The conventional wisdom is that Barinas is chavismo’s most impregnable electoral fortress. It’s not just that the Comandante Eterno is from here, it’s that we haven’t had a governor here whose last name was not Chávez so far this century. Until 2008, Hugo Sr. ran the state, then he handed it off to his oldest son, Adán. The Chávez Clan runs everything around here, to the point that they’re known informally as “la familia real” – our own little tropical version of a Royal Family.
So they’re solid going into 6D, right? I wouldn’t bet on it.
The thing is, the Royal Family is split. A tropical War of the Roses is playing out between clans headed by competing Chávez cousins. Asdrubal, who remains relatively popular, heads the dissident PSUV win, while Adán – the Comandante Eterno’s older brother, who is both governor and head of the state PSUV – heads the other. Adán’s standing in the state is, I think it’s fair to say, terrible. He’s universally derided as corrupt, cloistered and catastrophically inept.
Worse yet, the relationship between Asdrubal and Adán seems to have broken down completely. At a recent event under the dome at Ciudad Deportiva, Adán was not particularly subtle about pointing the finger at his cousin: “Comrades, vote for the revolution, not for the 5th column, the ones who are sitting here planning to destroy the revolution,” pointing to Asdrubal’s table. Asdrubal stood up and screamed some choice insults at him. Reports of what was actually shouted differ, but one account I heard had it as “mamagüevo, tu lo que eres es un pajúo” – which I will leave untranslated as there are ladies in the audience.
Asdrubal gets away with speaking that way because the Royal Family’s prestige has collapsed. For one thing, its corruption is plain for all to see. More and more questions are being asked about their ties with Barinas’s richest families, like the Nemers and the Caizeas. There’s no sense of taboo about these questions, and the talk is corroding the Chavez name.
Some say the Chavez clan was politically split even back when Chavez was alive, others think the split is driven by Maduro’s terrible standing. During the PSUV campaign, Adán Chavez decided to stick with Maduro and campaigned for candidates who had his blessing. It…did not go well for the Adán crowd.
Barinas Circuit 1 elects three deputies – it’s one of those “plurinominal” circuits you hear about. In PSUV’s primary, Keissi Gómez, Isabel Martínez and the Comandante Eterno’s little brother, Argenis Chávez. Keissi and Isabel play on Asdrubal’s team, and Argenis though loyal to his brother Adán, is not on terrible terms with cousin Asdrubal. In the 2nd Circuit, which elects just one deputy, Zulay Martínez won the primary for Asdrubal’s side. Worse, Adan’s faction scored just one of the alternate seats, too.
Adan’s authority – and that of the official PSUV’s – seems to be breaking down in places where chavismo had been totally dominant for years. In Libertad, a town where chavismo has long been really the only political force for as long as anyone can remember, PSUV seems to have fallen apart completely. Most of the town’s chavistas have bolted for small pro-government parties parties like MEP, MAS and others. Here also the MUD is making some inroads.
Opposition leaders like Julio César Reyes and Freddy Superlano have been aggressively campaign for MUD, holding out the disconcerting possibility of a blue wave sweeping Chávez’s home state.
MUD’s most visible leader out here, Julio César Reyes, has roots in the Chávez camp. He has three elections under his belt, in two of them he ran on the MVR ticket. In private, he says these elections are the first ones he saw the opposition have a real fighting chance.
Barinas is now the only Llanos state with a strong and organized opposition. MUD now has two mayors in the biggest cities of both the plains and the andean parts of the state, and a PSUV dissident won the election in Libertad under the MEP ticket (though he went back to chavismo a few months later). MOVEV, the venezuelan green party, became the third political force in the state after almost winning the election for mayor in Barrancas through Victor Lináres, who has become a rising popular force in the capital city hand in hand with Miguel Angel Rosales. In the last elections, the opposition comfortably crushed chavismo in the Andean axis. We would’ve won more save for some quite brazen fraud in several closely contested local elections.
Recently MUD leader Julio César Reyes went canvassing door to door in El Remanso, near Libertad. You can’t really even call El Remanso a pueblo, it’s just a caserío, a hamlet made up of a handful of houses – it’s the kind of place where opposition politicians just hadn’t turned up in a very long time. Reyes wasn’t just well received, there, he was actively cheered by the community.
Food shortages, are taking an enormous toll on the government’s viability in places like this. One shortage that really rankles is rice, which people haven’t seen in months despite the fact that Libertad is a rice-growing area. Rice is really basic to local people’s diet: going without it is not an easy adjustment to make. Recently a bunch of rice was found at the Libertad town hall, but “only for the people from the Misión Milagro”. It’s the kind of story that infuriates people.
It’s also been a rough few weeks for Lupe Fernandez, the PSUV mayor in Barrancas, a small town halfway between Sabaneta and Barinas City, the state capital. Fernández had desperately been trying to get a protegé of hers the nomination for the National Assembly on the PSUV tickets for Barinas’s 2nd Circuit, but no such luck. Recently, she was visiting a local school and a PSUV member went off on her. “You have no right to tell people that if they don’t vote for your guy you’ll fire them from their job!” Soon, a screaming match ensued. It escalated: insults, then a scuffle. The hot Sunday afternoon turned into an all out fistfight, with bystanders stepping in to try to stop the melée.
Such is life these days for elected PSUV officials in Barinas: the people hurling insults at you are just as likely to be chavista partisans as opposition. Victor Lináres, who now heads the MUD organization in Barrancas, has been flexing his muscle, gathering neighbors out in numbers for opposition political events. Nothing like this has been seen in Barrancas for years. It makes Lupe, the mayor, look increasingly weak and desperate.
It’s easy to get carried away with individual examples, but it’s also hard to shake the feeling that PSUV is not in good shape going into 6D.
And if Barinas can go blue, any place can.