Second Look: What if they threw a Toque de Diana and nobody came?

Stealing an election in Venezuela requires hard work starting at the butt-crack of dawn. This time around, Chavistas might not want to put in the hours.

Originally published on November 17, 2015.

The Toque de Diana is an institution as obnoxious as the political movement it has helped sustain in power for 16 years. On election day, at some ungodly, pre-dawn hour, a small army of chavista assholes decides to wake up the whole country. Fireworks light up the sky as a bunch of pricks working out some adolescent Hollywood action film fantasy blow into bugles to make sure everybody is up…hours before there’s any reason for anybody – let alone for everybody – to be up. Elections workers, witnesses and volunteers – who have an 18-hour work day to look forward to, lose another hour of sleep to this nonsense. It’s insane and infuriating…the perfect chavista tradition!

Why do they do it? Because the Toque de Diana is a powerful symbol of the government’s absolutely brazen determination to do whatever needs doing to mobilize its people to the polls on election day.

But what if they threw a Toque de Diana and nobody came? What if people heard the bugle, rolled over, put their pillow over their heads and went on sleeping? Worse, what if Miraflores ordered a Toque de Diana and the people charged with blowing the horns themselves didn’t get out of bed?

This, I think, is the key to understanding what’s coming down the pipe at us on December 6th.

Of course, the regime will try to use the tried-and-true mobilization tactics it has been relying on for a decade and a half. But has the leadership quite internalized what it means to try to mobilize people in a public opinion climate like the one it faces today?

It’s not like the government is planning to call in extra-terrestrials to play their “dianas”. The people called on to blow on the damn horns have to stand in line for hours and hours to buy the basics, too. Big chunks of the PSUV machinery are sick and tired of the same stuff everyone else in the country is sick and tired of: a catastrophically mismanaged economy that’s destroyed people’s life plans, a crime wave that never seems to wane, a government that seems catatonically unable to come to grips with the country’s problems.

What’s new about 6D, what’s never happened before, is that we’re going into an election with a proper national consensus that the wheels have come off the revolution. When nine out of ten people think the country’s situation is negative, you’re no longer dealing with the kind of opinion climate where mobilization techniques that could work in other types of opinion climates can work.

Lots of people in the opposition can’t seem to bring themselves to believe they’re about to win 100 seats plus in the National Assembly. Learned helplessness runs deep: there’s a deep intuition now that somehow, somewhere chavismo is bound to get away with it again. They always do.

But while I’m absolutely sure that the upper echelons of the governing elite would like nothing better than to steal the election, I don’t know that they can. Why? Because, this fact has been obscured by lots of mythologizing over the last few years, the reality is that Venezuela’s election system makes fraud extremely labour intensive. Venezuela’s voting machines amount to “the world’s most expensive pencil”: the paper trail they leave makes their results auditable, and they are indeed audited. Lo and behold, the paper trail basically always matches the machine counted “chorizos”.  

This means that, in effect, if you want to cheat, you have to sweat for it. You have to actually mobilize real warm bodies from voting center to voting center and actually intimidate witnesses into letting you stuff the ballot boxes. It’s a cumbersome, labour intensive process, a process that you can just about pull off if you have a mobilized, motivated, pumped-up activist base of true believers ready to go out there and do the work.

But guess what, they don’t have that activist base. Not this time. The activist base is livid at the fucking leadership. They hate the leadership’s guts. Almost as much as you. More than you, in some cases: you have to factor in the rage of feeling betrayed layered on top of the stew of dashed expectations on the chavista side.

For the government, trying to do anything in the current public opinion climate is like trying to swim through molasses. Everything is just 20 times harder. It’s slow, slow going: things that were easy when half the country was enthusiastic about helping you become excruciating when you face a national consensus that you suck.

It’s that consensus that makes 6D so different, and so volatile. Maduro may want to cheat. That’s a very far cry from being able to cheat.

The drama for the government is that there ain’t nobody left willing to get up at 4:30 in the morning to blow into a damn Diana. The people who’d have to hustle to make any mobilization or fraud plan work are going to sleep through 6D. And that…that scares the government.

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