Venezuela's presidential campaigning doesn't officially begin until April, but both candidates have gotten a head start. Interim President Nicolás Maduro has a leg up with his access to state media.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.
Let’s recap of the first seven days of non-campaign campaigning, or in criollo doublespeak: pre-campaña. Technically, you see, the official campaign only starts on April 1 and lasts a mere 10 days. Obviously neither candidate has taken the [electoral commission] CNE campaign schedule particularly seriously.
[Opposition candidate Henrique] Capriles began a nation-wide stump tour, hitting two states per day, holding mass outdoor rallies that follow, more or less, the same format. His Asambleas Populares, as they’re called, kick off with four or five speakers who articulate their grievances – campaign sources confirm the testimonials always center on five key issues: education, people with disabilities, crime, the economy, and justice. These professional gripers then hand off to Mr. Capriles who gives a rousing speech drawing on their themes before circling around to his broader messages (Truth over lies, Nicolás Maduro’s government is inept, Venezuelans don’t deserve all these problems.)
That last bit is the part that you see on TV.
It took some doing to piece together that last paragraph, because this pre-campaign is not nearly as dospuntocero (2.0) as last October’s. Back then, budgets and official rules allowed for a Capriles YouTube channel to be the permanent source for almost real-time, all-inclusive coverage of campaign appearances. That’s not really possible this time around. Maintaining a constant video web presence requires a fully staffed unit exclusively dedicated to filming, recording, and uploading videos, not to mention expensive servers on which to host your data and permanent monitoring and marketing of the material via social networks, which is also not free.
Last year, Capriles’s public addresses were immediately accessible in full, minutes after they happened, indexed and searchable through his website. Today, I tried to find the talking points I’m citing, and all I could find is a blog, HayUnCamino.com, last updated on march 21 – five days [before this blog was written], which is an eternity in a campaign as short as this one. So that right there shows you – if last year’s campaign was run on a shoestring, this year’s is being run on a tatty old cabuya [twine/thread].
[Sunday's] campaign events featured a particularly poignant testimonial. Before Capriles and a large crowd, a father of a dead chavista member of the armed forces, related the grotesque story of how his son’s death was allegedly kept secret due to interests of organ trafficking mafias, allegedly linked to the government, aimed at making a profit off of his son’s death.
I was awestruck by the candor of said speaker, since I cannot conceive of a similar story being told to the public six months ago. That man had way too much to lose, and Capriles would’ve deemed it way too risky to highlight such a controversial example of chavismo turned sour. Which might explain why this clip, and many of the other testimonials, have not been publicized by any campaign, including such Capriles-friendly media outlets as LaPatilla.
On the [interim President] Maduro front, his non-campaign campaign appearances [last] week were framed both as formal State functions, as acting president of the republic, and as strictly electoral events, as candidate for president of the republic: a mass rally to graduate community doctors, broadcast en cadena nacional [where a program is broadcast on all channels], (in which he led the crowd to sing a rousing version of Cuba’s National anthem), a live TV event in Apure to give loans to farmers (while wearing a cool hat), another live TV broadcast to address political allies, a third live TV visit to an oil site in Monagas (oil workers broke out into spontaneous song, musical instruments included). These do not include Sunday night’s TV address to welcome newly-added supporters to the high-profile farandula chavista sphere (he blamed the opposition for the electrical failure), or the spiritual homage to commemorate nine days after Chávez’s farewell ceremony.
Substantively, talking points worth mentioning, Maduro-wise, are his defensive stances towards those who criticize him for mentioning Chavez a whole bunch (“I feel guilty, I should mention him a million times.”), insults to Capriles [...], and finally, an interesting focus on crime.
Having acknowledged in several public speeches that crime is a big deal, Maduro based his call to action, around the colloquial “vamos a echarle bolas entre todos” [go all out]. He also founded the Movimiento por la Paz y la Vida yesterday, which will receive, via Twitter, suggestions from the general population so that “artists, athletes, doctors, and anyone willing to participate” may pitch in to help bring down crime and raise moral values to help stop violence.
Maduro has also made a point of pitching the launch of so-called MicroMisiones, social programs aimed at targeting inefficiencies in…other social programs. Part of the baroque turn in late-stage chavismo. Take it away, Nico:
"Cuando se detecte algún tipo de ineficiencia, como por ejemplo en el caso de la dirección de una fábrica o de un hospital, se activará una micro misión conformada por un equipo especialmente entrenado donde están expertos en la materia, donde están cuadros políticos comprometidos con el proyecto, donde está la FAN, y ellos juntos intervienen ese objetivo”
"When we detect some kind of inefficiency, such as in the case of the management of a factory or a hospital, we will activate a micro mission comprising of a specially trained team of experts, committed to the political project, and working together with the armed forces (FAN)."
Of course, this round-up gives a false impression of equivalent access. Readers abroad should not be confused, though: Maduro’s y-que-pre-campaign [and-what-pre-campaign] is a million times more visible than Capriles’s – splashed all over the growing state media behemoth, billboards, the metro, everywhere. Capriles’s campaign, largely shut out of mass media, isn’t even that easy to find on YouTube. Así, as the man said, son las cosas [And that's the way it goes].
- Emiliana Duarte is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002.