faces an image problem. Many Venezuelans see his party as close to the Bush administration, elitist and out of touch with Mr. Chávez's base in the country's ramshackle barrios.

"They're seen as the yuppie party, and the challenge is how do you reach the poorest people," said a senior American diplomat in Caracas, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of embassy rules.

"It's not enough being the anti-Chávez," another American diplomat said. "You have to offer a plan and an alternative."

To do that, Mr. Borges and his aides say they are going to go after the president where he is vulnerable. While Mr. Chávez appears to be obsessed with the United States, Mr. Borges said surveys for his campaign showed that Venezuelans were much more concerned about unemployment and rampant crime.

"Before voting for the Chavistas, I'll vote for Borges," Johanna Padilla, 29, said after meeting Mr. Borges as he went from house to house here. "All we have here is crime. There's no work. If you get a job, it's for three months and you're out."

On his campaign swing, wearing jeans and a blue pullover shirt, Mr. Borges handed out fliers titled "The President's Gifts," about Venezuelan aid to other countries.

"We want to show we're more nationalistic, more patriotic, more worried about Venezuela than Chávez," he said. "He's more involved in trying to become the president of Latin America. This is good for us."

For now the message is a hard sell. Mr. Chávez's largess to the poor, after all, has won him a solid following that is not about to switch to an unknown like Mr. Borges.

"I adore the man and thank God he's in power," Elizabeth Jiménez, 37, said of the president. "The opposition — each day they lose more standing. They criticize everything, everything that's for the people. But when they were in power they never did anything."

Of all the people in the opposition I've been most sympathetic to the people of Primero Justicia. They seem honest and sincere unlike the throwbacks such as Ledezmo or Rosales and the whinning meglomaniac who never accomplished anything when he was in office, Petkoff. Of course, they don't have a program for what they would do if elected and as even the people in the U.S. embassy can figure out that is a major problem. Further, their poor showing when it was crunch time last December 4th showed, as Venezuelanalisis points out, they are not yet ready for prime time.

Truthfully though, the oppositions disarray doesn't matter. As is hinted at the end of the article running against Chavez under current circumstances is and uphill struggle. The economy is booming, people have more money in their pockets, new public works are going to be inaugerated almost monthly for the rest of the year, and on and on. Jesus Christ would have a tough time running against an incumbent in these circumstances.

The reality is the best any of the opposition can do is position themsevles for the future when conditions may change and they may have a better shot.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?