Petro, Lula and Our 2024 Elections

VA columnist Jessica Dos Santos looks at the "unpredictable" 2024 Venezuelan presidential elections in this edition of "Tales of Resistance."

Last month I followed Colombia’s elections very closely. Unlike many of my countrymen, I’m very passionate about the history and affairs of our closest neighbor. To be completely honest, I thought Petro was not going to make it.

Weeks later, I’m still happy as well as convinced that his triumph would not have been possible without his running mate. Francia Márquez is an Afro-Colombian activist who was born into poverty in the Cauca region, took the fight to mining corporations and is now in the Nariño Presidential Palace.

Up next, the elections in Brazil are circled on my calendar. Lula’s campaign has a “back to the future” vibe to it, it’s a great reminder that politics, like life itself, can be full of surprises. The unexpected might be just around the corner.

Some suggest Lula’s second go-round will be tougher, that he will be forced into making concessions, etc. But I think there are reasons to be hopeful. There’s a horizon that becomes clearer as the Bolsonaro nightmare comes to an end.

But then, like a bad omen, a specific date pops up in my head: 2024. That year, barring unforeseen circumstances, Venezuela will hold its most unpredictable presidential elections ever. It’s even hard to picture them.

In recent weeks, I’ve started to pay more attention to opinion polls. Two in particular stood out to me, the ones by Datincorp and Delphos (though I know they have a historical anti-Chavista bias). The former stated that 63 percent of those polled want a president that is neither from Chavista or opposition ranks. The latter claimed 48.3 percent don’t trust any political party.

The data rang familiar. Yet 10 years ago, 80 percent of Venezuelans identified either as opposition or (mostly) Chavista. More than that, the battle lines were clear and we were determined to defend our trench. That is hardly the case today, certainly not with a similar intensity.

One way or another, it seems most people have the same immediate goals: securing minimal conditions to live peacefully. In such a scenario, many analysts see fertile ground for the emergence of an “independent” or “outsider” figure, which usually are hardly one thing or the other. However, perhaps because of the polarization we’re so used to, it doesn’t seem all that probable.

I have no idea what is going to happen, but what really bothers me is not knowing what I want to happen. For one, I’m absolutely sure I don’t want any of the opposition “leaders” anywhere near Miraflores Palace. On the other hand, I feel that institutional Chavismo needs to change its way of doing politics. I write this down, read it again and I’m scared that I don’t want to erase it.

But I’m not sure I would welcome six more years like the ones we’ve been through. It’s not blasphemy, rather a sort of natural exhaustion. In the past three elections, the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) ran on a platform that it is the only political outfit with the ability to run a country devastated by the crisis and the US blockade.

At the end of the day, it is the only bloc that mobilized to ensure, at the very least, subsidized food bags for the people and that the lights stayed on, barely. Meanwhile Guaidó stole our assets abroad while calling for sanctions and foreign invasions.

As I think about it, this official line of reasoning has been used to justify liberal-style economic adjustments and claim they are the only alternative.

Now, how long can this discourse last? When can we start to demand more than a little order amidst the chaos? Will that be enough to win in 2024? It’s very possible. But is this what we deserve or fight for? In a recent televised broadcast, a communal leader told the president it was “time to move from resistance to emancipation.” Is the government ready to do so?

The internal political conflict has subsided and we are even witnessing a renewed dialogue with the US. This means some of Chavismo’s main arguments are weakened: “the coup-plotting opposition and US intervention make governing impossible.” If that is out the window, what then? An accelerated economic recovery would be quite handy for an electoral campaign.

On the opposition side, the Unitary Platform, a hodgepodge of parties, has begun registration for “open primaries” to define a unified candidate from this hardline sector for the 2024 contest. Still, the “interim government” circus carries on at the same time.

For its part, Chavismo retains a 4 million-strong electoral base but this in itself does not assure victory. If the opposition does not run split like in recent votes, Chavismo needs to fight to regain the ground it has lost ever since securing 7.5 million votes in 2013.

Question is, is that possible? What’s the strategy? How can voters be convinced, or regained, with the wear and tear that comes with 20 years in power? And is this still Hugo Chávez’s political project? Even I want to be persuaded!

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.