The Supreme Tribunal's decision putting the final nail in the coffin of Enrique Mendoza and Leopoldo López's aspirations wasn't much of a surprise. Disqualifying opponents you don't think you can beat at the polls is just the kind of Ahmadinejadesque/Putinian tactic chavismo has shown itself increasingly comfortable with. More surprising, though, is the kamikaze move to throw some of chavismo best prospects on the pyre of presidential vanity.
Yesterday, PSUV idiotically gave the opposition a fighting chance in Lara and Barinas - two governor's races that should've been chavista shoe-ins - by expelling their most promising candidates there. When they threw their hats into their respective rinks without permission, Wilmer Azuaje and Henri Falcón committed the gravest of chavista sins: contravening a direct, public order from the big chief. From that moment, expulsion from the party was a foregone conclusion.
Due process? Chance to put up a defense? Whatchootalkin' about, Willis? I mean, sure, they're autonomous, but jefe es jefe.
Azuaje's expulsion hardly came as a shock: from the moment he directly fingered Chávez's nuclear family for running some of the most blatant corruption scams in Hugoslavia, it was clear Azuaje was a marked man. Frankly, expulsion from PSUV is the least of his troubles at the moment: just the other day, two of his close collaborators were gunned down in Barinas. Llanero politics have none of the genteel, salon-bound quality of the Caracas scene.
Truth is, Barinas politics is something of an enigma: the most chavista of chavista states is one where everybody hates the Chávez Clan. If, as expected, Azuaje runs for governor on a minor party ticket, the chavista vote could split, imaginably making an opening for the opposition. It would be bizarre to have an oppo state government in this reddest of red states, but it's also clear that many loyal supporters of the president would balk at supporting another Chávez Clandidate.
But is enough of the old AD machine still operative to make a move here?
Then there's Lara, where the popular mayor of Barquisimeto Henri Falcón launched his candidacy for state governor too early, hinting that he already knew he'd been out-maneuvered in the Smoke-Filled-Room primary in Caracas:
"It doesn't take much to understand the challenge that we now face. Many feel strong, feel invincible, feel they have the exclusive right to decide for others. That's the haughtiness that's so damaging to serious and honest politics...those who lack real leadership turn to intrigues, to rumors and to dirty tricks to try to climb a hill that gets ever steeper because they don't have the capacity to look after the people's needs."It sure looks to me like he's referring to some local rival specifically, but knowing next to nothing about Lara politics, I can't tell who's hiding between the lines here. Can you?
One way or another, Katy tells me Falcón is a popular figure in Barquisimeto: one with real potential to split the pro-Chávez vote. If nothing else, he seems to be a pragmatist, which is a no-no within chavismo these days but a popular stance with regular folks more concerned with solutions than abstractions. And Lara is a more demographically promising state for the opposition: Barquisimeto is still the country's fourth city, and we always do better in urban areas.
It's all a bit of a reversal, this. It used to be the opposition that moronically purged itself from key state institutions (PDVSA, the Army, the National Assembly) leaving the way open for a chavista takeover. Maybe it's catching; now chavismo is doing it.
In a strange way, we've really got a good thing going here: the longer Chávez takes to make up his
Update: A reader from Lara State helps round out the story:
[Luis] Reyes Reyes [the current chavista governor of Lara, who can't stand for re-election due to term limits] is in Chavez's inner circle. He took part in the 92 coup. Also they are compadres. His son, Jonas Reyes, is the president of the State Legislature, whose functions include overseeing the governor's administration. The governor has sabotaged almost every big initiative of Falcón. For example he took charge of his two biggest projects: transbarca (trolley bus) and the bus terminal. After he took away those projects claiming that he and central goverment were going to finish them, they were brought to a halt. Also Reyes Reyes's son promotes land squatting with the approval of his dad. Falcón has clearly stated his position against squatting. I think Falcón is a good mayor even though he faces some corruption allegations. Many people here in the Lara oppo were waiting for him to defect from Chavismo to vote for him.