Caracas, May 26, 2008, (venezuelanalysis.com) – A controversy surrounding the exclusion of the popular Mayor of Torres Municipality, Julio Chávez, from the list of pre-candidate nominations for governor of Lara within the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s (PSUV) internal elections was resolved yesterday with Mayor Chávez’s nomination being reincorporated following the direct intervention of President Hugo Chávez.
As part of a nominations process open to all PSUV members, Julio Chávez (no relation to President Chávez), registered his pre-candidacy for governor of Lara on May 14. Days later, three high officials from the PSUV national executive met with Chávez and asked him to renounce his candidacy in favor of Henri Falcón, (currently Mayor of Barquisimeto), instead, they suggested, Chávez should run again for mayor of Torres Municipality.
Despite Mayor Chávez’s rejection of the proposition, the subsequent list of pre-candidates released to the media by the PSUV national executive on May 23 showed that he had been excluded from the list of pre-candidates for governor of Lara, but included in the list of pre-candidates for Torres Municipality.
On the same day Falcón also announced to the media that Chávez had withdrawn his aspirations for governor.
However, in a signed declaration, evocative of President Chávez’s declaration during the short-lived April 2002 military coup in which he confirmed he had not resigned as president, Mayor Chávez confirmed that he had not withdrawn his nomination.
The exclusion of Chávez from the list of pre-candidates provoked outrage amongst the rank and file PSUV members in Lara who saw it as a bureaucratic attempt by the national executive to override internal democracy within the party and impose a candidate from above.
Hundreds of PSUV members mobilized spontaneously and surrounded the party’s regional headquarters last Thursday and Friday chanting the infamous slogan celebrating the defeat of the coup; “Uh ah, Chávez no se va! Uh ah Chávez no se va!” (Chávez is not going), however, this time not in reference to President Hugo Chávez, but to Mayor Julio Chávez.
The PSUV national executive was forced to back down and on Sunday met with Mayor Chávez in the local government offices in Torres to rectify the situation and reincorporate him back onto the list of pre-candidates for governor of Lara. President Chávez, who has repeatedly called for candidates to be selected democratically by the members of the party, telephoned the mayor directly to assure him that the situation had been corrected.
Underlying the dispute is not only the question of candidates, but of two competing and completely different political projects.
“With Henri Falcón we go towards the right wing… The national leadership doesn’t know what’s going on in Lara. They are guided by opinion polls,” “It is necessary to respect the will of the grassroots,” members of the PSUV regional leadership commented to Aporrea on May 25.
Earlier this month PSUV vice-president Alberto Müller Rojas announced that Falcón had been expelled from the PSUV for allegedly violating party regulations and launching himself as a candidate for governor without having been democratically chosen by the members.
Falcón then said he would continue his campaign for governor of Lara through the For Social Democracy Party (PODEMOS), once part of the “Chavista” alliance, now in the opposition. However, before that happened, Muller Rojas announced that it was an “error” and Falcón had not actually been expelled from the party.
According to an April 30 article on the website of the newspaper Panorama, Falcón has support among both government and opposition sectors, with various opinion polls indicating he has a good chance of winning the governorship in the November regional elections.
However, supporters of Mayor Chávez argue that Falcón is the “visible head” of the endogenous rightwing of the Bolivarian revolution in Lara and contend that he has implemented a neo-liberal program during his time as Mayor of Barquisimeto.
On the other hand, while Mayor Chávez is loathed by opposition sectors, particularly local business elites and the private media, he is extremely popular amongst the grassroots and the poor for being the only mayor in Venezuela to have transferred control of the majority of the municipal budget directly to organized communities and for implementing a process of radical transformation and democratization of the entire governance system of his municipality.
His municipality served as a testing ground for the implementation of the direct democratic communal councils that were launched nation-wide in late 2005.
Controversy also continues to grow surrounding the pre-candidacy of the current governor of Bolivar, Francisco Rangel Gómez, who is running for a second term.
On May 21 Hector Herrera Jimenez, a pre-candidate for governor, and PSUV members and lawyers Atilio Tapia and Francisco Sierra accused Rangel Gómez of corruption and of using public money for his own political campaign with in the PSUV internal elections.
Tapia also argued that an investigation should be opened of Rangel Gómez, relating to an incident on March 14 when the National Guard, acting under orders from the governor, violently broke up a protest of striking workers from the SIDOR steel plant.
This was followed by a call from José Gregorio Beria, a PSUV member and pre-candidate for Mayor of Caroní, for Rangel Gómez to withdraw his nomination, saying the party is headed for an “electoral debacle” in the state of Bolivar if Rangel Gómez is chosen as the candidate.
Today National Assembly Deputy Adel El Sabayar, also a pre-candidate for governor of Bolivar, denounced that Rangel Gómez is utilizing public resources in a “gross and abusive” manner and confirmed that he lodged a formal complaint to the regional and national leadership of the PSUV over the multiple irregularities that are alleged to have occurred.
According to El Sabayar, the conditions exist for the immediate annulment of Rangel Gómez’s candidacy due to his violation of party regulations.
In particular, El Sabayar criticized as a “show” an event organized on May 18 for the presentation of pre-candidates, from which many pre-candidates were excluded and governorship employees were obliged to wear t-shirts saying “Rangel for Governor.”
El Sabayar also denounced that PSUV members who are employees of the governorship in the state of Bolivar are being “intimidated” to vote for Rangel Gómez on June 1.
“In the different institutions of the governorship of the state it has been said to the workers that it is possible to know who they voted for in the internal party elections,” he said.
However, the National Assembly Deputy assured, voting in the PSUV internal elections is by direct secret ballot and members should not be intimidated.
In a separate press conference today PSUV members Elio Sayago, Yaritza Rodríguez, Francisco Sierra, and Gervasio Coronado assured that they have documentary proof that Rangel Gómez has violated party regulations including the use of the figure of President Chavez to influence the opinion of voters, as well as using public employees and public funds to promote his candidacy.
The PSUV militants will hand over the document and are demanding the immediate disqualification of Rangel Gómez in the party’s internal elections.
Sayago, a worker from the ALCASA aluminum plant and pre-candidate for Mayor of Caroní, said the demand for Rangel Gómez’s disqualification has been endorsed by a “good part” of the workers in basic industry and especially by the workers at the SIDOR steel plant.
According to Yaritza Rodríguez, Rangel Gómez does not guarantee the development of the revolutionary process in the state of Bolivar. “He has worked in function of his own interests,” she said.