There is a suffused sense of the unreal when we watch the chavista campaign for the eternal reelection referendum. It is not really a matter of watching the now routine power abuse to win an election at any cost. No, there is something else at play, something associated with the rotten stench of crumbling structures and nobody seems to notice. In a way it really does not matter: whether Chavez wins his referendum does not change an iota on the crisis coming Venezuela's way. One could even say that the best that can happen to Chavez is to lose the referendum so he can use his still significant ascendant to better goals than politics, for example to explain the tightening of the populist state that we cannot avoid any longer. If Chavez wins he will be forced to prepare his next reelection from the following day and that can only speed him up on the road to repressive regime. Paradoxically for him, winning the referendum could actually mean that he will not finish his term as his own disenchanted people might throw him out before his second term is over.
But Chavez seems to believe in his star even as numbers everywhere look negative and even as his many blunders are more and more apparent. Either that or he has a secret option in store. Let's look at some of the salient moments.
Last Tuesday he held a 7.5 hours cadena. That is right, for 7.5 hours ALL radio stations of the country and ALL TV stations of the country were forced to transmit in simultaneous broadcast his "state of the union" speech. Surely a record somewhere. All the National Assembly and its guests (ambassadors in particular forced to attend for protocol reasons). Besides the physical feat of speaking for 7.5 hours straight without allowing the audience to take a pee break, there was nothing to admire in what was only a litany of the alleged achievements of last year. The only thing missing from the inventory was the numbers of nails planted in ministries walls to hang on Chavez portraits. But there was something to blame, the extraordinary number of lies that Chavez uttered, including the absence of street kids in Venezuela. I suppose that the one I see juggling balls at the same crossing most mornings has not been told yet that he ceased to exist since he is now registered (Is he?). But that Chavez performance only underlined what a mockery of everything Chavez does, how deeply he despises institutions, going as far as making up a silly excuse to take the chair of the president of the National Assembly, and thus underscoring to the country that he owns it.
But one thing he never mentioned was the criminal death toll of Venezuelan streets. What world is Chavez living in?
We also see how the National Assembly worded the amendment question making sure that the word reelection did not appear. Why the sudden prudery? Are they finally realizing how indecent their proposal is? Are they so embarrassed that the amendment to one article has become a bona fide constitutional reform of 5 articles that they opted for a cryptic referendum question? One is left to wonder if the chavista assembly has not realized that it is so devoid of leadership that it decided to cling to Chavez for dear life. Their self degradation is reaching such extremes that cameras apparently will be banned from their sessions, except for the one focusing on the current speaker. They do not want the world to see that they are so bored, that they have so little to do besides waiting for orders from Miraflores that they waste their time chit chatting or checking strange e-mails from anti breast cancer societies...
But this servility of the Assembly is matched by all those chavista officials that spent two years explaining to us why it was obvious that Chavez should be the only one allowed eternal reelection. Suddenly Chavez changed his mind and today they have to be equally creative at saying the exact opposite that they were still explaining us two weeks ago. Do they think honestly that people will not notice? But surely their servility is matched by the electoral CNE who has already decided on many things for that vote without waiting for the constitutional requirement of receiving the duly approved referendum question. Obviously the CNE was much more concerned about anticipating the orders of their boss than to follow constitutional requirements.
Is there anyone left within chavismo with enough backbone to at least shut up? Or are they counting on Chavez to dig his own grave with this referendum? Or are they aware of the repression coming and they are already protecting themselves? Who knows! Rotting systems have surprising self preserving ways.
However one thing is certain: repression is already starting as we saw what happened today to the protesting students, what happened to Venezuelan politicians traveling overseas because their colleagues do not want to visit Venezuela anymore, what happened to journalists covering the National Assembly, and more. But we should be happy: everyday Chavez and his cohorts give us more reasons to vote NO.