Hugo Chavez's desperate bid for political survival


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (C) gestures as he greets supporters during a campaign rally in Cabimas in the state of Zulia September 30, 2012. Chavez is seeking re-election in an October 7 presidential vote.

Article Highlights

  • Only in Venezuela could violent street gangs and a former U.S. president be on the same team.

    Tweet This

  • A series of narrowing poll numbers suggest that Chavez’s followers are demoralized by his faltering performance.

    Tweet This

  • If violence does mar Venezuela’s election, let it be known that it was planned and executed by Chávez and his followers.

    Tweet This

Venezuela’s cancer-stricken leader, Hugo Chávez, appears to be losing ground to opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, and the ruling party is taking dramatic steps to bully the opposition and to whitewash the results of the Oct. 7 balloting. Only in Venezuela could violent street gangs and a former U.S. president be on the same team.

According to sources in Miraflores palace, about two months ago, Chávez began refusing cancer treatment and check-ups, insisting that returning to the campaign trail would invigorate him. In recent weeks, as doctors warned, this dangerous decision has taken a terrible toll. As a result, it is increasingly difficult for his medical team to prepare him for periodic public appearances.

At a Sept. 15 rally in San Fernando de Apure, Chávez wept openly during an emotional appeal at a political rally. Two days later, the Spanish-language Univision caught two senior government ministers on an open microphone lamenting the poor organization and underwhelming turnout of a rally in a Caracas barrio. The Univision report contrasted that event with massive mobilization held days earlier by Capriles’ campaign. These anecdotes and a series of narrowing poll numbers suggest that Chávez’s followers are demoralized by his faltering performance.

In a front-page exposé on Sept. 21 the Spanish newspaper ABC published a series of leaked Chavista documents detailing plans to deploy “armed commandos” on the streets as 19 million Venezuelans go to the polls. Investigative journalist Emili Blasco describes “rapid mobilization networks” — known by their Spanish initials, REMI — modeled on the “Iranian basij units that aborted the ‘Green Revolution’ in 2009.” Consisting of mobile teams of 5-7 members, the REMIs are expected to “organize street demonstrations and resistance,” “control territory,” monitor opposition activities, etc. One of these gangs, known as La Piedrita, is headquartered very near the presidential palace. Blasco cited a Venezuelan colonel who said that 8,000 Russian assault rifles were distributed to these REMIs beginning in June.

It is notable that these Chavista squads also are charged with “gathering intelligence on police and military movements,” using a series of codes to be texted to their base of operations reporting the presence of helicopters, planes, armed personnel carriers, etc. The Venezuelan military is traditionally responsible for election-day logistics, so they have a legitimate reason to be moving about the country that day. On two occasions in recent years, military commanders played another role: insisting that Chávez recognize the defeat of key constitutional amendments in 2007 and accept an opposition victory in the national assembly elections in 2010. Although Chávez has packed the military with loyalists, he is on guard against another such challenge.

Chávez also is taking steps to ensure that the international community accepts his victory, no matter what the outcome. In this, he is counting on former President Jimmy Carter and retired governor and Clinton Cabinet member Bill Richardson. On Sept.11, Carter described Venezuela’s electoral system “as the best in the world.” Carter then called Chávez, and the two men exchanged compliments during a 30- to 40-minute conversation. According to palace sources, Chávez’s team hopes that Carter will deploy a last-minute electoral mission, bless a Chávez victory and gain tacit recognition of the Obama administration.

As for Richardson, the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) has asked the Chávez regime for its permission to name the retired U.S. pol to head an election mission. Richardson already has passed the word to Chávez that he has a great fondness for Venezuela and is eager to do what he can to legitimize the upcoming elections.

These very different developments — the deployment of street gangs and high-level diplomacy — have the common objective of guaranteeing the Chávez regime’s survival. It is troubling that the Chavistas are premeditating the use of street violence on election day, secure in the knowledge that Carter and Richardson will ignore all this in a rush to legitimize a Chávez victory.

Some representatives of Venezuela’s opposition have been warning of Chavista violence, but Capriles refuses to do or say anything that might cast doubt on the electoral process and suppress his turnout. However, if he does not respond to these two Chavista gambits, he may see a hard-earned victory stolen from him and his people.

As for Washington, if violence does mar Venezuela’s election, let it be known that it was planned and executed by Chávez and his followers. And let Carter and Richardson be on notice that their deliberate role in all this will not be overlooked.

Roger F. Noriega held senior positions in the State Department in the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2005) and is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

Love people, not pleasure
image Oval Office lacks resolve on Ukraine
image Middle East Morass: A public opinion rundown of Iraq, Iran, and more
image Verizon's Inspire Her Mind ad and the facts they didn't tell you
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Closing the gaps in health outcomes: Alternative paths forward

Please join us for a broader exploration of targeted interventions that provide real promise for reducing health disparities, limiting or delaying the onset of chronic health conditions, and improving the performance of the US health care system.

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Comprehending comprehensive universities

Join us for a panel discussion that seeks to comprehend the comprehensives and to determine the role these schools play in the nation’s college completion agenda.

Event Registration is Closed
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 8:50 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Who governs the Internet? A conversation on securing the multistakeholder process

Please join AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy for a conference to address key steps we can take, as members of the global community, to maintain a free Internet.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Expanding opportunity in America: A conversation with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

Please join us as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveils a new set of policy reforms aimed at reducing poverty and increasing upward mobility throughout America.

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.
Is it time to end the Export-Import Bank?

We welcome you to join us at AEI as POLITICO’s Ben White moderates a lively debate between Tim Carney, one of the bank’s fiercest critics, and Tony Fratto, one of the agency’s staunchest defenders.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.