Venezuela is not a particularly popular topic in Washington these days. To most, the bombastic rhetoric that President Hugo Chávez throws to the airwaves on an almost weekly basis has instilled an innate ‘mute’ response from those in the American foreign policy sector. Indeed, at times the elaborate feuds of the Venezuelan regime play out more as a flailing telenovela than international diplomacy.
Behind the scenes however, political rip tides are stirring Caracas in the midst of upcoming federal and municipal elections at the year’s end. On such accord, a rising young politician, Mayor Leopoldo López of Chacao, made it a point to visit the United States this past week to convey a sense of both the elections’ significance and shine light on its already fraudulent bearing.
Featured in Monday’s Washington Post op-ed , López is among hundreds of opposition candidates that have been blacklisted by the government well before the ballots are to be cast by the greater public. Jack Diehl of the Times explains:
“Two weeks ago, Venezuela’s national electoral council, dominated by Chávez followers, moved to ban López and 371 other candidates from the Novemeber state and local elections, which are shaping up as the most important since Chávez was first elected nine years ago. This broad exclusion was based entirely on the finding of another Chávez appointee, who ruled that each of the candidates was guilty of an administrative or legal offense, though none has been judged in court.”
To this end, López spoke before a forum organized by the Inter-American Dialogue, in which he outlined the progress made in the Cachao municipality of Caracas, the growing necessities of the Venezuelan populace, and the fallacies contrived by the regime to undermine ‘alternative’ governance (Audio here).
According to López, the current regime holds a grip on a near 90 percent of the political system, making it difficult to maneuver on strategic and tactical levels before the monopoly. He himself has been a victim of three assassination attempts and a kidnapping in 2006, both events he attributes with certainty to the government for his discrepancies in policy.
In step with this rhetoric, López attributed the following paraphrase to Chávez himself earlier this year:
“We are confronting a possible war if we lose the regional elections in November […] If we lose regions like Caracas, like Miranda, like Táchira, we will be in a state of war.”
Framing this motive, López cites clear breach of the Venezuelan Constitution in Articles 65, 42, and 289, which declare a citizen eligible to run unless convicted by a judicial body of a criminal offense, and in the latter article describes the limited role of the board itself to exercise nullifying powers. In an ironic twist, Chávez had been brought before the Supreme Court on such criminal charges after his manufactured coup in 1992. Even so, the decision had not been one strong enough to dispel him from the ballot box in 1998.
Despite the hostilities and a regime hell-bent to derail any potentially successful candidate, the mayor maintains that these elections must be seen in context of the 2007 mandate that aimed to indefinitely renew his executive role. It marked Chávez’s first rebuff since his election in 1998. From there, he argues a fundamental campaign for change must be fortified by a few pillars:
- A united, ‘alternative’ platform to bid for political office
- Subsequent need for such platforms to reach and conduct “good governance” on a regional and local level
And if López and other ‘alternative’ candidates were able to show some success at the polls in November?
Amid his discussion before the forum, the mayor underlined a handful of issues not handled adequately in the mind of the Venezuelan public :
- Public safety (He cites Caracas as the most dangerous city in the hemisphere with 70 murders per 10,000 inhabitants)
- Food shortages
- On the international front, the state’s alleged relationship with the FARC and its diplomatic stance with regional players, including a “fundamental reshaping of relations between North and South America”
Although López carries many ambitions and insights, unless significant pressure is leveraged on Chávez in the coming months from fellow American states or domestic fervor, its seems unlikely he, nor the rest of the near 400 blacklisted candidates, will have the opportunity to lay their hand to the table. Nonetheless, the mayor’s visit has seemingly stirred the pot in Caracas, as the regime ponders the prospects of an microscope of the eroding democratic trends of the Venezuelan state.
Update: Upon his return to Caracas this past week, the mayor was subsequently detained at the airport for two hours and purportedly roughed up physically by unidentified officials. He described his treatment on Venezuelan television as unacceptable. His claims were later to be satirized across several programs.