On the necessity of a need

Bet you can’t wait to do that again…

As tweet after tweet comes and goes discussing the need to go and vote on December 16th, an important question looms large in the minds of disillusioned opposition voters: why?

Why is it necessary to vote on December 16th? Does having an opposition governor really make that much of a difference in people’s lives? It doesn’t make you safer, it doesn’t make you more prosperous, and it sure as hell doesn’t immunize you from blackouts, scarcity, or inflation.

You might argue that state governors are grooming grounds for future leaders, but let’s remember that

a) Chávez isn’t going anywhere, and

b) the nation has never elected a state governor as President.

In fact, all the state governors that have run for office have performed miserably.

Now, before you go all commando on me and start accusing me of abstencionismo, please note that I fully encourage people to vote on December 16th … but mostly as a matter of principle.

Opposition voters should drag their heavy hearts and endure five hours in the sun in order to submit themselves to Tibisay’s little machines. But if we’re going to ask them to do this and endure yet another night of heartbreak, we’re going to have to do better than simply say we need to vote in order to “preserve spaces.”

What does that even mean, anyway?

We need to be creative and draw a picture for voters of the real difference an opposition state government makes in people’s lives – something like this, perhaps. From what I’ve seen so far, we’re falling way short of meeting that goal.

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  1. Capriles makes a good point. They had Diosdado in the past, and in theory Diosdado had access to all the government resources and they ended up doing very little. The fact that Venezuela has never voted a Governor into the Presidency seems to indicate a problem with the Electorate. Why shouldn’t someone who’s had experience in administrating a state have the chance to helm the Country?

    By the way that governor statement is a little overblown: I believe we have only been electing such figures since the 90’s, so it’s not like OMG in 200+ years a Governor has never been voted in as President!!! It’s more of a political cultural effect since for the longest time rising to the top meant rising within the party machine, forging alliances and putting in the right people in Congress instead of leveraging a public office term to increase your electability.

  2. I live and vote in Valencia. I will NOT vote for Salas Feo (as a matter of principle), and of course I won’t stay in line for hours for Ameliach either. This time around, count me in the abstencionista camp.

    Salas Feo is as crooked as they come, and I refuse to help him get reelected. If 14 years of Chavez is more than enough, the same applies for the Salas and their 20 years in power.

  3. Juan,

    In response to your point about a state governor never having been elected president: http://xkcd.com/1122/ (summary: there’s always a first for everything).

    Also, while your point is true overall, shouldn’t people in states who want to see opposition figures set up for future success (maybe not the presidency but as a spokesperson/organizer/builder of the opposition) be sure to turnout so that those individuals (in Zulia, Lara, Miranda) have a chance to prove their credentials as leaders and have a platform from which to be nationally recognized?

    • Tom, this sort of proves my point.

      Convincing a skeptical electorate to vote in order to help “opposition figures set up for future success (maybe not the presidency but as a spokesperson/organizer/builder of the opposition) … so that those individuals (in Zulia, Lara, Miranda) have a chance to prove their credentials as leaders and have a platform from which to be nationally recognized” … just doesn’t fit in a bumper sticker.

      People need a real reason to go vote this time around, one that emphasizes their day-to-day problems. So far, I haven’t seen this being articulated.

      • Got it. I think I didn’t fully grasp the original point. In short: I completely agree that people need to see how their day-to-day problems will be improved by an opposition governor. My point was more on a strategic level why despite your points about it not being “necessary” to vote, why there still is strategic importance to this vote. But people don’t tend to vote strategically, they vote the way their boss/husband/pocketbook/heart tells them.

      • “People need a real reason to go vote this time around, one that emphasizes their day-to-day problems.”

        Emphasizing day-to-day problems was one the main points of Capriles presidential campaign. What did he achieve with that?

  4. Governors can perhaps not influence as much as one would like in the people’s well being, primarily because of the centralized nature of Venezuela’s state. They can’t collect taxes and depend on the central government for funding, which is subsequently based on a very underestimated barrel. It is gloomy but not at all true. They do have some resources and they certainly do things that have an impact. Particularly schools, which is something that has been highlighted here several times, from schools for kids with special needs to those new schools being built by the state. So it CAN make you a little more prosperous.

