Chavez's New Election Strategy: Threaten Opponents with Jail

Venezuela is facing local and regional elections on November 23, and increasingly negative polls are troubling sitting president Hugo Chavez. Indeed, the triumphant Chavez of December 2006, reelected with 63% on a wave of unprecedented populist measures fueled by constantly increasing oil prices, believed he had it all. In two years he has been told otherwise.

First, his wish to change the constitution so as to be reelected as needed was voted down in the referendum of 2007.  Not only will he now have to leave office in January 2013, but a series of special powers he obtained to implement a socialist state has been rejected, justly perceived by the people as an authoritarian power grab. His internal image has also been tarnished by major errors such as closing the RCTV television station, whose soap operas were a favorite among the Chavista voters.

When the intrigues over the FARC hostage release went to the forefront with the capture of the Reyes laptops in the Ecuador jungle, it became clear that Chavez was not an honest broker but a party in the Colombian conflict. This became too much for international public opinion and now Venezuela and Chavez are considered pariah states, to the point that in their third debate Obama and McCain agreed at least on one thing: no more Chavez oil for the U.S.! We can guess that the halving of oil prices since the global economic crisis hit us has not improved the mood at Miraflores Palace, where more than ever the paranoia associated with leftist revolutions can now exert itself freely.

Of the 24 regional districts at stake, Chavismo holds 22. The opposition holds only the tourist mecca of Margarita and the biggest and wealthiest state of Venezuela, Zulia, of which Manuel Rosales is sitting governor since the year 2000. In any normal democracy such a historical but accidental majority is bound to diminish after four years, no matter how good the economic and administrative situation of the country is. But that is not the view with the Bolivarian Revolution of Chavez, who as it ages ungracefully tolerates dissent less and less.

The crop of Chavistas elected in 2000 and 2004 has proven to be a failure, with some honorable exceptions. The love story of Chavez with the masses seems to have started fraying as people get tired of Venezuela having become one of the countries with the highest crime rate. Public services and utilities are slowly but surely collapsing: we have had three -- three -- national power outages this year lasting several hours each. In some states power outages are almost a daily occurrence. These failures accompany others, such as the deficient official heath system in spite of the Cuban-inspired Barrio Adentro. Garbage has also become a major issue and mostly in Chavista-held cities such as Caracas, which is literally buried by tons of garbage while the free space left is occupied by informal street vendors.  This does not help the people that must spend hours in the hopelessly congested streets of Venezuela's main cities.