The 2010 election predictions: Llanos

This is deep Venezuela, the large central plains, a chavista area and in some states perhaps even a bastion.  The reason is quite simple and goes beyond the Llanero origin of Chavez: the wave of land grabs, the expropriation of a considerable amount of large farms have created a generalized impoverishment of the area and thus an increased dependency of the people from state alms.  More than anywhere else we can see the contrast between the few urban areas of the Llanos which still can on occasion show an opposition presence, and the rural districts which have become a terre de mission for opposition candidates (missionary lands, french political vocabulary).

The smallest in area and population of the region, Cojedes, illustrates quite well what has happened to the area.  There the opposition has been all but erased, conserving barely the state capital San Carlos with a meager 46% of the vote.  And yet it should have done much better.  After all the rule of the 2000-2008 governor, Yanez Rangel, was pretty bad.  Not only he was an incompetent military, but he was a vindictive and corrupt one.  Associated to the infamous Antonini case, he was also quite close to all sort of suspicious and unfinished business of the Olympic village when San Carlos held the National games.  And more.  There was not a single project of the state that did not go directly though Yanez Rangel hands or his associates.  And if there was a need to silence critical voices, printing plants of local papers were conveniently burnt down.  Since 2008 Yanez Rangel has kept a very low profile since even for chavismo quite low standards his corruption was a tad too much to stomach.

In 2004 it was Yanez Rangel that led the first big wave of ranch and farm land take overs, with the famous El Charcote intervention.  Needless to say that today El Charcote is a wasteland, as is an increasing area of Cojedes including what was taken away from Hato Piñero.  Amazingly no Venezuelan newspaper has run a major research article on the fate of these ranches!  Just an occasional note...

But for chavismo the result is good, its voting share has kept high in spite of everything.  In all elections since 2004 chavismo has kept an advantage of at least 1.3.  That is, for every vote the opposition got, chavismo always got at least 1.3 votes, to the record 2.8 in 2006.  Needless to say that I do not see how the opposition can get more than one seat, from the list vote.  And even there, the distinct possibility that chavismo could double the opposition makes it a possibility of a clean PSUV sweep (2-1 ration in 2009!).  Very optimistically I will speculate that Cojedes has been hit enough since 2009 that at least the voting ratio will be below 2.1 and thus at least one seat will go opposition.  Maybe if San Carlos has a slide of 10%?

Total Cojedes: 3 PSUV, 1 leaning opposition.


That state is also a rather surprising bastion for chavismo since it is more developed than the other Llanero states, to the point that some like to discuss it together with Lara rather than Apure.  I confess that I do not understand much that state.  Of course I can look at the evidence that the MAS had already managed to pick it up before Chavez, that probably a significant "tradition" of agrarian wars existed brought naturally by the intensive agriculture developed in certain areas.  But still...  Then again as far as I know Portuguesa who has voted chavismo diligently seems to have been spared the brunt of land grabs from the government.  Its two term governor was an African American woman, Antonia Muñoz, who run as a maverick for the Constitutional assembly in 1999 but eventually found its way in the second circle of chavismo.  She does not seem to have been particularly more corrupt than other chavista potentates, though she did not escapee charges of nepotism.  Thus Chavez had no trouble in parachuting her successor, his ex tourism minister Wilmer Castro who got in easily.  Facing that, today the opposition has no other tool but to bring back former governor Ivan Colmenares, duly beaten again by Muñoz in 2004.  I have the feeling that this will not do.

Portuguesa was also the unlikely scene of a dispute between chavismo and PPT in 2008.  Bella Pretizzo did run a spirited campaign but felt quite short with only 14% of the vote.  I am not sure if the Falcon effect of Lara can carry with the PPT in Portuguesa but it might be enough to split the anti Chavez vote in two and manage the miracle for the PSUV of getting the two list votes of the state!!!  Considering that the opposition feeble vote of 2008 almost did manage to double the PPT vote I doubt that Bella Petrizzo now running for representative will win, but a spoiler she might be.  To add woes to any opposition hopes there, the 2009 referendum was a disaster: in 2008 Castro got 185,000 votes but three months later Chavez was taking 72% with 250,000 votes.  Case closed.  The nicest I can be for the opposition there, even taking away 10% to chavismo, is a single one "too close to call" for the list vote that could even go to the PPT.

