With only two months left to go until the December 3rd presidential elections, the campaigns of the two main challengers have transformed themselves into two of the world’s great forces of nature. On one side is the "Avalanche" and on the other the "Hurricane." Both candidates have been touring the country during the past week, trying to convince the public of their fitness for the top job.
Manuel Rosales’ campaign has said there will be a “Caracas Avalanche” this coming Saturday– a massive demonstration in support of the opposition’s great white hope in the Venezuelan capital. Meanwhile Chávez, on Sunday, chose Santa Inés in his home state of Barinas, the place of a historic battle in 1859, to enter into what he described as the “final stretch” of the campaign. He said that the “Bolivarian Hurricane” was gathering pace.
While Chávez was in Barinas, Rosales was in the state of Yaracuy. Speaking in San Felipe, the capital, his main line of attack was to rock one of the pillars of the Chávez government’s foreign policy.
The current government has developed strong relationships with Argentina, Bolivia and Cuba. These countries are the most open to an alternative, more independent Latin American integration process than that proposed by the United States, but Rosales said he wants to return things to normal. What this means is no more Cuban doctors in Venezuela, no more Venezuelan advisers in Bolivia, and the end to any of the country’s oil money going towards Argentine bonds.
Chávez has also provided preferentially financed oil to countries across Latin America and the Caribbean and discounted oil to poor communities in the U.S. Rosales is against this and clearly thinks he is hitting a chord with the electorate when he says, “It’s not possible to keep giving away Venezuela’s wealth, our oil. It doesn’t belong to any government in particular, it belongs to the people.”
Rosales is trying to build cross class support. In an effort to attract the support of the least well off Venezuelans Rosales said he wouldn’t dismantle the social missions put in place by Chávez. To appeal to the base instincts of the middle classes he attacked the Bolivarian University, another creation of the current government. “[If I win] it [the university] is going to be about things academic, about science, the arts and not politicians or ideologies (…), [now] instead of talking about multiplication tables or letters or verbs they want to talk about communism, a failed philosophy,” said Rosales.
Rosales also visited the state of Trujillo, where he said that the region would be turned into a real tourist destination.
Meanwhile, in Santa Inés, Chávez told supporters that it was here that the campaign would really get started, “Today we enter into battle because until now we’ve only been warming up the engines.” He said that beyond the election there would be a “new era” of the revolution and that December 3 would be a departure point rather than a point of arrival. He said that the first era, between 1998 and 2006, was difficult due to the pressure internally and externally, revolution & counter-revolution and general instability.
While talking in Santa Inés, Chávez was light on policy, preferring to seduce the crowds with a familiar message, “Rural Venezuelans and the poor of Venezuela had made the conservative and treacherous oligarchy, who threw out Simón Bolívar and handed Venezuela to an imperialist elite, bite the dust.”
On Monday though, while in Carabobo state, Chávez did speak on social policy. He announced funds for the construction of 340 houses in the small town of Enrique Bernardo Núñez, where he was campaigning. Also, overall there would be 45 thousand homes built in the state of Carabobo in 2007. There is a drastic shortage of housing throughout Venezuela, something the government has not adequately addressed.
Neither candidate goes into much policy detail while campaigning, both preferring to attack their respective opponents. But, at the end of the day everyone knows what the current government stands for. Most voters will identify themselves as pro- or anti-Chávez more than anything else.
And for now it seems though that the Bolivarian Hurricane is much more powerful than the Caracas Avalanche, since Chávez is way ahead in the polls. Despite this, Rosales thinks it’s all still to play for, “We are in a process of transition. In two months the people will be demanding a new president and a new government for Venezuela”.That seems a bit like wishful thinking from here.