Chavez's New Election Strategy: Threaten Opponents with Jail

The current campaign is testing as never before the democratic nature of the Chavez regime, and so far it is flunking the test. The first example comes from within Chavez's own rank and file. A primary was organized inside the PSUV but it quickly was shown as a way to impose in certain states the candidates that Chavez wanted. We saw for example the nasty expulsion of the Carabobo state governor, Acosta Carles, worthy of Stalinist days. Of much worse consequence was the highhanded manner in which the PSUV excluded from its nomination system its minor allies of the PPT and Communist Party, creating local divisions which could deprive Chavez of his very home state of Barinas.

The opposition of course did not fare any better. Early polls showed that some opposition leaders rode easily, such as Chacao mayor Leopoldo Lopez, who was a shoo-in to become mayor at large of Caracas. Through a political administrative trick in clear violation of the constitution, Chavez had these guys barred from running. For all the explanations and propaganda blitz, Chavismo failed to prove its point as even the European Parliament condemned what was obviously a violation of human rights.

Still, in spite of these initial setbacks, the opposition has managed to unite and run single candidates in most districts. Currently the opposition is set to win in Zulia, Carabobo, and Miranda, three main states which, if we add the Caracas metropolitan district, would represent almost 40% of the population of Venezuela. This would be very worrisome for Chavez even if he were to win the rest of the country, which is far from a given, as the rise of opposition candidates keeps being fueled by things such as the corruption of the regime exposed mercilessly in a Miami trial.

Chavez, after having invented yet another assassination attempt on him, has decided to jail notable opponents. (The dozens of previously claimed assassination attempts have resulted so far in no blood spilled nor any trial or convicted figure or even a picture of the plotters in the press.)  Rosales, who ran against Chavez in 2006, is the last big name still allowed to run and thus has become his main target, accused of all sorts of conspiracies. Chavez has stopped measuring his words and before threatening Rosales with jail he called him "desgraciado" (without divine grace), which in religious Zulia is akin to biblical cursing.

Chavez is committing a major error here because if Rosales is indeed such a dangerous criminal, plotting against him to the point that Chavez must cancel his visit to El Salvador for an important Ibero-American summit, how come Chavez did not have him arrested in the eight years he has been governor? Has not Chavez controlled fully the intelligence apparatus since at least 2002, enough time one would presume to levy charges? We must thus interpret Chavez's anger as him feeling that he is losing control of the situation. He might not be wrong, but he is barking at the wrong tree: the fall of oil and inflation reaching 40% will be his undoing much faster than any opposition politician can hope to be.