    I must say that I am a little surprised by some of the arguments that you have expressed here as they contradict some ideas that you have published in the past. Particularly the fact that Chavez might be going somewhere else. Not only that, but it seems that Chavismo is organizing and getting ready for that transition.

    The comment that bothers me the most is “the nation has never elected a state governor as President” as if there is any causality to that. Can you really support that assertion as you are presenting it? I must say that it comes across as dogma and I see as total BS.

    One must go out and vote, not only out of principle, but because is the only way the opposition can expand its areas of influence. Governors get media attention, they have strong voices, and if the abstention in Chavistas ranks is what it has been in the past we can totally beat them in the number count which has a hope building effect.

    • That is my uncontestable, completely unproven, pulled-out-of-a-hat theory: Venezuelans don’t elect state Governors as President. I think it has to do a little bit with voters perceiving state Governors as being “regional” leaders, i.e., foreign to their particular places.

          • for what it’s worth, Claudio Fermín and Irene Sáez were also presidential candidate after having been Mayors of different municipalities in Caracas (Irene would later become governor of New Sparta as well)

          • Capriles did around 5 points better than Salas Römer… Bur as we can see from Dorothy’s map (and notwithstanding voter turnout) the ditribution of chavista vote was wildly different. Wildly.

            Sergio Omar Calderon (Tachira’s governor between 1999 and 2000) was a candidate in the 2006 primarias, and Pablo Perez was the runner up in this years’ primaries.

            Barring that, however, the “regional-local” vote was the majority in 1993 (around 65%), although it was split in three.

            Chavez was elected with no previous executive experience.
            So did Caldera (although he was Procurador for a brief time), Luis Herrera and Lusinchi (they were all members of Congress). Betancourt, Leoni and Perez had been presidents of ministers. The defeated candidates, up to 1988, had been senior ministers (G. Barrios, L. Fernandez, Piñerúa Ordaz) and members of Congress (Caldera up to 1963, E. Fernandez). Only Caldera had lost as a former President.

            In any case, regional elections should be about regional issues. The opposition has the best card in many states (given the official candidates and their respective governments), but, of course, there are absolutely no guarantees anywhere.

            It is interesting to note, incidentally, that no member of Congress, has had a decent presidential run since 1988.

      • I dunno. I think the fact that they were governors was just circumstantial and didn’t influence the result. They lost because most of them, except Alvarez Paz and Salas, were running against Chavez and the petro state. They could been representatives, senators or Justices of the Supreme Court and the result would have been the same.

  5. I am feeling nauseated here gents. Multile electins year after year just serv a purpose of legitimising a crooked regime, and adecuating voters fro a regular excersise without really stoping to think!
    We need to STOP and smell the cofee. We are under a new type of authoritarian, even dictatorial regime, who covers the apearances, but basically doen nto serve the sovereign. This regime is a regime of criminals embezeling public funds and promoting social hate.
    We are tontos utiles playing the election charade.
    enough said.
    …Hasta cuando!

    • LuisF,
      I agree to some extent. I hate voting by blocks. Luckily for me, I vote in Sucre municipality and I do value Ocariz’s team. Same in Miranda. I am not only making a vote towards a block but a rational decision.

      I know that the propaganda campaign sustained by the government is something that has allow it to remain in power. At least this much I believe. Somehow we haven’t been able to beat them at their game, but I see no other way out of this than through elections. Or at least while we have them. At least the counting of votes is valid. We just have to get better at making a better proposal than that made by Chavez.

      • But Rodrigo, can you say you benefit from the Miranda state government being in the hands of Capriles? If so, how? Other than the satisfaction of knowing that it’s not under chavista control, is there anything tangible about how it affects you? (Mind you, we’re talking about state governors since that is what we elect in December… I agree that mayors are different)

        • The chronic issues that affect Miranda are very similar to those in other regions. They are education, security, unemployment and disaster response.

          To my understanding, and given the limited resources, there was an strategic decision made to make education a priority in Miranda. For this alone I value Capriles administration very positively. Security, given the limitations imposed by the central government, not much can be done here by regions.

