Known unknowns

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We’ve been getting lots of questions on Hugo Chávez’s latest moves. Faced with a veritable plethora of crises, the government is reacting counter-intuitively by flaring up the rhetoric, threatening with all-out war, promising never to leave power, and gleefully predicting many, many battles. It doesn’t take a pollster to understand this is clearly not what Venezuelan voters want to hear.
All-out crazy? Or high-brained tactical maneuver conjured up in Miraflores and Havana?
Any sane political analyst would predict the government is piling up the errors and making a bad situation even worse. Conventional thinking would predict the opposition would be poised for huge gains.
But we should be cautious. As we have come to learn, normal political analysis seldom works in Chávez’s Venezuela. The truth of the matter is that we can’t know what the government is thinking or how events will develop. The best we can do at this stage is plot the scenarios and discuss them.
In order to frame the debate, it’s good to start with the facts, and then go to what we don’t know – the known unknowns, if you will.
These things are true:

  1. The country is mired in a deep public service crisis: electricity shortages and water shortages are the norm, and they won’t get better any time soon.
  2. The crime wave shows no sign of abating.
  3. Recession and high inflation will persist in 2010.
  4. The government is losing popularity. How much is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say it’s not making any new friends.
  5. Opposition parties and civil society are riled up and ready to hit the streets.

Faced with this situation, these are just some of the theories floating around as to what the government is thinking:
I. He’s finally lost it. That’s the gut reaction I’m getting from people who’ve been around elections: Chávez has finally lost the pulse of the nation, and his downfall is only a matter of time. Several news organizations are following this line.
While one can only wish, past experience tells us to be cautious. A guy with such a stranglehold on the country’s institutions should not be under-estimated.
Furthermore, this scenario doesn’t really explain how it is that Chávez is going to lose power. It won’t be via the ballot box – even with low popularity, he’s still likely to win the AN elections in September, his term expires in 2013, and there is no way we could win a Recall Referendum against him.
Is a coup in the making? This leads me to my next scenario.
II. There is rumbling in the barracks. A lot of talk lately about fights within the different factions of military chavismo, only amplified by the strange dismissal of former Vice-president Ramon Carrizalez and his entourage.
This is the Caracas Gringo hypothesis, whereby fights have already broken out in the military, only we don’t know about them. If this is true, the government is basically warning rebel elements within the military: don’t try to overthrow me, because there will be war. Could this be why the celebration of his 4-F coup was held in Fort Tiuna?
III. The 2002 nostalgia tour. This theory posts that Chávez is trying to make the crisis about him, radicalizing the opposition and hoping they make a mistake. The hope would be that, like in 2002, the public begins to see Chávez as a victim of the opposition’s most radical and least likeable factions, and rally around “their” president.
This is unlikely to work. In 2002, the opposition was naive and less organized. The government was benefiting from an upsurge in oil prices, and Chávez himself was still relatively new in the political scene. The government made a case that had some truth to it: they don’t let me govern.
This simply doesn’t fly any more. The country’s problems (crime, electricity, and water, the three strikes) can hardly be pegged to the opposition.
IV. Misión Mar de la Felicidad. This is the theory Quico subscribes to: the government has stopped caring about opinion polls or elections. It is simply telling people that more repression is on its way, and importing thugs to carry it out.
If this is the strategy, full cubanization of Venezuelan society is only a matter of months. If this is the case, we can’t say we weren’t warned.Have your own theory? The comments board is wide open.

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