The Venezuelan elections – commentary

The Venezuelan elections

Stabroek News –  September 21, 2012 – Editorial

The Venezuelan elections on October 7, 2012 may well prove to be the most momentous in Venezuela’s recent history, with hugely important implications for the Latin American and Caribbean region as well. The outcome, however, is clouded in uncertainty.

President Hugo Chávez, ailing until a few months ago and still not very active, seems to have lost none of his bombast as he campaigns for his third six-year term, to perpetuate his “Bolivarian” state and vision of “21st century socialism.” Mr Chávez is claiming a 15-20 point led in the polls.

Henrique Capriles, the pro-business, former governor of Miranda state, behind whom the opposition parties have united, has been criss-crossing the country trying to eat away at the incumbent’s populist appeal. He and his supporters claim the advantage in the polls.  

Most polls actually show the two men in a very close race. Some give Mr Chávez the lead, some give Mr Capriles the edge, although it might be said that many of the pollsters would appear to betray their own political leanings. Generally, it seems that Mr Capriles has been gaining ground since a riot by armed inmates at a prison left 25 people dead and a massive explosion at the country’s largest oil refinery killed more than 40 people. In both cases, the government has been accused of criminal negligence, but it is not clear just how much the tragedies will hurt Mr Chávez.

What is evident, however, is that Mr Chávez does not expect to lose and even if the unthinkable happens, his rhetoric does raise the possibility that he may not be prepared to concede, despite the fact that at an earlier stage in the campaign he denied that he would not do so if he lost. The Venezuelan Constitution does not allow for the politicisation of the Armed Forces but this has not deterred either the president or some of his generals from asserting an overtly political role for the military in defence of Mr Chávez’s ‘revolution.’ It is a profoundly worrying situation, as it raises fears that, were Mr Chávez to lose the election, he and his followers might be emboldened by the support of the army to refuse to bow to the will of the people.

As if the prospect of civil strife and instability in Venezuela were not bad enough, some regional governments may also be seriously worried about a victory for Mr Capriles.  Although he is a member of the centre-right Justice First party, Mr Capriles says that he favours former Brazilian President Lula’s mix of market-friendly economic policies aimed at attracting private investment to create jobs and intends to roll back Mr Chávez’s seizure of private businesses, though he has voiced support for some of his opponent’s social programmes and has declared a commitment to income redistribution.

Mr Capriles has also said that he would review all international deals signed by the Chávez government. He has stated that he would end discounted oil shipments of almost 100,000 barrels a day to Cuba and scrap PetroCaribe, the oil preference system that benefits 12 Caricom countries, including Guyana, in order to put money into social programmes for Venezuela’s poor. And Mr Chávez’s flagship Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which has three members and two observers from Caricom, would also most certainly be terminated. In Jamaica especially, there has been considerable public hand-wringing, as that country imports as much as two-thirds of its crude oil from Venezuela and it is estimated that Jamaica’s balance of payments would take a hit of some US$600 million. The Jamaican government is reportedly keeping a close watch on the elections in Venezuela, with Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell going so far as to say that he hopes that Mr Chávez is re-elected. Presumably, the other Caricom PetroCaribe beneficiaries feel the same way.

There are other concerns for Guyana and Caricom. Elements of the Venezuelan opposition have been assailing Mr Chávez for being soft on Guyana with regard to the Essequibo border controversy and Guyana’s submission to the UN to extend the country’s continental shelf by a further 150 nautical miles. They accuse Mr Chávez of subordinating Venezuela’s “sovereignty over Essequibo” and its territorial interests in the Caribbean stemming from its occupation of Bird Island to his petrodollar-fuelled foreign policy that effectively ignores the permanent interests of Venezuela. A win for Mr Capriles might therefore suggest a rather more hawkish line by Caracas in advancing Venezuela’s territorial claims.

In this context, the self-interest of Guyana and most of Caricom in wishing for a continuation of the status quo in Venezuela is understandable. Perhaps, even as Mr Paulwell in Jamaica hopes for the best, his government is preparing for the worst. One fervently hopes, however, that, absent any information in the public domain, regional governments, particularly our own, have contingency plans for a new diplomatic strategy in the event of a Capriles victory.

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  • wycs  On 09/23/2012 at 9:14 pm

    If Capriles wins, the Carribean countries stand to lose where paragraph 7 of the above re oil and where GREED comes into effect as Venezuela is claiming the Essequibo Region from Guyana. This matter was settled since 1899 where the signatories were Russia, Great Britain, VENEZUELA & USA. Venezuela has no claim whatsoever to Essequibo – the richest part of this country and we are not taking this matter seriously at the moment because Venezuela knows that their claim is spurious and not worthy to even think about.

  • Cyril Balkaran  On 09/24/2012 at 1:27 am

    This was a bogus claim set up in 1964 by the CIA of the Americans to continue the fighting against Cheddi Jagan, the hated Communist of British Guiana.They knew that the International Border Commission had recognised the borders of all Latin American countries in 1899. They also had anticipated that the coaliation of the PNC and UF might collapse and Jagan would be returned to Political Office and all their efforts to deny him his rightful place in Guyana would come to nought. So the Bogus Boundary claim was trumped up and the Press gave legal standing to the claim. and LFS Burnham was asked to sign a document recognizing such a false claim of 55,000 sq miles which he did sign as a part of the power deal that brought him to political power.
    The matter was also referred to the UN for arbitration some years later. This is the genesis of the bogus claim by Venezuela to annnex 55,000 sq miles of legitimate Guyanese terrority. Today they are speaking of Joint Development!

  • Eran jurrius, 477 kings Court, Copley, ohio 44321  On 04/24/2013 at 4:26 pm

    I, Eran Jurrius, knows the Capriles family history and they are the ones to rule Cuba. My Father discovered all the oil in Venezuela for Shell Oil Company, A Dutch company, originated by Sir Henry Deterding of the Netherlands. My dad, Bob Jurrius, drilled for more oil in Maracaibo’s Lake than any where else in the world and built the largest oil refinery in the world in Curacao, N. W. I. He received accolades from the U.S.’s General Eisenhower who visited him at our home after WW2. The Capriles family was an outstanding business concern in Curacao and some descendants moved to Venezuela and they are the ones who should govern Venezuela to get things back to normal.

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