Total Portuguesa: 5 PSUV, 1 too close to call


Our next stop allows us for more opposition hopes.  Barinas is Chavez state but the excessive nepotism shown there which has made the Chavez family the largest land owner directly or though figureheads has finally created a backlash.  Amen of the other problems inflicted on the country that reach Barinas too.  This very AD state in the past (Chavez father was an insurgent politician of sort when he worked for COPEI) did not make his conversion to chavismo as fast as other llanero states.  Maybe they knew the Chavez family better?

Chavez will not have any of this rebelliousness and the representative that accused the family of all sorts of corruption has been recently dismissed of his seat and barred from running again in Barinas where he was probably a shoo-in for reelection (a brother also was murdered on, supposedly, an unrelated matter).  Now the scene is more complex and indeed there is the possibility of some upsets there for the opposition even though I am not too sure about the candidates this one chose.

A little bit of gerrymandering was also used in Barinas, you know, to spare the embarrassment of Chavez that his representative might not be a chavista.  For example next door state, Portuguesa, has single districts only, just as Zulia has become.  But Barinas received a dose of Caracas gerrymandering and now has two districts, 2 representatives each, conveniently adding chavista areas to opposition ones and diluting that vote.  See, if the state capital had become a single district the opposition could well carry it since in 2009 it got 47% for the NO.

Thus the 2008 results are rather pertinent here since they are the starting point of a local feud between the Chavez clan and the unlikely coalition of true dissidents from chavismo (the Azuaje group) with old AD et al. opposition groups, never minding the dispute between former allies Reyes and Azuaje which has created a break with PODEMOS in this state as it runs its own list.  In other words at this point one is never sure who is with whom in Barinas, not even within chavismo as another splinter group has joined the PPT.  Surely as election day approaches we might start seeing a rearrangement of the situation.

Meanwhile we need to make a prediction.  Here the 5% drop in chavismo rule works and should hand out to the opposition the state, that is, if a PODEMOS agreement is reached. The problem seems to be that once Azuaje was out PODEMOS demanded the top ticket in a district, based on their heated defense of Azuaje (rumored about to join PODEMOS).  I think the opposition MUD should comply.  The situation is already tough enough in the Llanos to risk losing two seats there that would be almost certain gain for the opposition.  And in my opinion, if chavismo loses the assembly there is the possibility that in a not so distant future some chavista might want to make deals with the new majority and a PODEMOS group in the assembly will be the essential wedge for that.  But I am getting a little bit ahead of myself here.

However, that is not the lone opposition problem.  It seems that the state machinery of the PSUV is way more efficient than the one of the dissidence or the outright opposition.  When you look at the difference between legislative and executive vote in 2008 you find what is always the pattern in Venezuela, a significantly lower list vote.  That is, the less educated people are the more likely to cast a ballot for the cacique candidates (governor, mayors) than for the state legislative candidate.  Maybe an innate/ingrained understanding that in Venezuelan politics lawmakers count for little?  Barinas is no exception and the PSUV dropped 18,000 votes in its legislative votes.  But the dissidence dropped 36,000 while the opposition retained its meager 15,000.  What happened?  One, there was certainly a crossover voting, of people distanced from the Chavez family but not ready to go all against Chavez.  Two, the opposition knowing that it would not win voted only for Reyes, saving its list vote in the understanding that it would not help sending legislators in the Chavez homeland.  But Reyes did not have a structured party and thus he was not able to educate the voter to make sure they did cast their list vote too. His possible victory would have left him with a PSUV majority at the state legislature (which is also, by the way, what happened in Tachira where Perez Vivas was not the favored opposition candidate, proving that chavista electoral cheating does pay of).

