On Monday, Venezuela’s anti-Chavez minority remained sceptical as a proposed “debate” between their pre-presidential candidates went no further than a series of grand promises each candidate would implement if he or she somehow beats Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in next year’s presidential elections.
Scheduled for October 7, 2012, the Bolivarian Revolution’s Chavez is expected to easily defeat any one of the US-backed opposition candidates. Chavez current has an over 60% popularity rating.
Held at the private Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas, the “debate” between members of the opposition’s Democratic Unity Roundtable included lengthy commercial breaks and a narrow range of unspecific assurances by the five candidates: Maria Corina Machado, Leopoldo Lopez, Pablo Perez, Henrique Capriles Radonski, and Diego Arria.
While the opposition coalition originally had twice the number of presidential hopefuls, the five present at Monday’s event were the only ones able to pay the US$122,000 required to participate in their coalition’s presidential primaries. All five are now positioning among anti- Chavez forces and financiers in the run up to internal primaries scheduled for February 12, 2012.
Though participating in a public election in Venezuela comes at no cost to candidates or their parties, the cost of internal elections (primaries) are the responsibility of each organization.
The “Great Debate”
Limited by the largely effective policies of socialist President Hugo Chavez, the pool of opposition candidates dedicated most of their time to attacking the Venezuelan President and blaming him for the social and economic ills accumulated during decades of pro-capital, anti-people governments.
The first segment of the “debate” provided each pre-presidential candidate a minute to present themselves, with Diego Arria, former Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations during the neo-liberal presidency of Carlos Andres Perez, kicking things off.
Arria opened the “debate” by declaring that he is “fearful” because he knows “very well the possible consequences of the violence and hatred unleashed by this regime on society”. By “regime” he was referring to the democratically-elected Chavez government.
Asked only to present himself and explain why he wants to be president, Arria limited his response to “I know how to do it” and added his promise “to end all violence, rescue the peace, the security and the hope” within “just two or three years”.
Arria, who later surprised everyone when he said he would take Chavez to court for “crimes against humanity”, provoked widespread condemnation in 2009 after he blamed ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya for the violence that rocked the Central American nation after members of the armed forces and business community forcefully removed Zelaya from power and implemented a brutal dictatorship.
Last to present himself was Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition politician barred from holding public office for having committed acts of corruption while he was mayor of Chacao. Lopez, who presents himself as the victim of judicial bias, promised to “build a safe Venezuela, a Venezuela filled with employment, and above all else, a Venezuela in which all rights belong to all Venezuelans”.
Found to have misappropriated over $100,000 in public funds in order to finance his own personal political party, Lopez is barred from holding office through 2013 though he can legally participate in any political event or election of his choosing, including next year’s the presidential election.
Following five minutes of introductory presentations, the “debate” paused for a three-minute commercial break, a pattern that repeated itself throughout the evening’s event. The next segment of the event included a series of questions regarding personal safety/security, found to be a strong concern for Venezuelans in a recent survey conducted by Chilean NGO Latinobarometer.
Calling the violence a “national tragedy” and blaming the government of Hugo Chavez for what is truly the result of decades of social exclusion, exploitation and mismanagement of public funds, each candidate was asked to provide their solutions to associated social ills.
Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, one of the candidates most likely to win the opposition primaries, promised “education and employment” as a solution to violence and added that Venezuela “needs a government which understands that the problem of security is not a problem of political colors (positions)”.
At the time of the April 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Radonski, mayor of the Caracas municipality of Baruta, was filmed outside the Cuban embassy as a mob of men cut water and electricity to the diplomatic premises and threatened to attack those inside. Radonski also climbed over the wall of the Cuban embassy and attempted to force a search of the premises, in clear violation of international law. He was later charged and briefly imprisoned for his actions.
The next participant was Pablo Perez, an opposition governor from the state of Zulia. To combat violence Perez vowed to implement an unspecified “policy of disarmament” and “to be a president who promotes a culture of peace, a culture of life and not a culture of death and violence”.
Both Miranda and Zulia are the states with the highest incidences of crime and violence in the country.
After another commercial break, the candidates were asked for solutions to the “problems” of economic growth, jobs and education. In response, all five candidates issued blanket criticisms of the Chavez government’s community-based social programs and proposed pro-business alternatives.
Their solutions, including “stimulating private investment” and “ending government interventions,” sit much more comfortably with their Venezuelan and US financiers than the socialist policies of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Maria Corina Machado, a far right-wing candidate campaigning on a platform of ‘popular capitalism,’ said it was important “for no one to fool themselves” about public policies, because “you can’t have jobs, not for young people, not for anyone, if there isn’t respect for (private) property”.
Founder of SUMATE, a US financed NGO dedicated to “democracy promotion”, Machado reiterated that Venezuela needs “private investment” and, above all else, a respect “for private property, which is sacred”.
The day after the opposition “debate”, Venezuela’s Social Investigation Group XXI (GIS) released poll results that found 56% of Venezuelans plan to vote for Chavez in next year’s presidential election. Chavez, who has called on supporters to aim for a landslide 60 to 70% victory, recently joked off a possible opposition win by affirming, “It is easier for a donkey to pass through the eye of a needle than for the opposition to win that election”.
Faced with the high likelihood of a Chavez re-election, the United States government has allotted over $20 million to help finance the opposition through 2012.