Much of the talk about Venezuela for the past fourteen years has been, no doubt about it, Hugo Chavez. Before that, maybe baseball and beautiful women winning beauty pageants made it to the headlines, but not with the same frequency as this political phenomenon, that not many might predicted but as he appeared decided to win his electoral bid in 1998, soon stirred reluctance given his eager intention to “fry heads“ of traditional political ruling class.
Venezuela was shaken, the ruling class remained detached even after the first call that was the “Caracazo“ a series of rioting and looting that took place in 1989, just a month after Carlos Andrés Pérez started his second term, as he agreed to subscribe economical measures with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in order to make adjustments in the failing economy. Soon after decentralization (1990) came along as another way to make peace with the People, but not even that could avoid the breach that in effect continued growing between political class and society. The crisis was both political and economical, on the one side there was the banking crisis; on the other was the political parties crisis. It was a complex scenario that prompted the appearance of yet another savior, very much in the style of Latin American countries.
In 1998 political parties were exhausted, leadership was so eroded that the options were between a former beauty queen, a regional ‘caudillo‘ and an old savvy Politian, relentless to let go control of his party. That didn‘t stand as options and Chavez came along to rule with a timid embrace at first and later with fierce grasp after the coup in 2002. From that moment on, there were mistakes after mistakes from his political opponents who had to decide between giving the fight with the institutions they had or take the long road of confrontation.
As you may know, the second option was the outcome for a very divided opposition with many particular agendas, that of course made it impossible to adjust to the purpose of becoming a political alternative; instead they took the flagship of getting Chavez out of Office, and that was not very attractive for much the people still expecting his promises to be fulfilled. The Opposition insisted with a Recall (2004) that successfully won Chavez, boosting his leadership and weakening his adversaries, to the extent, they chose not to contest Parliamentary Elections in 2005, leaving the legislative branch exclusively in the hands of the ruling coalition.
In 2006 a new presidential election took place and again Chavez won, but in 2007 he suffered a setback when his proposed Constitutional Reform didn‘t pass. In 2009 he got what he wanted through a Constitutional Amendment, the unlimited reelection that had been overturned in 2007. In the 2010 Parliamentary elections, in a very unusual situation (given the gerrymandering of the electoral circuits), the Opposition obtained more votes, but less seats in the National Assembly, which could be seen as both a victory and loss, for Government and Opposition: the ruling party got majority of seats, with less votes, which showed that his times of absolute control of the popular vote was starting to change; while on the opposite side, things were starting to look promising with an important gain in practical terms, of Congressmen and in terms of voting intention, but of course not enough seats to be a majority.
The Government made every effort to underestimate these results, although in private documents acknowledged they had certainty they would loose seats. Even with the impulse of these results, they kept excluding Opposition from the national scene.