Health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Clouds
Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
As Venezuela moves closer to the Oct. 7 presidential elections and the opposition's poll numbers decline, and as doubts about President Hugo Chavez's health are increasing, the governing party and the opposition have become embroiled in a battle of criticisms, accusations, and rumors that is corroding the political climate.
With slightly more than four months until the elections, polls indicate that Chavez would be reelected for a third consecutive term by between 17 and 36 percentage points over Henrique Capriles (NotiSur, Feb. 24, 2012), the unity candidate for the opposition Mesa de Unidad Democratico (MUD).
Chavez, who just finished another round of cancer treatment (NotiSur, Aug. 12, 2011, and April 13, 2012), admitted that, because of his illness, he can no longer be "that runaway horse" that "never slept and worked 20 hours a day." Showing a religious fervor not evident before, he said that he "asks God to give me the strength of a buffalo to continue this revolutionary work that the Venezuelan people have entrusted to me."
Buoyed by the polls, on May 21 Chavez told the leadership of the governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), "We can no longer be satisfied with 56% of the vote, let's work to win 10 million votes, which would put us at close to 70%."
Thus, even though he can count on the support of all the major media in the country as well as strong and active support from abroad, Capriles is unable to come across as a charismatic figure able to compete with Chavez. After succeeding, for the first time, to unite all its forces, the opposition seems headed toward throwing away the best opportunity it has had since the start of the Revolucion Bolivariana in February 1999.
Foreign support for opposition counterproductive
At a forum at the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), sociologists and political analysts agreed, with very few differences, that the formidable foreign campaign for Capriles--which includes efforts by former US government officials and various European nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as well as Colombia's former President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and almost all international news agencies and the major South American dailies--has been counterproductive for the opposition candidate. First, because it is giving the false impression that Capriles will be the sure winner in the elections. Second, because much of the foreign support comes from institutions or personalities that have a negative image in Venezuela, thus merely reinforcing the PSUV allegation that foreign governments and organizations are financing the opposition and that, if it were to win, it would be dependent from day one.
"A hypothetical opposition government would emerge subservient to the foreign policy of the US and its allies, assuming as its security paradigm the genocidal narcoparamilitary model applied by Uribe in Colombia," read the May 17 editorial in the Caracas daily Ultimas Noticias.
MUD leaders have said that Capriles' campaign office reportedly received advice from experts in "dirty" electoral campaigns, among them the controversial Ecuadoran political consultant Jamie Duran Barba, to tone down the wave of rumors that, as shown by the polls, is not producing the expected results.
Although the MUD tries to convey a unified image to the electorate, the differences among the nearly 20 groups it comprises are not minor. The result has been that the unity candidate often suffers from his advisors' contradictions so his own message is also contradictory.
On April 10, during one of his campaign swings through Caracas' barrios, Capriles said, "Chavez and his people are like we were in previous elections, directionless.... Chavez has lost his way."
The Spanish news agency EFE reported that, only minutes later, in response to questions from one of the neighbors he visited, Capriles demonstrated his own lack of direction when he said that "the state's presence in the oil sector and the social programs that the government calls the 'missions' are the people's, and they should be not only maintained but improved and broadened. …