October 5, 2012


Hugo Chavez Might Actually Lose His Election on Sunday (Francisco Toro, October 5, 2012, New Republic)

The 40-year old state governor[, Henrique Capriles, ] has run a nearly flawless campaign: sidelining the opposition's reactionary wing in favor of a much more moderate Social Democratic stance. Young, nimble and energetic, Capriles has spoken to working class Venezuelans in less urban parts of the country in their own language--certainly much more so than the more conservative leaders who led the opposition before him. Running on a record of achievement in his home state of Miranda, Capriles has capitalized on people's growing day-to-day frustration with the dysfunctional chavista state, promising to keep its popular social programs while radically cracking down on the runaway waste, corruption and political sectarianism that hobble every chavista initiative.

It's been a brilliantly executed campaign against a government that, for all its oil billions, has made one blunder after another on the trail. Chávez legendary common touch has been nowhere in sight. Instead he's been campaigning on a platform top-heavy with distant abstractions about "building Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century in Venezuela as an alternative to destructive and savage capitalism," "achieving equilibrium in the universe and guaranteeing planetary peace" and "preserving life on the planet and saving the human species."

Why a single mom in the barrio dealing with constant power outages and water service interruptions, double-digit inflation and out of control crime is meant to care about universal equilibrium is never quite spelled out. Fourteen years on, he has little to say about "the concerns of people like you," to use the hoary old polling cliché. Political power has clearly robbed him of his populist touch.

But the bigger problem for Chávez is that, while he remains personally well liked by most Venezuelans and fanatically adored by a not inconsiderable minority, even his most die-hard supporters realize his government stinks.

The government Chávez has built is a monumental fiasco. Corrupt, bureaucratic, opaque and wedded to unworkable ideological certainties, the chavista state is top-heavy with cronies and arbitrageurs who talk about the beauty of socialism all morning and siphon off the profits of crooked deals into off-shore bank accounts all afternoon. Today, it amounts to a sprawling bureaucracy that simply doesn't have the resources to make good on the ideological checks the president spends his days writing.

The result is a paradox: to many Venezuelans, the emotional bond with the first leader that ever spoke directly to the barrio remains strong. But it coexists with a no-longer-concealed realization that he's not particularly good at his job.

Worse yet, he may not be around that much longer. An unspecified type of cancer that first struck him in the summer of 2011 recurred earlier this year. The President claims to be cured--but he sure doesn't look cured. He lumbers around slowly and visibly bloated, reportedly a side-effect of the steroids administered to keep him in fighting shape through the campaign season. The contrast with the nimble Capriles, an amateur marathon runner nicknamed "Skinny", couldn't be greater.

Posted by at October 5, 2012 9:00 PM

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