In Petare, Chavismo goes stealth

William Ojeda sized up his chances of getting elected on a red ticket in Petare and made the logical - if morally bankrupt - choice.

For the last 16 years, an election campaign in La California, my little corner of Caracas, has meant a sea of red in our streets along with even more photos of President Chavez than usual.  But around La California and Macaracuay, there is no red PSUV propaganda to be seen; blue Min-Unidad propaganda is the 2015 new star.

The slogans repeated over and over again: “Somos la oposición” / “#SucreMereceAlgoMejor”. Bizarrely, this campaign is for the government-backed Candidate, William Ojeda. It looks like Ojeda did the math: in Petare, his best bet is to pass himself off for what he’s not.

Alongside the fake oppo campaign, there’s the real one: Mesa de la Unidad Democrática posters for its candidate Miguel Pizarro. If you find this confusing, if you find yourself wondering “wait, isn’t there a chavista candidate in Petare?..” well, that is very much the point.

La California Metro station is a peculiar place of nowadays. Just in front of a 70s modernist shopping mall, a big crowd struggles everyday to catch a ride home.  At around 6pm, the sidewalks are not for walking: a jumble of lines takes over every space and only veterans can tell where to catch the bus you need (there are no signs at all!!)

Just in front the station exit is the metrobus stop for Macaracuay, beside it stands a taxi cooperative where you can share a taxi and pay only for a seat. Half a block away is the metrobus stop to El Llanito and between both, you can buy cachitos, popcorn or DVDs. When traffic is hard and metrobuses run late, all those lines mingle and asking carefully who is the last one going to your destination is the only way to know where each line ends.

I guess that a place with so many people together is a great spot for an election campaign, and these days the contest for the deputy that will be elected in the 3rd circuit of Miranda State is in full swing.

When you hear Petare, you probably picture the crowded, dismal barrios in the eastern end of our city, but the 3rd circuit of Miranda is neither homogeneous nor especially poor. Petare parish includes some of the more consolidated urban areas of the municipality and a number of middle class neighborhoods.

So, what is this Min-Unidad that has covered our circuit with blue? Founded way back in the 1970s by Renny Ottolina, and was once in the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática. It’s a small party and has no recent electoral victories to show, but does have a trajectory that entitles it to a spot on the ballot. Or so it was, until its national leadership was overthrown by a court ruling: one of those Grand Theft Party that Gustavo always writes about. In a country where the justice system is as independent as Fiscal Nieves tells us after fleeing to the US, you don’t need a tinfoil hat to think Min-Unidad is now a government-controlled political party. Watch Ojeda’s campaign, and that’s more than obvious. 

Min-Unidad propaganda focuses on hyper-local problems, things far out of the purview of the National Assembly. But the message that shocks me more is “Con William hablan las urbanizaciones” – “with William, the proper neighbourhoods get a voice.” It’s everywhere. Including a wall at the entrance to a barrio called Campo Rico, just a block away from La California metro station.

William Ojeda is a sitting member of the National Assembly. He was elected in 2010 on an opposition ticket. He has changed political party at least four times including two huge shifts: after being a founder of Movimiento V República (party that supported Hugo Chavez in 1998), he walked away and created his own personal-vehicle party in 2002. Then joined Un Nuevo Tiempo and finally left the  Mesa de la Unidad Democrática during 2012 presidential campaign. Now he’s a leader of the governing party and PSUV candidate, but his campaign is staying well clear of those symbols.

Ganar como sea. President Maduro said and Mr. Ojeda knows exactly what that means. By any means necessary. 

First, it means that it is legitimate to conceal your true identity and political affiliation in order to prevent losing votes because of the social unrest your own economic policy has created. If need be, let’s not show any red propaganda. Anything goes in the service of the revolution. 

But that’s only the beginning, let’s talk about the message. In a highly polarized election, it’s very hard for a chavista candidate to earn a single vote in middle class neighborhoods… unless he can use a greater fear: fear to the unknown, fear of those sprawling slums that sprawl up the mountainsides surrounding what should be a tiny paradise. And that’s what William Ojeda is playing on: “Con William hablan las urbanizaciones” is talking to those citizens criticizing Primero Justicia for focusing on the poor, for allegedly abandoning the rest of us.

Maybe they think ideology and consistency are overrated and nothing is wrong if a socialist government launches a campaign that criticizes a local government committed to the most vulnerable of its citizens. But for me it is an important symptom: all that matters at this point is keeping power. The revolution doesn’t matter, the poor don’t matter.

Winning is the only goal. Ganar como sea. Eso es lo que hay. 

Lissette González

Is a PhD sociologist and researcher at Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales and Sociology Professor at Escuela de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. Blogger and collaborator of SIC Semanal and