What’s at stake in Venezuela’s local elections

Yes, FT, that’s the same headline as yours. Because you didn’t write what’s at stake. I don’t know if anyone really cares exactly how many votes one side or the other gets; certainly the idea that this is a “plebiscite” is totally overplayed and evidence-free. What’s at stake is how many mayoral offices are controlled by the pro-central-government PSUV, and how many are controlled by other parties, broadly called “the opposition.” There are two things at stake here.

First, at the local level, in Caracas, an opposition sweep* would allow the city to become governable. The PSUV mayor of Libertador borough, the governor of the Federal Region, and central government have boycotted all cooperation with the opposition mayors of Caracas’ four eastern boroughs, Sucre, Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo. As a result, you get absurd situations such as nice new, broad sidewalks in Chacao that end abruptly at the River Guaire, where pedestrians are forced into the busy street in order to cross the only bridge for a kilometer in either direction. Or worse, the lack of coordination between planning of streets, buses, cable cars and subway. Or competing police jurisdictions. And most of all, the sad sight of poorer opposition areas, especially Sucre, being left without the money to collect trash or permission to raise trash rates, while Libertador gets all the money it can spend to beautify plazas and historic buildings. So for Caracas itself, there is the chance to stop being the worst capital in South America, and to start living up to its potential — it could be a marvelous city.

Second, much more important, having more mayoral offices would make it much easier for the opposition to mount a recall campaign at the midpoint of President Nicolas Maduro’s term. The constitution allows for recalls, but as the opposition has seen in repeated elections since 2006, all politics are local. And winning a national race requires local organizing. Who carries voters to the polls in special buses? Who has the money to cover the city in campaign propaganda for one side or the other? Mayors matter at election time.

Other than that, as you say, not much to see here. The PSUV has treated the campaign as a bit of a joke, while the opposition has preferred to spend money fighting over a tiny number of votes in El Hatillo while there are almost no posters, grafittis or any other public displays of support for the regional mayor candidate or the candidate for Libertador, Ismael Garcia. Here in Caracas, I see no window signs, almost no soaped-up car windscreens favoring one side or the other (I’ve seen two pro-PSUV camioneticas in three weeks, not quite a campaign), no catchy campaign jingles, few billboards, no clever little marketing campaigns like the last Chávez election, when they gave out PSUV jewelry and silkscreens. None of that. I predict low turnout.

*UPDATE: Just to be clear, this is extremely unlikely, as Libertador is reasonably rojo-rojito, and more importantly, the government really, really doesn’t want to lose it. Even less likely would be a PSUV sweep, as Chacao, Baruta and El Hatillo are all extremely pro-opposition territories.

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8 thoughts on “What’s at stake in Venezuela’s local elections

  1. Tom ODonnell

    Yes. — No campaign signs in the streets apparently because they don’t have money. People told me a couple months back – just wait till the month or so before for the campaign blitz …but it seems it never happened. Chavez never ran a campaign like you describe.

  2. notiven

    Javier here

    As in Caracas, the stakes are also high in Barquisimeto, the Capital city of the Lara state. We have now an opposition governnor, Henri Falcon, with a state legislature pro government against him all the time, but there is high chance that Alfredo Ramos from the opposition gets elected as mayor as well as getting the mayority votes for council members.

    So hopefully, the opposition will have the Sate, the Municipality and if to this you add the city of Cabudare, known Barquisimeto’s bed community, which will surely be in oppositions hands this area of the Country may be, need to be and will be taken as an example of what can be done when cities are not run by centralized socialist – communist policies wanting to weaken local governments .

    Hard times await for Barquisimeto and Caracas in the next few years, and the centralized government is going to be hard on them so they don’t become an example of what a better country we deserve to live in.

    Javier Cáceres, from Barquisimeto

  3. JB Lenoir

    Oppo governors and mayors get strangled financially/fiscally because the central government controls the ‘situado constitutional’ – i.e. the purse strings. If the oppo sweeps all the Caracas area mayor/council elections, the regime’s natural inclination will be to strangle all the municipalities fiscally. This is what they’ve done with Capriles in Miranda state, in Chacao and Baruta, etc. The regime’s dilemma is that if they DO give in to their natural inclinations to cut the entire oppo off fiscally, Caracas will become more ungovernable/explosive very quickly – which explains why Cabello a couple of days ago said Caracas is ‘la joya de la corona.” Also, there are perhaps 150-200 ‘collectives’ of motorizados in the Greater Caracas Metro region, the majority armed to the teeth, that likely will be inclined to cause problems, as will Elias Jaua’s Frente Patriotico Miranda (which has received almost $250 million US to support its activities in recent years.) I do not think the country can tread water until Maduro reaches the mid-term for a recall referendum. Things will blow up much sooner, particularly if the Iranians make good on their recent pledge to produce up to 4 million b/d even if oil’s price plummets to $20/bl. The Nicky Ripe-Godgiven Hair regime can’t stay afloat now with oil near $100/bl. At $20/bl the country will crash very quickly. Hopefully there will be a large voter turnout Sunday 8 December. Large turnout favors the oppo – at least that’s the consensus view. The downside of the situation is that the oppo for many years has included many individuals playing a double game. Also, as my wife noted recently….El bravo pueblo mea sentado. It’s a fact that women in Venezuela have bigger cojones than the men.

  4. Francisco Toro

    Sorry but after Lista Tascón/Maisanta, the whole idea that three years from now millions of oppositon supporters are going to be willing to publicly sign their names to a recall petition is sheer fantasy. It’s not going to go down that way, because the minimal level of trust needed isn’t there.

    Just sayin’…

    1. Kepler

      In principle yes. I am not sure…if the oppo knows how to lead the way (well, not good so far, but it could):

      People who are in Maisanta are in Maisanta already. Signing again is not going to make matters worse for most of them (of us, I am in, but then I am not living in the country). A few thousands have died but couldn’t we get 20% of the votes? In 2 years time? With the economy further imploding? It depends on what we do in the coming months.

      What really worries me is the level of brain washing we are having at our schools. Look at this:

      http://www.el-nacional.com/siete_dias/BICENTENARIO-COLECCION-HERRERA-MILLAN_0_314368763.html

      And more is to come.

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