As the end of a short but tumultuous campaign for tomorrow’s Legislative Election draws to an end, there’s a nervous edge to Caracas. Everybody can see the most radical chavistas are not likely to digest bad news well. It bears asking what the MUD could do to defuse a violent reaction from a tiny but very extreme and well armed fringe within the pro-government movement.
On October 13th, Nicolás Maduro said that Chavismo had to win the legislative elections “no matter what”. Ever since, the tone for the Gran Polo Patriótico’s campaign has been of relentless intimidation. And given the latest eruption of violence in this rather short campaign, it looks like their most radical wing has gotten its como sea marching orders.
Let’s not forget how the campaign started: four violent incidents in the first 48 hours. By the time the second week of the campaign was about to end, a total of seven violent incidents had taken place across the country.
Remember when Diosdado told us Chavez had been a dam holding back the “crazy ideas” chavismo could come up with? I do. This weekend, we can be sure, will see them thinking lots of crazy ideas. It’s not pretty.
For the government’s most extreme and violent supporters, 6D could look like the beginning of the end. We’re not talking about a lot of people, we’re talking about the farther reaches of of the bell-curve, the 0.5% of armed, lunatic chavistas.
These are people who’ve made a career out of the anarchy – the colectivos chavismo itself helped foster, for instance. They are well aware that la guachafita is more at risk of ending once new tenants arrive at the Capitolio than if the current ones stay, and that usual antics might not be enough this time around.
Unless, by some miracle, institutionality prevails and the Armed Forces steps in to prevent a massacre, the MUD is pretty much on its own. If the unthinkable is ordered, la #Tropa can count on impunity. It knows it can.
It all leaves you wondering: how far are they willing to go?
By the time you’re gunning down rival activists in political rallies, what would stop you from going all out on December 6th? Given how far behind they are in the generic ballot question, at what point does setting loose their guns look better to them than accepting? Losing a simple majority to the opposition? The 102nd seat? The all-out two-thirds majority?
Now, a few days before the election, the police director of Sucre Municipality (Petare, in Eastern Caracas) was detained by the secret police, SEBIN and the general director of Maturín, one of the hotspots in this election, was held captive in his office by a bolivarian syndicate. Tension has always been a part of the dynamic in the final days before elections. But chavismo had never headed into an election lagging so badly behind in the polls.
The question that keeps popping up, however, is at what point is this really necessary? Will they allow basic cohabitation with an opposition controlled National Assembly? How about a situation where the MUD deputies have actual power, because there’s 100+ of them? Will they go all out Reichstag on their ass?
“No vale, yo no creo” just won’t cut it here. The Dakazo was a direct hit on what till then was a sort of threshold regarding the little private property left. The over the top reaction to #LaSalida proved that power was to be held, no matter what the cost. Why is this different? Qué es un Rubicon más pa’ un tigre?
The neurotic chase for power has led them to delve deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole at the end of which you find yourself whacking people to avoid losing a curul in Altagracia de Orituco. That they’ll crank up the violence by orders of magnitude following a humiliating collapse is, at the very least, a scenario we can’t afford not to consider.
The ability to be surprised is something you keep rediscovering in contemporary Venezuela. It’s not as much fun as it sounds. Yesterday’s worst case scenario becomes today’s new normal with frightening regularity. And for a country with little food left, rampant inflation and a crippling economic crisis, the stakes are as high as can be.
MUD needs to plan for every contingency, and especially for this one. It may not be the likeliest, but given its implications, it’s not one we can allow to catch us unaware. MUD’s top leaders should be discussing with the three key players that could defuse a situation: chavismo’s leaders, the Armed Forces and its own crowd.
The top players in chavismo have nothing to gain from a violent scenario. Their reputation is as tarnished as can be, the country’s situation is frantic enough, and a perception of sore losers would harm the loyalty of their most reasonable followers; the kind that, if do vote for them and hear about blood being spilled might gasp out in regret “dear God, what have I done?”.
The Armed Forces, while hardly an easy crowd to work with, do maintain a sense of formal duty that their training instills in them. Even if in residual form. They know they’re meant to put the homeland before anything else, and they cannot stand idly by while large-scale bloodletting grips the country. They are trained to kill in the name of Venezuela. MUD has to understand how powerful a negotiating card this can be as they face the Generals, as it’s almost the equivalent of bringing up their mother. Innocent civilians dying not only leaves them as accomplices of the deaths, but it also leaves a bitter taste of failing that what they love dearest.
To their voters, MUD cannot put on another face than that of resilience. No matter what, cada voto cuenta. If chavismo is going to step up its game, MUD has to be ready. With this much at stake, those new MUD supporters must be introduced to the fine art of staying in the voting center until each papeleta is tallied.
Every call the MUD makes between the voting centers closing and the “Baranda Time” mindset kicks in is a call that indeed could prevent escalation and unnecessary turbulence.
It’s in their hands, not PSUV heavyweights, that the confrontation doesn’t escalate. The way they address all crises, deal with the actors involved and, for once, act as the newly elected majority will gain them the political relevance they ought to have. Winning is pointless if they prove spineless.