Hundreds of Chavez's vandals, on motorcycles given to them by the government,
try to terrorize voters and threaten them with retaliation if they vote against the regime.
***CHAVEZ USES ALL NATIONAL RESOURCES TO LOAD THE DICE.
22 governors, 322 mayors and hundreds of municipal councilmen will be elected today in Venezuela, in an intense atmosphere of intimidation created by the Hugo Chavez regime. For months he has been constantly on TV, forcing national hookups of all commercial and government stations, to campaign for his candidates and, worse, to threaten opposition candidates that lead in the polls with armed retaliation and with suspending the sending of public money to their states, should they win. These three systematic violations to the Venezuelan constitution, laws and electoral regulations have been public and there have been no attempts to curb these presidential excesses, either by the National Electoral Council or by the Venezuelan authorities that should guarantee the right of citizens and prevent presidential abuses of power, namely, the Ombudsman, the Attorney General, the General Comptroller or the Armed Forces.
It is clear that the government is not conducting a transparent, democratic process in Venezuela. However, through the use of large scale bribing, Hugo Chavez controls the institutions listed above, while international organizations such as the OAS have refrained from intervening, for three reasons: one, several of the leaders of the member countries such as Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Argentina, are in Chavez’s payroll; two, other member countries such as the Caribbean and Central American States are being given Venezuelan oil at large discounts, in exchange for their political support within the OAS and, three, many member countries secretly celebrate the aggressive posture of Hugo Chavez against the United States, a country they perceive as too dominant. As a result, Hugo Chavez is able to keep a thin pretense of democracy while running a very authoritarian and abusive government. In political science, legitimacy of a government has several components: one, of course, is transparent elections. Chavez conducts elections but they are highly contaminated by his abuse of government resources that should be available to all Venezuelan and are only available to him. Other components such as respect for political dissidence, equal treatment for all citizens, accountability and transparency in the use of national resources and the existence of institutional checks and balances are all demonstrably absent from Chavez’s regime.
In this environment many Venezuelans feel that they have run out of non-violent options. Voting under these extremely biased conditions would serve, they feel, to validate the “legitimacy” of Chavez’s regime in the eyes of international public opinion while not voting also leads to the belief by distant observers that Chavez’s regime has more support than in fact does.
Fortunately a solution is emerging in parallel to this quandary. Chavez’s regime is imploding. The mismanagement of oil income has reached gigantic proportions. Chavez keeps three budgets running in parallel: one, the “official” one that he controls through the National Assembly, a second made up of funds taken directly from the financial system of Petroleos de Venezuela, the state-owned petroleum company that he controls and, a third made up of funds taken from government banks, including the international monetary reserves kept at the Venezuelan Central Bank. For 2009 Chavez will require more than $100 billion to keep his regime running but oil will probably give him no more than $40 billion, if prices average $ 50 a barrel. This means that Chavez will face enormous financial problems starting in 2009 and will have three equally unpleasant options to cover the gap: one, cutting his domestic handouts to the poor, two, cutting hemispheric handouts to his cronies, and three, having to devalue the currency significantly, in 30% or more. He might have to implement all three.
Even under highly unfavorable conditions the Venezuelan opposition is making inroads against the Chavez regime, largely due to increasing popular dissatisfaction against crime, food shortages, poor services and general neglect that are more and more apparent in the country. Chavez is suffering the loss of important segments of his original followers, such as PODEMOS, a political party with strong popular appeal, due to what these followers see as Chavez’s inability to solve the structural problems of poverty, ignorance and disease.
Today Venezuela is voting. We are hopeful that this event will mark yet another, modest but real, step down for Hugo Chavez and his insane dreams of total hegemony over Venezuela and the hemisphere.