          Unemployment, although with minimal impact, has been dealt with credits for small entrepreneurs. But again, there are very little incentives that a state can create if it doesn’t taxes.

          In disaster response Miranda’s has done a good deal of work in both preparing and responding.

          Do I feel my life improving? From my very privileged stance (white, male, educated, middle class) I must say I do not, but others do, and when others do, society is better as a whole and that includes me.

          I make this claim though, that in spite all the noise that the central government makes, it has very little influence, other than financial. Venezuelan state is weak. It can’t execute anything. Thus its impact in my life is also minimal, mainly because I don’t depend on the government financially.

          In the particular case of Miranda, I think Capriles will do better than Jaua. Thus, my voting decision. If I had to vote in Zulia or Carabobo, it would be harder to make a decision.

          • Although the same logic might also end up in a different direction, no? Presumably, in the context of a petro-state, where institutional decentralization exists largely in name only, having an ally of the president in power at the local/state level would tend to increase available resources and therefore also the chances for day-to-day improvements. This accounts for the grievance (very legitimate at that) that’s most sounded by opposition state governors, that they do not get their share of the petro pie or have it withheld capriciously in a way that impedes effective governance. So by that token, it’s actually rather a rational choice, again in the context of a petro-state, to vote for the candidate of the party in power.

          • Alejandro,

            Yes and no. To increase the chunk of cetral resources that Miranda would get would require a constitutional reform, or for the state to ask for extra credits continuously.

            Additionally, it is not only about getting bolivares. It is also on how efficient do you transform them into public services. Ocariz, Falcon and Capriles have high efficiencies. Rangel Avalos for example had a efficiency of zero.

          • No doubt the way funds are used is a significant part of the equation – although we’ll see on Dec 16 whether the opposition can hold those spaces on the basis of an argument about efficiency. That said I’m not referring to what Miranda or Lara or Sucre are supposed to receive, but rather what states with pro-Chavez governors get by way of missions and other executive level programs, which aren’t part of the constitutionally contemplated allocation that states and municipalities receive. Your point is well taken, though.

          • You see that people have been benefitted by Capriles’ programs and it makes me happy. My nanny has been one of them.

      • I agree. The Oppo will probably not win any significant elections under current circumstances until counteracting/eliminating current Regime fraudulent pre-election/election day practices. Fraud isn’t just in the casting/counting of votes. And, the type of election day get-out-the-vote machinery used by Chavistas, with National/State/Local/Military transport/personnel/ Misiones lists/money isn’t, as GTA said earlier on this Blog, just normal “election-day” machinery, but FRAUD. Imagine if this and/or pre-election abuses such as massive State propaganda were utilized in an election in the ex-pat home countries of many of the Bloggers on this Blog–What would be the their reaction??. A spade is a spade, and until we address the truth, we’re going nowhere fast. And, no, things shouldn’t be “different” because it’s Latin America. A good start would be the insistence on the elimination of the fingerprint machines. How not allow them for their Primary, but allow them for the Presidential election?? They probably intimidated millions of State-dependent voters, many of whom may have gone to Capriles’ rallies, but, when seeing them connected to Cedula ID machines and Voting machines, played safe and voted for Chavez.

  6. As power concentrates in the Presidency, other elected offices have less power to affect
    day-today problems. But if there are no elected opposition governors, it will be all the easier to replace governors with Councils of Soviets funded by, and answerable to, Chavez alone.

    It may not lend itself to easy sloganeering, but
    visible opposition leaders, elected leaders, will be critical during the next three to six years.

  7. ‘Preserve spaces’. Yup: that ElLopez tweet throws the ball far away (botaste la bola, botaste la bola…).
    Until these MUD guys come up with REAL POLITICAL reasons, I simply refuse to vote again for a bunch of teetotalers who offer me nothing better than what Mosonyi offered the Yanomamis three decades ago: have the privilege of surviving in an anthropological preserve.

  8. This would sound like an Ad for Henri Falcon. But in Barquisimeto his administration built in 4 years new onramps turning rivereña avenue in basically a freeway. Also his administration repairs circunvalacion and lara zulia (sometimes not always) even though they are national government responsability. This two things affect me directly.

