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Long live abstention! Death to decentralization!

By Veneconomy

01.11.04 - The regional elections held this weekend have painted the map of Venezuela red and passed a death sentence on decentralization. Election day, which offered few surprises, was marked by high levels of abstention (the electoral authorities acknowledge that it was more than 65%) and by obvious attempts to refuse to acknowledge the victory of the opposition in several state governments and mayoralties when, once again, the government supporters within the CNE waited until the wee small hours to announce the results. But the final outcome aside, there is the Venezuela that will take shape from now on to consider.

Both the economic and the political power are now ensconced in Caracas, and Venezuelans will now have to watch as decentralization languishes under Hugo Chávez’ hand and how one of the major accomplishments of forty years of democracy, achieved in the 90s, is finally dismantled.

With the loss of state governments and mayoralties, the opposition has been left without a base of operations, which means that the democratic dissidence has been seriously weakened.

The few opposition governors and mayors who survive this new advance by Chavismo will be neutralized by the regime doling out or withholding, at will, the funds allocated to the regions in the national budget and from the FIDES (inter-government decentralization fund), the LAEE (special allocations to local governments from mining and hydrocarbons) and other funds for financing the regions.

These local leaders will be under attack, put on the defensive and prevented from governing in a planned, productive manner that would result in benefits for their constituents.

Even more serious is the fact that some members of the opposition who clearly won these last elections could be facing lawsuits. Mayor Leopold López and Governor Ramón Rosales are being threatened with prosecution in connection with the events of April 12, 2002. So, these victories are in danger of being lost as a result of prison sentences being handed down for civil rebellion or any other charges dreamt up by Chavista public prosecutors, monitored from Miraflores. Attacks will also be mounted on the legislative front, with punitive and coercive laws such as the Social Responsibility Law for Radio and Television, the amendment to the Organic Criminal Procedures Code and others that are in the pipeline.

The challenge facing the opposition is gargantuan. Serious conflicts of governance are looming on the horizon, particularly in regions where people have the bad taste of fraud in their mouths. The outworn traditional leadership has died and the ground has been prepared for the leaders that could emerge in this new scenario.

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