All of this makes the prediction more dubious as clearly it is difficult just to add up the dissidence of Reyes and Azuaje to the traditional opposition and thus the 5% rule might not apply anymore.  The more so that 2007 and 2009 had reasonably good results for chavismo.  Thus I think that for the political future of the country the result of Barinas district 1 will be a bellwether as to that ability of the opposition to organize and win in the future, and not only in Barinas.

The only thing we can be sure is that the list vote will be split between a chavista and former chavista Reyes, who I will qualify for lack of better words "other opposition".

Total Barinas: 1 PSUV, 2 leaning PSUV, 2 leaning opposition, 1 other opposition


This very  large state and relatively little settled (3 districts only) is a very interesting case as it is the only other state outside of Lara where the PPT has a chance to do something.  That is, if it manages to make a pact with the opposition because divided, even with a calamity like William Lara as a governor, the PSUV can still get it all.  Because let's face it, currently Lara has the highest probability to win the award of worst governor of Venezuela.

It is difficult to imagine a less fit candidate to run an agrarian expanse such as Guarico.  A city creature of effete speeches Lara is in the country side of Guarico as much at ease as I would be at a PSUV rally.  In fact, I suspect that I would be more comfortable because at least I would be interested in what is going on whereas Lara displays signs of anxiously awaiting his recall to the power center of Miraflores.  At least people in his similar situation such as Tarek Saab in Anzoategui have decided to try to make the best of their exile.  Why was Lara sent there?  Chavez had no candidate for Guarico and wanted to punish Lara's incompetence by sending him away to run the provinces.  Chavez does not fire people, he puts them to do his dirty work.  The incompetence of Lara is no object because Lara knows what he needs to do to return in Chavez favor: be a radical agent.  As such Lara is more chavista than Chavez and he himself, personally, participates in the diverse land grabs he presides over in the state.  On the other hand he does not preside on such things as road repair, for example....

There is a case to be said that Chavez, in his egomania, has decided to punish the Guarico voter who voted previously for the PPT led there by a certain Manuitt of clear thuggish manners.  When the PPT decided to go solo and run behind Manuitt's daughter, Lenny, in spite of PSUV pressures, the fate of the state was sealed.  Chavez sent a typical "resentido social" over and he is applying XXI century plague methods.  They must be efficient for the goals sought because the opposition manged to barely win the state capital, San Juan de Los Morros, just to see the new mayor promptly defect to the PSUV, a rather very rare occurrence.  Still, it did not do much good for Gamarra to do so because the mistrust inside PSUV is congenital and soon enough Gamarra was in turn leaving the PSUV to join the PPT and Falcon.  Probably ruining his career for ever.

How does this leave Guarico?  On paper it should be good for the opposition. The agriculture is a wreck in this agrarian state and the farm hands who might have welcomed cautiously the land take over by the state are realizing fast that they were in better shape under their old capitalistic boss: they might have been insufficiently paid but they were paid, something not always happening under the new regime.  Yet the leadership of the opposition has been wiped out under Manuitt and his rough methods and only now it is trying to revive at the hand of a few farmers.  The PPT did not fare much better as Lara purged or forced public conversion of whomever was even suspected of PPTism.

Yet, applying the mere 5% rule, which I think is the very least that chavismo must lose there, district 2 (Altagracia de Orituco) and district 3 (Valle de La Pascua) should go opposition.  But only if PPT and opposition find a way to work together.  Otherwise even a direct transfer of 10% from PSUV to PPT will not be enough for this one to get seats.

