Something in tattered sheep clothing

no more clapping: the opposition is back
It is difficult to make sense of Chavez show yesterday.  I mean, it is often difficult to dig though the alluvial mass of Chavez speeches to figure out what he really means to say: swallowed in a sea of anecdotes from his life, drowned in an abundance of invectives against his foes, real or imaginary, swamped with irrelevant facts, or those you know are untrue, you never quite know how to manage your political compass.

But yesterday was something else.

Chavez is mandated by the Constitution to appear in front of the National Assembly once a year to offer his account of achievements.  That he has done stuff is certain, that some are actual achievements is another thing.  But at least for the last 5 years he had a submissive assembly that applauded til' their hands bled to any silly data or joke he uttered during a speech that lasted at the very least 4 hours.  In cadena of course, that is ALL radio and TV in Venezuela had to transmit the simultaneous broadcast of someone behaving very unpresidentially.

Now this year was different.  See, there would be sitting in front of him 67 people that would not applaud at all.  In an institutional way they may politely clap as he entered the half moon of the Assembly but that would be all.  On the other side, the government in full and the 98 chavistas would have to clap even harder to compensate.  The expectations were great, considering that also the other "powers" of the state must attend as well as diplomatic representations and "notable" figures.  Remember, in previous presentations we even got an endorsement of the Colombian FARC with the consequences we all know.

First, Chavez spoke for a bout 7 hours.  Needless to say that I did not have the stamina to listen to it, plugging in for a few minutes here and there.  But that was enough to get the tone, the more so that one of my plug-in was when Chavez explained vehemently that he was not a communist and that private enterprise had a bright future with him....  Yes, I know, I am still looking under the chairs trying to find my jaw.

And yet there were other noteworthy announcements behind the sea of usual rhetoric and worn out cliches.  For example Chavez said that he would return the enabling law by May, that is, using it for only 6 months of the allowed eighteen.  He said that the laws belonged, after all, for the assembly to discuss, and that the opposition was welcome back for that....  even VTV felt compelled to publish this call to the opposition and show the above picture in their site.

What gives?  Well, first you would be a fool to take Chavez words for real intentions.  In ten years we are more than used to his two steps forward one back strategy.  Second, the enabling law will be valid for another 5 months so he can do all the damage he needs to do before returning it and pretend to be a democrat.

And this is the key because his arrogance yesterday was tempered by the reality that the enabling laws and the other laws voted last December are felt in Venezuela and outside as coup, as a naked power grab, and an undeserved one to boot.  There have been huge floods in Colombia, there are now huge floods in Brazil and we do not hear of a single enabling law over there.  At home, it is clear that many of he laws passed last December were those expressly forbidden to the government in 2007 when it tried to get them through a constitutional reform.  Chavez has pollsters and he knows that his numbers have been going on downhill since last September and that this Christmas season was the saddest in years.  Why?  not really because of the lack of money, after all there was at least the very minimum of hallaca and partying, more because the understanding that chavismo was never going to get enough and people simply lost interest for partying, and henceforth interest for Chavez.

Thus it is time for damage control and yesterday, even though Chavez repeated his usual cliches, he had at least to pretend to make a few concessions.  In a way it worked as many foreign correspondents welcomed the announcement that in May the enabling law will be over.  But none of them seems to worry about what he will do in the meantime.  And to Chavez distress now there is a credible opposition that demands to Chavez to prove his "good" intentions of yesterday by revoking the enabling law right now, with the unquestionable argument that the opposition will gladly vote all the necessary and reasonable laws to deal with the emergency, without the need for an enabling law.

Maybe Chavez can still play the silly portion of the foreign press but it is clear that the opposition representatives that endured the 7 hours speech of yesterday are not going to be so easily assuaged.  Making his new dictatorship work is not going to be as easy as he thought and surely news from Tunisa were not encouraging.  The sheep clothes worn yesterday were not very effective at concealing the reality.