BY MICHAEL ROWAN
Ninety days ago, the odds against Manuel Rosales winning the Venezuelan presidency had to be 100-to-1. But now, 17 days before election-day, he’s got a real chance to pull off the biggest upset in modern Latin American political history. How he worked this miracle is going to change Venezuelan politics from this day forward. Rosales has also severely damaged the massive export of Chavez oil dollars to troublemakers all over the globe no matter who wins the election.
The heart of the Rosales campaign is a debit card called Mi Negra – the black oil card. This oil-wealth-to-families debit card is a major departure from decades of Venezuelan government failures to address poverty by investing 20 percent of Venezuela’s oil wealth directly via ATMs in the population, over half of which is poor. Two-thirds of Venezuelans favor direct oil wealth payments to families, which Alaska used in the 1970s to defeat poverty and stimulate economic growth there as I outline in my book. Mi Negra has struck the same responsive chord in Venezuela that the Permanent Fund did in Alaska.
In fact, one of every five current Chavez voters wants the Mi Negra card, which Chavez has called “an imperialist trick,” and if those voters switch to Rosales by election-day, he could win big. But even if they don’t, Rosales and Chavez are in a horse-race to the finish line.
Rosales rejects the foreign subsidies and giveaways to the political allies of Chavez including Cuba, Bolivia, Argentina and Nicaragua, and which are estimated to cost $50 billion since 2004. Rosales is demanding that those funds be used in “Venezuela first” to address crises in security, unemployment, housing and income – for example, Mi Negra payments.
More than 80 percent of Venezuela’s voters agree with Rosales on stopping the foreign giveaways, including half of the voters who intend to vote for Chavez, which has further softened them for election-day.
Rosales also compares his performance as governor of the Colombian border state of Zulia to the results of Chavez nationally. Most Venezuelan voters are critical of the Chavez government performance in the areas of security, housing, official corruption and unemployment.
Rosales has won every election he entered for 27 years, including two elections against Chavez stand-ins, and has a reputation as a no-nonsense, manage-for-results governor. With Rosales, the opposition in Venezuela has united around a single messenger with a powerful message for social justice and that is a first.
OF, BY AND FOR THE BARRIOS
Rosales got into striking distance of Chavez by delivering his powerful Mi Negra message to barrio families every day. Ignoring conventional wisdom, he sallied into Chavez territory and conquered many minds and hearts there. In the ten elections since Chavez’ 1998 victory, the opposition has virtually ceded the barrios to Chavez, where a majority of Venezuelans live, most of them poor.
Rosales is in the barrios almost every day where he turns out tens or hundreds of thousands of supporters. Polls show that he has made big inroads among barrio voters who are just beginning to hear about Mi Negra. Rosales has broken the back of the Chavez claim that he alone speaks for the poor, black, and powerless majority of Venezuelans.
Chavez is fighting Rosales with all the money at his disposal, which is exceeded only by Arab monarchs. In the last three months, Chavez has put Bs 1 million [$400 equivalent] per person per month in street money. He has also advanced $3 billion in Christmas bonuses to over 1.5 million employees in the government and military. It is estimated that Chavez is the prime source of income for one out of every four families in the country and a significant source in over half of them.
There is so much money in Venezuela now that consumer goods have gone scarce, while malls, restaurants and banks are stuffed with people trying to spend their inflating bolivars as fast as possible. In Caracas, the average speed of a car is 5 kilometers per hour – gridlock. The new elites in the Chavez government – nicknamed savage socialists – are rolling in dollars along with the Chavez-co-opted business elites that are in his back pocket. Chavez has spent so much money in foreign capitals and media that virtually everyone assumes he is going to win by a landslide. And that is obviously his power plan.
Chavez rules the executive, the legislature, the election commission, the courts, the military, almost all the police and PDVSA – with an iron fist. He has threatened to fire anyone dependent on his government if they don’t vote red. This has generated a lot of fear in Venezuela and distorted polls conducted by face-to-face, in-home interviews where respondents know they are identified by the pollster.
Because of the immense amount of spying, conspiring, wiretapping and release of tapped phone calls and emails by the government, there is an Orwellian sense pervading the December 3 election that he who counts the votes wins the vote. Chavez may simply announce a landslide and depend upon his power in Venezuela and in his client states to support his rule.
Nevertheless, Rosales is here to stay. He has resonated with a national consensus for an open society, Mi Negra, government reform, and the end to exporting oil wealth for misadventures. Rosales wants to get back to business, work and results, for which Chavez has no revolutionary interest.
Michael Rowan is the author of Getting Over Chavez and Poverty which is available in English at email@example.com or Amazon.com or Como Salir de Chavez y de la Pobreza in Spanish from El Nacional Books in Caracas. Rowan is a political strategist and newspaper columnist with campaign experience in 14 nations since 1970. He has been advising the Rosales campaign since July. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote this article for Latin Business Chronicle.
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