The PPT has high hopes there, after all it put on the top of the ticket list vote its president, Jose Albornoz.  I suppose they will send Falcon to campaign there on occasion.  And Lenny Manuitt is on the second spot of the ticket and running at the same time for district 1.  But Lenny is in a tough fight as she needs a transfer of at lest 20% PSUV to PPT to barely squeak by in that district, considering what she got as a governor candidate in 2008.   It is possible, the state has degraded enough under Lara, in particular in Calabozo that he carried comfortably in 2008.  But I am afraid it will not be enough.  SO, unbelievably, notwithstanding William Lara, I must put all of the state leaning PSUV hoping that by the end of the campaign PPT and opposition will do an agreement there.  My suggestion is letting Albornoz win the list vote, unite between Lenny in district 1 and let the non PPT opposition carry district 2 and 3.  This is no idle chat: if PPT and oppo retain their list vote candidates the PSUV can get double the votes of either one! and thus carry both list seats!  Only this way can Guarico give 4 of its 5 seats to the opposition.  Otherwise:

Total Guarico: 1 PSUV, 3 leaning PSUV, 1 too close to call


And thus we go to the last one of the Llanero states, Apure, half owned by the Colombian diverse guerrilla groups.   Apure is also the mythic Llanero state, the birth place of our local cowboy variety, a state half under water during rainy season, parched as hell during the dry one, fortunately with enough rivers coming from the Andes so that cattle can still drink some and the guerrilla hide in the evergreen forest that borders these rivers.  The only economic activity that might prosper there is cattle ranching and some eco tourism/ bird watching.  Chavez has been diligently working at destroying both.

Difficult in access (far from everywhere, a lone bridge in San Fernando to get inside) it is thus difficult to control and difficult to campaign in.  The more so if guerrilla groups control areas where you should campaign. Leopoldo Lopez of Voluntad  Popular did go to a small town in Apure, El Nula, which is reputed to be the guerrilla capital of Apure.  Leopoldo himself wrote on his visit to El Nula, where all activities are controlled by the guerrilla, from sending kids to school to snitch on other kid's family activities, to gas distribution.  The local authorities are just there for show since none of them can call upon the Nazional Guard to do its job, or the army to bring to heel the guerrilla.  When one reads his words the question here is how come the guerrilla actually let him complete his visit!  They certainly did not expect a politician to go there, and I am afraid that none other will have the guts to do so.

Thus Apure is close form being a lost case.  As long as chavismo supports guerrilla activities it is nearly useless to vote there, from council man to representative.  And yet Apure has many reasons to vote for the opposition, besides wanting to end Venezuela's ties with the Colombian guerrillas and the associated narco traffic: the present governor is yet another incompetent military that is enjoying life to the fullest.  I read on occasion that some people do not remember the last time he was hanging around in the state.  Maybe for the campaign he will show up more often?  But the guy has an excuse: he is only the front man of the regime, all real power is in Apure in the hands of the border guards and their pals of the guerrilla.  Nothing big in Apure  happens that is not approved by the army.

In 2008 thus Aguilarte was reelected.  But with almost exactly the same number of votes he had gotten in 2004 in spite of a significant increase in voter turnout.  The opposition low score is in part due to the extraordinary dispersion of candidates (a dozen!).  As such Aguilarte percentage in 2004 was 66.8% and dropped to 57%  in 2008.  I expect that now the real number of PSUV are going to drop.

There are three different districts in Apure.  District 3 is the state capital, a not too big district where the opposition could organize itself reasonably well and pull off an upset.  The PSUV mayor was elected with only 43% of the vote and if I have not heard anything bad about him I have not heard anything good either.  As for the local chavista representative to the state legislature, she only got 39% of the vote.  This time around the opposition is not as dispersed and I think district 3 should go for the unity candidate from Proyecto Venezuela.  Then again the 2009 referendum was won by chavismo with 62% vote.....

The other districts are rural, and guerrilla influenced.  Predictions are hazardous.  Only the PSUV can organize enough of a political machine to bring in the vote.  Optimistically I am going to put one for the PSUV and one 'only' leaning.  As for the list vote I think that it splits even.  Maybe things would have been different if Leopoldo could have run there....

Total Apure: 2 PSUV, 1 leaning PSUV, 1 AD and one Proyecto Venezuela.

PS: with the Llanos we have now discussed more than half of the contested seats for September. The half moon graph is now balanced between PSUV and opposition, courtesy of the Llanos trend.  No need to put it up yet, it will have to wait for the next post of the series.