Wait until mourning

"Let me show you how it's done, sweetie."

Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse. So goes the saying.

For politicians, a corollary is in order: use the corpse to secure power.

The resounding triumph of Cristina Kirchner in Argentina yesterday got me thinking of Venezuela’s possible (and probable?) transition.

A few years ago, Cristina was toast. Deeply unpopular, out of touch with her country’s vast middle class, she was seen as a haughty usurper, a woman more worried about ideology and expensive accessories than about connecting with the voters. But then … Néstor died.

She wrapped herself in black, the improving world economy worked its magic, and … voila! Voters have rewarded her with practically unfettered power.

How an electorate will interpret death is completely unpredictable. For every Kirchner, there is a Wellstone.

A few days before election day, US Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash. A brief period of mourning was followed by widespread outrage at Democrats grovelling at political brownie points by turning his funeral into a rally. Mild-mannered Minnesota voters were not amused, and they went with his Republican contender instead.

There is a lot we don’t know about Hugo Chávez’s medical condition, but there is a real possibility that the President is very, very sick. In fact, he may not be around in time for the election. Investment banks have already started factoring this into their equations.

If that is the case, and that is a huge if, we know what the government’s strategy is: deny, deny, deny, until they can deny no more.

Hugo Chávez has said that he is cured. Cancer-free. Clean as a whistle. We don’t really believe it, but we don’t have much more to go on.

If he is, in fact, dying, then at some point they will announce that the cancer has come back, and that it was terrible luck. The transition will have then begun in earnest, at the moment of their choosing. In a matter of weeks we will see Chávez say he gladly consumes himself for his people and his revolution, and he will annoint his successor.

The chances of success of this strategy depend on two factors: the transition’s willingness to appeal to strong-arm tactics to remain in power, and the level of schmaltz they play this with.

If they go down the schmaltz route, their strategy will be to try and make voters connect with the heir apparent and his or her grief. But to pull that off, you need someone who is personally connected to the deceased, someone with whose loss everyone can identify with.

Can we really see Nicolás Maduro benefitting from the shock and grief that would come? Or will the stoic Adán Chávez mourn his little brother all the way to Miraflores?

Or, perhaps, do the sages in Havanna have something else in mind? Are they thinking of a feminine figure, one that does not carry a lot of baggage, one that is deeply involved with the President’s persona, one who would actually be the direct heiress to the Chavista legacy … could that be what’s in the cards?

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  1. In the event of a fast failing PresMan, the Havanna duo, seeing “ALL is lost UNLESS..”, could reasonably be expected to take the view that ‘desperately drastic problems call for desperately drastic solutions’ and, with nothing to lose, exhort the still coherent Man to implement something utterly out of left field so as to put everyone on the back foot so to say. An example might be, for instance, a ‘groundbreaking first step to LatAm Unity’ by promulgating what’s already a reality on the ground, a dollie-up “VeneCuba” initiative, altering the essence of the nation, over Christmas, say, and reconfiguring all electoral parameters leading to a postponment of the elections under ‘estado de excepción’ provisions. Daft? Out-of-touch? Quite Bonkers? Isn’t that precisley what the Opposition is not ready for?

  2. Chavez June 2012: “I have seen the promised land, my beloved people….but I cannot cross over with you….the Old One has different plans for me……I will look down and watch as the torch is passed to a new generation….I beg you ….let my successor complete my work….God Bless you all and God Bless the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

  3. Maria Gabriela – our very own Kim Jong-un.

    Watch for her to be named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and appointed to the Central Committee of the PSUV. That’s how these guys roll…

  4. “If he is, in fact, dying, then at some point they will announce that the cancer has come back, and that it was terrible luck.”

    You ARE optimistic. I doubt they will announce anything until he is dead. In fact, I would venture to guess that we would not have an official announcement for at least a week after he dies, when it is no longer possible to deny the rumors.

  5. What would a Circle-the-Wagons look like? Or perhaps a rear-guard action allowing time for the un-named innocents to beat feet? What form would that take? Would it even be organized?

  6. The Daughter Scenario…pretty hard to imagine this working in real life.
    Unless she has heretofore-hidden talents. One or two iffy public appearances or speeches and people would start to feel pretty queasy…
    It’s not so easy up there, under the spotlight.

    • She would be a blank slate. With the right timing, and with the nation’s unlimited coffers at her disposal, anything can happen.

      • The best everyone can do is send Chavez a message -before dies I hope- that Venezuela
        has become tired of him, bored with him, don’t believe him anymore. The best Venezuela can do
        is turn away from Chavez . This will ruin his image of “transcending” into the Eternal
        to be with Bolivar -and revered by history.
        This is the first step back to reality for Venezeula.

  7. Another case of absence making the electoral heart grow fonder occurred in Trinidad and Tobago 30 years ago. Dr. Eric Williams had led Trinidad since its independence. Dissatisfaction with his long time in office and with the results of his leadership led to the prediction that the PNM, his party, would lose elections in 1981. In Trinidad that would result in a Prime Minister from a different party. Dr. Williams died in March 1981. Elections were held after his death.

    Contrary the expectations, the PNM won the election in a landslide, which some interpreted as a tribute to the recently deceased Prime Minister Williams. Instead of losing the election, the PNM won every seat. As newly elected Prime Minister Chambers said, Not a Damn Seat for Dem,which is also the title of one of Lord Kitchener’s songs. Another song about the PNM electoral victory is Penguin’s Betty Goaty. Children in Trinidad and Tobago use Betty Goaty as a taunt, the way that “ Nya Nya Nya. Nya …Nya Nya.” is used in the US.

  8. Cristina is certainly going to try to milk the symapthy card for all it is worth. Expect a trial balloon of sorts about altering the Constitution to allow more than two consecutive terms in about a year, to allow her to run for re-election.

    If that fails (and it probably will), watch for her to bring her son, Maximo, into the limelight, because she wants to “bequeath” the presidency to him. You read it here first.


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