As Venezuelan’s speedy gonzález ándale ándale presidential campaign draws to a close, candidates Maduro and Capriles begin to count their eggs. This has been Venezuela’s shortest official run-up to elections ever. In just ten all-singing all-dancing days, besides a sprinkling of ideological discourse, from Maduro we’ve had claims of Chávez’s rebirth as a bird, verbal attacks delivered via off-beat improv hip-hop, and threats of an ancient Venezuelan curse. Capriles’s general demeanour has been somewhat more sedate, though he too has made recourse to the seemingly fail-safe tactics of religious speak and rosary garb, total respect for the dead and a whole lot of shouting.
Most polls place Maduro between eight and 15 points ahead of Capriles. The difference may drop slightly on the day, depending on levels of abstention, though Capriles will need a miracle to win. The Chavistas know it. The opposition knows it. Capriles knows it but, to his credit, is putting on a great show of a brave face. The elephant in the room may be invisible but its hardly surprising: six months ago, Capriles was a relatively unknown figure. Televised exposure of his campaign has been restricted to private channel Globovisión and YouTube. He is financed privately and represents a conglomerate of small parties with huge differences between them. His figure symbolises el imperio, the neoliberal right. In a country where the majority is proud to be “socialist” this is hard to swallow, now matter how jodido things are at home.
Meanwhile, Maduro’s candidacy has been blessed by Hugo the Almighty. Aside from having exclusive access to state funds, control over state media and 14 years in power, the officialist camp holds the faith of the people in its hands. It’s as abstract as it sounds. Common sense dictates that the ruling party has to lose. Crime rates, food shortages and inflation levels are sky-high. A state document leaked to Spanish newspaper ABC suggests that things are about to get worse. National infrastructure is teetering dangerously. A thousand promises has been broken. PSUV aren’t entirely responsible for the crisis Venezuela is currently living, but they sure haven’t made things better. At this point, from a logical perspective, most voters would pay their thanks and bid farewell – bien gracias, ciao pescao.
But politics here is beyond logic. As the temple crumbles around them, the electorate looks to the heavens for answers. And Maduro – self-proclaimed son of Chávez – is milking his born-again followers for all they’re worth. This is no quiet Obama-type acceptance of Christianity as a pretty crucial key to success. This is Chavismo evangelised, complete with progrock, iconography and convulsions. This is demonising those who don’t belong, casting sinners into Hell. This is poligion. This is undoubtable, unshakeable, unreasonable faith. Which is why Maduro has made little in offerings of policy, solutions, or concrete change. He doesn’t have to. The dogma is enough.
Capriles’s mistake, as far as I’m concerned, has been to follow this lead. While somewhat less hysterical, Capriles followers are equally fanatical but fewer. The opposition, too, has a bunch of voters that don’t need convincing. The opportunity was in convincing the Chavistas light that a new government makes sense at a time like this. Rather than do this through intense debate over fiscal responsibility, proposals of an economic shake-up and the outlining of measures needed to tackle huge social problems, Capriles has chosen the tack of insisting that “Maduro isn’t Chávez (but I could be).” Capriles is the solution, unity is the solution, Venezuela somos todos. Sound familiar? Through parroting Chávez’s old rhetoric, Capriles effectively legitimises Maduro’s messianic stance thereby setting himself up like Satan disguised as angel of light. Not only does this emulation leave the country in the same populist conundrum as ever, it also reinforces the state’s transcendental role as high deity reincarnate in Nicolás. And that, my friends, is just not cricket.