Defeat of Maduro's candidate in Chávez's 'fief' animates Venezuela's opposition

For experts, the defeat of Jorge Arreaza, the country’s former vice president, shows that democratic ways can still be a response to the Venezuelan government’s authoritarianism

Federico PARRA / AFP

Sergio Garrido, candidate of the Venezuelan opposition, was elected in the state of Barinas

The state of Barinas, birthplace of Hugo Chavez and home of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, last week elected its first governor outside the Chavista axis since 1998. Sergio Garrido, who won 55.3% of the votes, overthrew his opponent Jorge Arreaza, one of the biggest pro-government names today, and his victory was recognized by the official channels of the Latin country. The opposition’s upward trajectory is still timid and for the time being in the municipalities, about 100 prefectures have been “lost” to the opposition, and only four of the 23 states in the country will have governors who are not linked to Nicolás Maduro. For experts, Garrido’s victory signals a shudder on the part of Nicolás Maduro, but it has an even more important role: showing that democratic ways are still a possible way of overthrowing the authoritarian policy that rules the country.

Cloudy democracy and intimidation marked the election

For the professor of International Relations at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) Regiane Bressan, it is difficult to see democracy in Venezuela as a “black and white” situation and to tax the country, which still hosts elections, as a dictatorship without raising others. questions. “I prefer to say that Venezuela has been breaking with democracy, constantly breaking with the democratic legacy, with democratic rules, with democratic norms, with democratic institutions, but it does not cease to be a state with a certain democracy from the moment where there is still an election, for example. We have several nuances, because no de facto state, especially in Latin America, experiences full democracy”, he analyzes. The professor explains that in many countries, including Brazil, it is possible to notice heads of state trying and managing to change the Constitution to guarantee another mandate.

The assistant professor of International Politics at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) Paulo Velasco, recalled that the last elections were monitored by international entities and, in the eyes of the mediators, seemed to be more peaceful than the previous ones. Still, a crooked path was traced until victory was recognized. First, the Supreme Court of Justice canceled the victory of Freddy Superlano, another opposition candidate who had already won the Barinas government at the polls in November, claiming that he had been “previously disqualified”. With a new election scheduled for January, less-than-subtle intimidation by the Maduro government has taken hold in the district. “There are reports of the deployment of military forces to the state, with around 25,000 officers in the region, and the distribution of benefits to those who agreed to vote for the government candidate. The opposition victory in Barinas is very symbolic, but it is not enough to say that it is a resumption of democratic franchises in Venezuela”, explains the professor.

For him, both the Maduro government, which uses intimidation to try to shape results in its favor, and the opposition led by self-proclaimed President Juan Guaidó, who refuses to appear at the polls, contribute to the country’s democratic instability. The two professors agree that victory in the face of such adversity proves that the opposition preached by candidate Henrique Capriles, who follows a different line from Guaidó, is a viable means. “He [Capriles] is a very strong name in the opposition, participated in presidential elections in 2012 against Chávez, in 2013 against Maduro. He was the voice of the opposition that guaranteed the participation of opponents in the November elections, because if it had been up to Juan Guaidó, the opposition would not have participated. In recent years, the boycott has been the hallmark of the opposition, largely due to Guaidó, who tries to delegitimize any election and seeks other shortcuts and paths, which does not help the country’s democracy”, analyzes Velasco, signaling that the “coup” it is not the best way to guarantee the legitimacy of a government. “From the moment the opposition wins in this state, it shows that through democracy it is possible for the opposition to win, and this sets a huge precedent for us to think about a change of government, an alternation of power, which is very important for oxygenating democracy itself”, reinforces Bressan.

The weight of the defeated name at the polls is also seen as a sign of the weakening of Chavismo in the state. Arreaza, who was once Venezuela’s vice president and the country’s chancellor, also had personal ties to Chávez, as he was the son-in-law of the former Bolivarian president. The uncertainty that hangs over the country is how strong Sergio Garrido will be to govern Barinas in the face of a Venezuela sunk in poverty. “If there were all these maneuvers to try to guarantee victory in the state of Barinas, certainly the Garrido government will suffer heavy opposition and boycotts of all kinds. Barinas is an agricultural state, it is a state that depends less on oil income, for example, but it is a state that has economic fragility, in general, and depends on central resources, so Garrido’s life will not be easy, we can be sure”, says Velasco. “I think there is a very strong symbolism of the weakening of Chavismo, something that also shows a certain exhaustion of Venezuelan society with the government that is there, but above all it demonstrates that the path is not abstention, it is not the boycott, it is the participation in the elections”, he points out.

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