The United Socialist Party of Venezuela tries to refresh its leadership at a critical moment. This week, two female militants fought each other over support for different candidates in the community on the outskirts of Caracas. Weeks ago, shoving and shooting, disputes were settled in the city of Barinas between two aspiring Chávez: Argenis, brother of the commander of the Bolivarian revolution and current governor of the plains state, and his nephew, another Hugo. This Sunday, 60,000 candidates are presented to open primary elections, in which the entire electoral roll can participate and not just the militancy. Behind the process, the discontent buried in the Chavista bases and the game of thrones between the power factions represented by Nicolás Maduro and, number two, Diosdado Cabello has made noise. Chavismo risks its survival as a political movement and its permanence in power on the way to the regional and local elections on November 21.
Beyond the struggles in the first phase in which the party filtered the applications that could go to the primaries, there is a clear photograph of how Chavismo arrives at this contest. On July 28, when Chavismo was celebrating the birthday of the late former president, an unusual appearance by Maduro occurred in the study of With the mallet giving, the program that Cabello hosts on state television, from where he dictates lines to the militancy and even to some security forces. “I am determined to carry out a coup,” the president joked with the first vice president of the PSUV, after grabbing the props that identifies the program. “They tell me that the internal process is going very badly,” the questioning to the mainstay of Chavismo’s political force continued sarcastically. Between jokes, the imperative message during the almost two hours was that of urgent unity, to seal the formula of the single party. “The leaders have to be an example of unity, not fractionalization,” insisted Maduro. “We must go in search of those who are unhappy, those who are confused, those who are angry, those who have left.” The Chavista ruler also put on the table what, in his version, is an orchestrated campaign against the revolution. “There are those who try to say that Maduro and Diosdado betrayed Chávez’s legacy.”
The correlate of these cracks is in the street. Carlos is a member of the PSUV and has voted for Chavismo since 1998. He is a public employee and founded the commune and the communal council of his community, in a neighborhood in the west of Caracas. The 52-year-old man, who prefers not to say his last name for fear of reprisals, disdains the apparent participation of the rank and file in this process. “There is a leadership that has its candidates. We want changes, but there is a kind of hegemony ”.
In the first phase of candidate nomination, plagued by complaints of irregularities such as the exclusion of voters, purchase of votes and pre-marked ballots, some figures of the national leadership of the PSUV with opaque leaderships were left out, such as Elías Jaua, Francisco Arias Cárdenas or Erika Faría, the mayor of Caracas, who will not be able to repeat in office. Of the 19 governors of Chavismo, four will not be able to be reelected. In the case of city halls, according to Cabello, the renewal will reach 70% of the positions.
For each position there are 20 candidates, 10 men and 10 women. Gender parity does not guarantee equal conditions in competition. In the Libertador municipality, the center of power in Caracas, Maduro is promoting his Interior Minister, Carmen Meléndez, recently under the spotlight for the police operations deployed to dismantle the Koki gang, which terrorized the city for several days at the beginning of July. “They tell her that she is not even from Caracas, when there are other community leaders who could aspire, but do not have the capacity to get there,” Carlos complains. “There is no motivation to vote here, everyone is demoralized,” he says. In his analysis on the street, the militant criticizes the abandonment of the first organizational structures of Chavismo, the communal councils, which were the basis of the so-called popular power, now crushed by the Chavista bureaucracy. These have been replaced by the street bosses of the Clap, those in charge of collecting and distributing bags with food from the questioned welfare program and, also, of moving the votes. There are 284,000 nationwide, as reported by Cabello to Maduro in the program, and they were activated for these primaries. “The Claps, who are only a social policy, cover all life in the community. The street bosses are the ones who command, manipulate and threaten. This state policy must be corrected ”, says Carlos.
The urgency of addressing an economy burned by almost four years of hyperinflation, which is now facing a monetary reconversion again, is another of the questions raised from the grassroots. “We have lost a lot of people,” says Carlos. “If this doesn’t improve between years, we totally disappear.” With the first person of the plural it refers to Chavismo and with the time limit for the presidential elections.
Chavismo today concentrates 25.3% of political sympathies, but only 9.5% of that group supports Maduro, according to a July survey by the Center for Political and Government Studies of the Andrés Bello Catholic University, which analyzes the perspectives for the second half of 2021. 35.9% consider themselves opponents, of which almost half support their leadership. In the largest fraction, 38.8%, are those who do not identify with any, a growing sector. Although there is a majority willingness to vote among citizens, the conclusion of the study on the outlook for the coming months is that “the status quo, that is to say, the scenario of authoritarianism, in which the Government controls all the institutions and the State without the possibility of a democratic transition taking place ”.
From another popular sector of Caracas, Rafael Suárez, a popular and Chavista communicator, has the same diagnosis as Carlos. The most serious thing, in his opinion, is that the missions (social assistance programs created by Chávez) were abandoned and that the economy was ruined by decisions taken more than a decade ago, such as the expropriation of companies and land. Suarez, however, has another perspective on the strength of the PSUV. “The party is felt by various leaders’ demarcation. But Chavismo has been strengthened by all the mistakes that the opposition has made ”.
For the political scientist Nicmer Evans, after the PSUV primaries a new sector emerges that will change the sidewalk. Last year, for the parliamentary elections, allies such as the Communist Party of Venezuela and Tupamaro broke with the government. This year the differences have deepened to the point that they have been branded in the National Assembly controlled by the PSUV as “outdated left” and “allies of imperialism.”
Chavismo dissidents are leading, like some minority sectors of the opposition, to promote a recall referendum for 2022, a scenario whereby Chavismo needs the cohesion and control of regional and local positions, as well as to rebuild the civic-military alliance that He has also resented the mistakes made by Maduro, such as the operation on the southern border of Arauca against the FARC dissidents and his absence from parades and significant anniversary events in the Armed Forces.
In June, a group of former ministers, governors, mayors and leaders of different stages of the Chavismo administration dissociated themselves from Maduro in a statement and expressed their concern about the government’s “bipolar policy”. They also bet on the revocation of the presidential mandate, while the opposition around Juan Guaidó and the so-called G4 will attempt a new stage of negotiations in Mexico with representatives of Maduro, including Governor Héctor Rodríguez and the head of Parliament, Jorge Rodríguez .
“In the PSUV they are able to leave people on the road to show in the international context that they can hold primaries, because their lives and survival are at stake,” says Evans. “The PSUV has always been a challenge for Maduro, because when Chávez chooses to give him the succession, he leaves the party to Diosdado, who has been displaced lately. This is the moment to regain strength and mark ground so that they continue to maintain it as number two ”. For Evans, Maduro’s appearance on Cabello’s show is evidence that they were forced to call the primaries together because discontent was overflowing. “They are needed to survive.”
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