As usual, there are many myths floating around when it comes to Venezuela. It's the land of realismo mágico. Just the other day, I was reading a story in El Universal, where Chavez was basically saying that thanks to him, presumably, Venezuela's GDP has increased three fold. At this point, it is futile to call Chavez on his BS: the poor man is so deranged that he does believe his own lies. Worryingly, apart from notable exceptions coming from the usual suspects, no one in Venezuela's MSM, or abroad, seems to have picked up on the news and ridiculed the caudillo on such spurious economic 'accomplishment'.
But now we have the issue of the primaries, just around the corner. On 12 February, Venezuelans will vote in primaries geared at electing the opposition unity candidate that shall face Chavez in October 2012 presidential race. There are six candidates gunning for position in these primaries: an acting Congresswoman (Maria Corina Machado), a former diplomat (Diego Arria), a former Congressman (Pablo Medina), two current governors (Miranda's Henrique Capriles Radonsky and Zulia's Pablo Perez), and a former mayor (Leopoldo Lopez).
Chavez's Ministry of Elections, otherwise know as Venezuela's Electoral Council (CNE), will run the election of the opposition candidate. Nationwide. Venezuelans abroad, opposition leaning in the vast majority, will, presumably, vote in Venezuelan embassies and consulates. As in previous electoral occasions, none of these votes will reach its intended destination, and that's not a myth.
The myth that needs debunking today, is Francisco Toro's article in Foreign Policy, "A real race in Caracas". Toro, a political scientist and long time blogger who really should know better, informs his readers that what's happening in Caracas is pretty much the same than what's taking place in the US, among GOP candidates. It is rather difficult to imagine in what kind of framework can the two primaries be compared.
In the US, GOP candidates raise their own money; travel around the country facing each other out in elections that take place in different dates; in elections organised and run by state and local governments; are free, and engage frequently, in searing attacks to undermine one another; are free to decide their own policy and communication strategy vis-a-vis the primaries; in sum, it's a very competitive race, marked by individualism, where communication strategy and policy are decided by the candidates and appointed strategists and spending power depends on fundraising abilities, where credibility among the party faithful, more than connections, can win the day.
Compare that to Venezuela, a "real race" according to Toro, where rules of engagement for all willing to participate in primaries were "agreed upon" by an unelected bunch of old school politicos -the same ones who when Toro disagrees with calls "politically toxic", but when in agreement he describes as "oracles": "…other pundits I read, but Teodoro Petkoff I follow..." No wonder then that Venezuela's opposition primary has been "remarkably free of personal attacks" as Toro argues.
Petkoff is presumably working with the same cabal of unelected politicos in charge of electing the last opposition candidate to confront Chavez in 2006, Manuel Rosales. I shadowed Rosales in that campaign. I witnessed the power that Teodoro exerts over Caracas' political 'intelligentsia'. But it must be remembered: Rosales was defeated, yet Teodoro, and his ilk, are back at it, "directing" opposition policy, and imposing their will over all candidates. Those in disagreement, are, in the words of Toro, "politically toxic". Those that would like to see Chavez tried for his crimes, are "hard right, extremists, radicals". That line, Teodoro's line, is toed by Toro, and other members of the lefty "neo-intelligentsia". And it's worth bearing in mind: Petkoff and his fellow 'strategists' from the old guard are yet to beat Chavez in an election.
Petkoff, needs to be said, edits a paper called Tal Cual, partly owned by Miguel Angel Capriles Lopez, cousin of Henrique Capriles Radonsky. Capriles Lopez owns, in addition, Venezuela's largest newspaper, the one Chavez supporters read avidly: Ultimas Noticias.
In that framework, Foreign Policy's Transition's blog publishes Toro's botched job at painting Venezuela's coming presidential election as a "real race". Reality, in that context, is running a primary under the ominous and almost absolute control of Chavez. For on 13 February, Chavez will know with great precision, thanks to his Ministry of Elections, what's the number, and name, and location, of hardcore opposition voters: those that vote in primaries. He then has seven months, and unlimited amounts of money, to prepare for what will be, almost certainly, his third presidential election victory, if cancer doesn't get the best of him first.
Toro is writing for a progressive and liberal audience. Leftists. By drawing comparisons, where no parallels can possibly be used, Toro is doing a disservice to Venezuela's future, and consolidating the myth that Venezuela is a democracy. For make no mistake: that country is nowhere near to having a free and fair election, or a "real race", which is one of the many premises that define functional democracies. A race where one candidate uses the State's power, without a minimum of even cursory checks, can not be called "real". Not even in the rarefied and utterly surreal atmosphere of effete progressives.
Toro fancies Capriles Randonsky as primary winner. He has every right to publish hagiography for the candidate of his choice. But a "real race"? That's a sick joke. Attacks on other candidates, the ones he describes as "hard right", such as Maria Corina Machado, are completely gratuitous, misplaced and false. The reality is all six candidates, unlike GOP candidates up north, are faced with the same likely prospect: 6 more years of Chavez. In that context, some, like Capriles Radonsky, have adopted populist discourses aimed at winning over chavistas -an impossible goal if you ask me- and are promising to keep everything pretty much as is, while knowing that such irresponsible way of governing has brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy. The ones that are defining their campaigns along the lines of clear breaks with the much hated past, after 13 years the past is chavismo, are derided as radicals. The others, read Capriles, Perez and Lopez, are described as centrists by Toro. What unsubstantiated nonsense. Capriles and Perez are, clearly and historically, leftists, and populists at that, openly admitting willingness to carry on with the welfare state, while Lopez just can't be described as anything other than right wing.
There's no meaningful competition in Venezuela, when the candidates are gagged by rules in whose imposition some of them weren't even allowed to participate. What we see with the MUD (opposition coalition), is a mirror of chavismo: the only difference is that in chavismo only one voice barks orders, whereas on the opposition side an unelected group of obscure back room dealers get to impose "what's best" for all.