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Marco Vicenzino Headshot

Twisting Venezuela

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Realizing Hugo Chavez's cancer may prove terminal, his government desperately buys time through shameless gimmicks blatantly violating Venezuela's constitution. Through whatever means necessary, it is determined to secure another six-year presidential term and beyond. It aims to further consolidate the Bolivarian Revolution's survival, increasingly ingrain it into the social fabric and ensure it becomes irreversible in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.

Regardless of the magnitude of Mr. Chavez's illness, securing his physical presence in Venezuela, even if temporary, will be strategically critical to Nicolas Maduro, the current vice president and Chavez's anointed heir. In a likely presidential contest against Henrique Capriles, the dynamic opposition leader, Mr. Maduro's electoral chances grow more complicated with El Comandante's absence. Combined with factionalism in Chavismo's upper ranks, a pro-Chavez sympathy vote alone may not guarantee victory. Another free but unfair election would be needed in which the politicized instruments of state power are fully exploited to create an unequal level playing field.

To further underscore this manipulation, the indefinite delay of Chavez's constitutionally mandated oath of office has been rubber-stamped by Venezuela's Supreme Court, stacked with Chavista loyalists. Its twisted reasoning simply defies any internationally accepted standards of jurisprudence. Even the Catholic Church has pleaded for compliance with the Constitution. After all, it remains one of the last remaining independent and influential voices in Venezuela.

Furthermore, the government continues to use the private sector as scapegoats when its own economic mismanagement is responsible for the consistently deteriorating economy. Troubles include scarcity of basic food supplies and distressed oil production. The government engages in ploys such as sending troops to seize sugar mills in order to distract public attention from its own ineptitude.

Venezuela's opposition is engaged in a full-scale media assault against the government's constitutional violations. Henrique Capriles remains the opposition's undisputed leader. Despite defeat in the October presidential contest, his convincing performance was the best of any opposition leader since Chavez assumed power. Furthermore, despite several opposition losses in the gubernatorial elections of December 2012, Capriles prevailed in Venezuela's second largest state. This victory further consolidated his position as opposition leader. His formidable discipline, determination and preparedness serve as critical unifying factors. Should snap presidential elections be called, Capriles can effectively seize the initiative and build upon the momentum of his recent campaigns.

Any talk of a weakening opposition in light of the December gubernatorial defeats is simply overblown. Voter turnout in December barely reached 50 percent, whereas participation in the October 7th presidential election was over 80 per cent. Secondly, Chavez's cancer relapse galvanized the sympathy vote, particularly among his grassroots. Thirdly, the government strategically set the date of gubernatorial elections for December 16th. After all, it was just two months after the presidential election which maximizes voter fatigue and one week before the Christmas holiday which further distracts voters. Much of Venezuela's anti-Chavez middle classes tend to mobilize for vacation during this period. Finally, as in all recent Venezuelan elections, overwhelming state control over all instruments of power prevents an electoral level playing field.

For now, Venezuela's future remains hostage to the health of a single individual whose ideology contradicts Venezuela's long-term national interest. Even if Chavez disappears and as Chavismo wanes, de-Chavezation will take a long time. It would be best for Venezuela to embark on this journey sooner rather than later.

Marco Vicenzino is a contributor to FreeVenezuela.org.