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Manuel Rosales strikes thrice against Hugo Chavez

By Daniel Duquenal

09.10.06 | In the afterglow of yesterday first Caracas test for Rosales, nothing is more telling than the BBC report where the journalist states that if Rosales keeps the pressure the December result is not anymore a foregone conclusion. Coming from the BBC who has been regularly accused of a pro Chavez bent, these words cannot but be a balm for the opposition in Venezuela who has felt abandoned and misunderstood by the democrats of the world. Because of course, the BBC is right: Rosales has handled three strong blows to Chavez ambitions this week, the more so that chavismo seems unable to reply.

But before I get into a brief summary on how the Venezuelan campaign effected a major shift this week, let me remind folks that Chavez is still not beaten, that Rosales is at best at 40% these days (though climbing) and that there are still almost two months of campaign left where anyone of Rosales or Chavez can commit major blunders. This being said...

Rosales this week has administered three psychological blows to the chavismo camp. And at least two shots in the arm for his followers.

First there was La Paragua visit. In this episode Rosales made it possible for all Venezuelans to question the commitment of Chavez to the people. That is, now everyone can wonder if Chavez likes the poor because they are poor or because they vote for him. Depending how the Chavez electorate responds this question Rosales will poach for votes on chavista grounds. Indeed, the lack of official response to the assassination by the army of humble miners in La Paragua is only aggravated by the late dispatch of a technocratic and wooded tongue commission, as a reaction to Rosales strong words You have been abandoned; the government has sent nothing to help you. And the bells tolled in the background welcoming Rosales. I doubt they did when Farias landed there yesterday.

Then Rosales went to Anzoategui state. It coincided with a failed visit of Chavez which exposed the division within chavismo by showing how many people were booing Tarek Williams, Chavez all but appointed governor, while cheering their great leader. The skilful timing of Rosales visit, where all opposition was united behind him, allowed for a dramatic contrast. Now it is chavismo who is fracturing and the opposition who is gaining a stronger unity in an quarter thought a difficult ground for Rosales. In other words, Chavez expected to get a cheap boost for his campaign by a visit to Anzoategui but the one that got the boost was Rosales.

There was also another benefit for Rosales followers. The progressive nature of his campaign had some worried, some who did not understand the strategy at hand of slowly building pressure on Chavez instead of the hurried and ill thoughts initiatives of 2002-2004. These expected that the Eastern part of the country would be difficult. Well, Rosales showed that all was fine, that he could campaign there effectively and that Oriente was not going to be a freebee for Chavez. Campaigns need these kind of shots in the arm to renew morale and energy. While at the same time worrying likely complacent local chavista apparatchiks.

And the third blow came yesterday when the provincial governor, who has never held any governmental job in Caracas, who cannot hide his Maracucho roots, was able to electrify a Caracas crowd, a crowd rent with divisions and insecurities, torn between abstention will and open rebellion. All now will start their gathering and healing around Rosales. Chavez now knows that he can lose Caracas just as he lost it on the Recall Election, fraud and all. Chavez knows also that any rally he organizes in Caracas will cost him a fortune. Not that he cares about spending taxpayer money for his campaign, but for the implication that he cannot succeed without doling out so much cash that people might finally notice.

Because this is the real secret of Rosales success: he is from the provinces, he is from the people, he goes to the people whereas Chavez, unbelievably, is becoming slowly but surely the candidate of the establishment, the distant candidate from Caracas, the candidate that has lost touch with the little people even in Barinas. That the establishment is composed self styled revolutionary pseudo-technocrats is irrelevant: Chavez has destroyed an establishment just to create another one just as resented by the people. The re-centralization that Chavez has sought so as to control all power in the country might be about to bite him in the ass.

The Venezuelan electoral campaign has dramatically shifted this week, even if the results might not be observable for a few more weeks. But the momentum has shifted camps. What was unthinkable 3 months ago has happened: for the first time in 8 years Chavez has lost the agenda. He might recover it still, but now we have a real race.

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