After a landslide election a delicate transition, and not only in Venezuela
Indestructible, by salsa singer Ray Barreto and Chavismo's campaign theme song, boomed still on legislative election day, 6 December 2015. Yet another election irregularity like many others recorded, it did not change the landslide outcome that went to the opposition to Nicolas Maduro's government.
- Monday, 14 December 2015
One of the deciding factors has a name. Jesús "Chuo" Torrealba managed to gather the 18 opposition parties behind one ticket, and was very accommodating with the defeated side: "To our brothers at the National Armed Forces go our appreciation and recognition (...)".
Torrealba's comments to the press perfectly summarize the risks and the size of the challenges ahead in a transition, which will be primarily a political one. The PSUV, the party founded by military Hugo Chavez, governed for 17 years without interruption. Holding onto all three powers was critical to carry forward the "Bolivarian revolution", which over time became less capable of helping the poor, but instead hit the entire population by bringing the economy to its knees and allowing corruption to mushroom to one of all the worst levels in the world.
Pressure mounted on Chavista leaders in the last few fierce weeks before December 6 with polls coming in increasingly negative. According to a report obtained by the US newspaper El Nuevo Herald and corroborated by three different sources, one week prior to December 6, at the Ministry of Defense, which headquarters also the Armed Forces high command, a meeting took place attended by the civilian and military leaders of the regime, high-ranking intelligence officers and at least one representative of the Cuban government. On the agenda: how to tackle nose-diving polls and, more importantly, the outcome of an internal survey according to which political support in the barracks favored the opposition by a good stretch.
Panicking the most were reportedly President Maduro and the Congress speaker Diosdado Cabello because, in the latter's words, at stake were "the future of the revolution and the heads of those attending" (Cabello is under investigation on counts of drug trafficking by a prosecutor in New York who can rely on the cooperation and testimony of Cabello's former head of security).
On election day, the regime tried to the very last minute to overturn the result, sources told the Spanish newspaper ABC. Many voting centers remained open unlawfully for an extra hour. However, the high turnout of over 74% did not allow, the paper reports, to "generate" enough extra votes to make up for the difference.
In order to halt any attempt to likely fraud, the other critical figure of this last few weeks, the Minister of Defense, General Vladimir Padrino, called on the public "to behave as properly as it had until then, in order not to the confirm rumors" of an irregular process. He added that street protests would not be allowed, arguably to prevent Chavista groups to violently take to the streets, the Spanish newspaper and some social networks posts reported.
The proper behavior of the Armed Forces surprised "because unprecedented in recent years," said Rocio San Miguel, a lawyer and director of the NGO Control Ciudadano, corroborating the notion that those who want to hold on to power as Maduro put it, "by hook or by crook, they are not going to yield the Revolution," are only parts of the military.
However, a few days later last week, Maduro and Cabello announced the appointment and confirmation of 12 Justices to the Supreme Court, and the transfer of ownership of the state broadcasting company, an openly pro-party group, to its workers in an attempt to keep that media under their control. All of this is to happen before the new Congress comes into office.
The transition will likely be a time of ongoing and difficult negotiations, also within the opposition, whose parties range from neo-liberal to progressive. All of the policies the government announced it will hammer on — including more nationalizations and continuing to allocate oil revenues to subsidies — translate into exactly the opposite with the new Congress majority, as it will try to keep the economy from plummeting farther.
Nobody knows if Maduro, who is speaking of the winners as "bourgeois parasites" for the benefit of his rank-and-file, will in the end choose a Deng Xiaoping stance, but dynamics will anyhow have an impact, because also other Latin American countries are in a time of transition in the neoliberalism-new socialism-inclusive neoliberalism cycle. That is the case of Argentina and Brazil.
The President of the Plurinational Republic of Bolivia, which ranks 2nd in the continent by growth and is the true last bastion of neo-socialism in Latin America, believes that the results in Venezuela call for a "deep reflection on how to defend the democratic revolutions." The more so, one might add, in a time of deep change that goes beyond the national borders. In the continent that depends on exports of raw materials, the geopolitical balance is shifting subtly, and not necessarily along the traditional "anti-empire" rhetoric like Evo Morales'. In Ecuador, for example, "Yankees go home" has been replaced by "China, get out of here". The policies of fresh and established governments will need to begin addressing factors of the sort.