The Difficult Case for Henri Falcón

Henri Falcón was chavista before he recognized Pedro Carmona before he went back to being chavista before he became an opposition supporter determined to stay in good terms with chavismo. How can anybody trust a flip flop artist like him?

Original art by @modográfico

No other politician in Venezuela has maneuvered our political landmine field quite like Henri Falcón. After the formal failure of the always-doomed dialogue, he stands in line as the most-likely candidate running against Nicólas Maduro in the upcoming, comically unfair presidential elections. Unlike Quico, most of us fear he won’t be our Adolfo Suárez, turning instead into a simple pawn in a 21st century Sandinista election.

Falcón is a former army officer, but unlike other chavista top military men, he doesn’t have the street-cred of participating in the 1992 coups. He was born and raised in Nirgua, Yaracuy. After leaving service, he obtained a law degree and hopped into the chavista bandwagon through his friendship with former governor Luis Reyes Reyes. Quico’s presidential dark horse was also a founding member of the MBR-200 movement in the mid ‘90s and member of the 1999 Constituent Assembly. From 2000 to 2008 he was mayor of Barquisimeto, going from then on as governor of Lara.

Although notably low-key among firebrands, he rebelled in 2007 and signed up his candidacy as governor before being appointed by the galáctico himself – the usual process. He became prominent in 2010, when he wrote a famous letter to Chávez, quitting the PSUV and joining the PPT, for what he perceived as lack of democracy inside the government party.

He formed Alianza Progresista (Progressive Alliance), and under this banner he served as governor until 2017, when he was defeated in his third reelection attempt by navy woman/soapbox car driver Carmen Meléndez.

As many other politicians in the post-1999 Venezuela, Falcón is hard to pin down ideologically. He talks a vague centrist speech that has become the darling of the left in the Venezuelan opposition, while also courting the good graces of Wall Street and powerful backers. This, admittedly, could signal he’s a good fit for the position of a transition president, and you have to acknowledge that keeping an open line with a regime who controls the army is the rational thing in his position.

People arguing Falcon’s case really can’t seem to explain how he’ll win under the type of electoral conditions that would make Daniel Ortega blush.

But there is an underlying weakness about Falcón that makes you doubt him; he talks an anodyne speech that leaves you baffled with generic condemnations of corruption and not much else. His views on the current disastrous economic model (which he supported for more than 10 years) remain unknown.

His public speeches are flat and uninspiring. Falcón recently released an unintendedly hilarious and condescending campaign tweet where he proclaimed himself candidate and savior of the poor. Even his chavista past is fraught with shiftiness: he briefly recognized Pedro Carmona during the 2002 coup.

He has never articulated his position in a trustworthy manner and, in a time when the government’s constant manipulation has made paranoia natural, you start to remember chavismo’s shenanigans with sleeper candidates.

Of course many people in the opposition have to grow up and understand that we’ll have to hold our noses when a real transition comes (to the extent that a pacific transition is a realistic possibility at this point) and accept many unsavory bargains. The thing is that people arguing Falcon’s case really can’t seem to explain how he’ll win under the type of electoral conditions that would make Daniel Ortega blush. The type of voter you’ll need to pull off the Gambian upset of Quico’s pipe dreams will not come from a lackluster politician who is widely distrusted among the opposition base.

And even if Quico’s caffeine-induced delusions become true and Falcón wins, his ever-shifting loyalties and incoherent track record (like decrying the prospect of a Capriles presidency as the worst thing that could happen to the country, after serving as his campaign manager) make you wonder if he can really survive governing with an all-mighty council of Soviets hanging over his head (and an opposition who will, righteously, doubt his every move).

Will he take the heat without breaking and enact the painful but much needed economic reforms and restore the rule of law, or will he be swallowed whole by the monster he helped create? I don’t know if I’ll vote for Henri Falcón, but I really wish that the only possibility of a peaceful endgame wouldn’t hinge on his shoulders.

César Crespo

Evil corporate lawyer. Amateur adult person. Political news junkie. Economics dilettante.