  9. I was wondering if readership has gone down after October 7th. It would be an interesting indicator of disillusion amongst expats. For instance I know that I personally don’t read the blog as frequently as I used to. I’m not entirely sure why I’m guessing its a subconscious coping mechanism. Check it out! Id be very intrigued to see these figures or at least the percentage change. Thanks

  10. Great and relevant post, JC. Sadly, we’re the federal state that isn’t. States have always been limited to develop their authonomy and potential. Instead, they have been handcuffed by centralism through history. However, some governors past and present overcome some of those limitations and delivered. That is something opposition should run on: The right of states to have some power to decide their own future, without depending all the time from Miraflores.

    After all, Chavismo wants a sweeping victory on 16-D, so they can dismantle States and Municipalities for once and for all with a “communal power” that will be unelected, unaccountable and loyal only to Miraflores. Instead of governors and mayors, local Apparatchiks that won’t be interested in solving problems, but to keep their boss happy and benefit themselves of that.

    • Could one make the argument that the more chavista governors there are out there, the less likely it will be that state governments will be swept away…?

      • One could, Juan, if one really believed it. Not just to score a rhetorical point.

        (Or maybe you were being funny? In that case, my bad. But so much negativity starts to get to me. To end in a more positive note: your point is well taken and the debate that it sparked here has been great. The oppo needs to articulate WHY it is important to vote for governors. Gustavo said it well.)

  11. Two things: don’t forget that calling for abstentionism was how we lost the general assembly, and that was a very, very costly mistake.
    My principal reason for voting is not so much for preserving spaces for the opporistion, but to start erradicating the presidential – centralist – paternalist – one man show political scene in Venezuela.

    • The difference is that JC isn’t a foaming politician. He’s not calling for anything directly. He’s just building an analytic framework that works better to understand our relationship to politics, that is based on questions instead of orders.

  12. Maybe the issue here is learning how to win elections! What would be useful is developing a political “machine” that learns how to win on an uneven playing field, organizing, organizing, organizing!

  13. I actually find the regional elections (both for Governors and Mayors) quite important because their performance (not in electoral terms, but as public servants) is the ONLY convincing way to prove to the people that can be other (and hopefully better) alternatives than chavismo.

    One thing is to go all around the country promising things (I will improve misisones, etc), and another is to show substantial results. I think Petare is a good example of this, even though it applies more to a Mayor. Yet you can also argue that back in the last Governor election a lot of oppos voted for Henry Falcon because they though the guy does a good job.

    True, the goverment does what it takes to minimize local authorithies budget and influence but still these are positions that are close to the people and can have direct impact on them (compared to Asamblea Nacional).

    Also true, that the goverment will want to enhance comunas and poder comunal over governors, but we as opposition have to fight this whichever way we can’t and don’t simply hand over everything so easily.

    I agree that the argument of ‘preserving spaces’ is weak, and actually sounds like a lame excuse of a bad governor. But think again, think of the positive effect a good Governor could have.

  14. In the December dlections THE main threat, being access to housing, will not be on the table: the Opposition has to be able to get considerable mileage from that alone, surely?

  15. Though I agree that opposition candidates won’t be able to do much to improve the lives of the people in their states, what they can and SHOULD do is to clean up the state bureaucracies, impose and enforce real management systems with accountability and checks and balances, and make the business of the states and localities absolutely transparent. Even if Chavez starves them of funds, they can do it. There is no excuse not to do that, and that alone would be a tremendous boost for them going forward. After all, the most a first opposition president is likely to be able do is precisely that at the national level, while still handing out subsidies and handouts to everyone from the poor to the very rich, as no president will be able to change the socialist mindset of venezuelans that has endured for so many decades. If bureaucracies in the country at all levels are cleaned up, strengthened, and made transparent, that will be the most lasting achievement any politician can make. That way, when (and if) the mentality of the people change to a more liberal point of view, the necessary measures that will be taken then (privatizations, assignment of large public contracts to local and foreign companies, and, yes, social program handouts) will be done more transparently and efficiently. So by all means, DO VOTE in the state elections in December, and once you elect opposition politicians pressure them to deliver the change that is required. There’s nothing wrong with using a governorship as a political platform, but the first and foremost responsibility of a governor is to be a good steward of public assets.

