Plan Colina Redux

Quico says: Well of course Chavez will work provoke the more excitable elements in the opposition into overplaying their hand.

“I am warning them not to force me to take drastic actions because I won’t hesitate to defend the sovereignty of the country,” said Chavez. He gave no details.

Chavez said the country’s opposition may seek to discredit the results of the Dec. 3 vote by calling fraud. Most polls show Chavez leading challenger Manuel Rosales by double-digits.

“Any television station that broadcasts a message of terrorism, hatred, war or makes a call to disavow the authorities, we have to shut it down,” Chavez said. “We are not going to allow them to fill Venezuela with blood again.”

The provocation here is as obvious as it’s self-fulfilling. More than anything else, it’s groan-inducingly predictable; we’ve been down this road before.

Why wouldn’t Chavez play the casquillo card? It works for him! Always has! He’d have to be stupid not to replay a canard that has paid off so handsomely in the past. It puts the extremists in the opposition driving seat, makes them even crazier than they already were, isolating them more and more and driving a bigger and bigger wedge between his opponents and normal people…and, as an added bonus this time around, it puts Rosales in an impossible position:

If Rosales loses and claims fraud, the government can move against him as brutally as they did when PDVSA’s managers played into Chavez’s hands in Dec. 2002. If Rosales loses and concedes, the hyper-polarized climate Chavez has brought about ensures he’ll be crucified by the now empowered loony-wing, accused of being a second coming of Arias Cardenas, etc. etc. And if Rosales wins – hell, Chavez can just cheat, and then we’re right back in the first scenario.

So it’s win-win-win for Chavez. We shouldn’t be surprised or outraged that he’s doing it again. What we should be surprised and outraged about is the way we keep falling for these little traps.

Of one thing, though, I am convinced: Chavez will not move against Globovision. It’s too useful to him, too central to the Chavez-los-tiene-locos strategy. When your opponent is busy digging himself into a hole, you don’t take away the shovel.