    • I really like your thinking/comment. And so true. It’s not enough to make promises of accountability, of transparency at the national level. Show us ‘el camino’ at the state level, first!

      • Exactly! There’s no excuse for this. After all, we care about the future of the country, not about the prospects of some political party or another. It is understandable that social services in Miranda are a shambles because of lack of funds from the central government. There’s no excuse, however, for a citizen of that state to not know exactly how many projects are under construction, which companies won them, for how much, how much the central government is underfunding the state for those projects, what is the cost of maintaining a km of road, how many arrests per policeman, the number and salaries of public personnel, and a long etc. There’s no excuse for MCM (whom I admire a great deal) or for Caldera Jr. to have to avoid simple questions about their campaign finances because they are less than pristine. They should publish all of that information for all to see whether it’s in the law or not as soon as they receive funds! Yes, the opposition is battling a corrupt and degenerate monster, but all the better reason for them to be immaculate and efficient. Reminds me how George Washington, after losing New York City during the revolutionary war, was advised to burn the city to the ground so that the British could not benefit by taking it. The Continental Congress and Washington were absolutely firm in their resolve to let the city stand, and suffer the consequences of losing the battle for New York rather than cause harm to the country they were trying to establish Venezuela will not change in 2, 6, or even 10 years, but the work, the nitty-gritty, management work, has to begin now.

          • I agree, to a point. I really don’t think campaign finance transparency is a priority for Venezuela, much less for the opposition. Opposition politicians shouldn’t be compelled, out of the goodness of their own hears, to disclose who finances them, part5icularly when we know the other side is financed by PDVSA.

            But on the other issues – cleaning up state bureaucracy, transparency, etc. – I completely agree.

  16. Im gonna vote, but i know the oppo may have lost Zulia this time around. Extreme amounts of cash are flowing towards Arias Cardena’s campaign, and UNT has never done a good job in my opinion.

  17. These are the messages for the population in general:
    – Vote for the oppo candidate if you want an honest, hard working administration that cares for the people.
    Everyone knows with an oppo governor there can be no corruption or they would get investigated faster than they can cash in. Oppo governors have to work hard and get it right because they’re going to be scrutinized and slandered in nation wide TV. They need to be efficient because they’re going to get the bare minimum. And they need to care for the people while a chavista governor only cares about Chavez. With chavista governors corruption is built in, they get a lot of money and if they don’t deliver it’s ok as long as they’re loyal to Chavez.

    – Vote for the oppo candidate if you want to have an alternative to an all red administration

    – Vote for the oppo candidate for a better future.

    Now specifically for the disillusioned, depressed oppo wondering why they should go vote if is not going to get rid of Chavez:
    – Get up of your assess now and go vote!
    – Rome was not made in a day
    – Surrendered is not option, you pussies

    You know something like that.

    • I also think that the opposition has been too cavalier about the pillage carried out by the chavistas governors and mayors. Probably Chavez has a teflon skin when it comes to corruption accusations, but the rest of the gang sure don’t. Diosdado is probably the poster boy for that, but I’m quite sure that the rest of the guys don’t fall behind. Toro complains that the media doesn’t do much investigatives report in Venezuela, but the truth is that the opposition politicians are not much better when it comes to putting the blame where it belongs…

  18. Juan, I repeat here what I wrote the other day in the comments section: “Nature hates vacuums”, that’s why we have to be present. We need to regain spaces in the political spectrum in Venezuela.

    If we don’t vote, someone else will be present. On the other hand, if instead of two or three states we win several states, that starts to be a contention wall for the chavista machine.

    And remember, the really important elections are in 2015. We need to win the Assembly back to be able to do anything. That is not done by abandoning the vote in the other elections because a victory in the NA cannot be built overnight.

    Moreover, we have to have elected opposition representatives. I like the notion that people must be elected to speak out in the name of the electors. It gives structure and power to the opposition.


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