SEMANA/Venezuela | 10/16/2008 12:00:00 AM
In the run-up to regional elections in Venezuela on November 23, SEMANA profiles some of the leading opponents of President Hugo Chávez.
Six weeks until the regional elections, the first elections since the defeat of Chávez’ referendum in 2007, these are the main personalities, who from different platforms, are making a stand against the popular president.
A close enemy
One of the most striking cases is that of Chávez’s once close ally, Raúl Isaías Baduel, a retired general, who was detained on October 3 by the military intelligence commission. Baduel is accused of having managed resources in an illegal manner when he was minister of Defense, a position that he held until July 2007. Before that time he was an unconditional ally of Chávez. They served together in the Army, founded the revolutionary movement which brought the President to power, commanded the military forces and even led an operation which returned Chávez to the presidency after the failed coup attempt. At the end of 2007, during the referendum campaign, Baudel confirmed his rejection of the President’s policies.
The regional leader
During the elections of December 3rd, 2006, Manuel Rosales, the sole opposition candidate, may not have won the presidency, but he did manage to gain visibility. Since the failed coup of April 11th, 2002, the relationship between the two has been tense as the President accuses him of supporting Pedro Carmona, who lasted a few hours in power. Rosales is the governor of the state of Zulia, which holds 40% of the country´s oil production. A very popular figure with 30 years of political presence in Zulia, Rosales is running for mayor in Maracaibo (a position he held for two consecutive terms). José Vicente Carrasquero, Rosales’ campaign director in 2006, says that “staying in one of the most important regions of the country where he has had an important impact allows Rosales to maintain his political visibility.”
Representing the disqualified
Leopoldo López, mayor of the prosperous Caracas municipality of Chacao, took a blunt hit when his political disqualification was announced in June, along with almost 300 opposition leaders. The controversial decision impeded him from running for mayor of Caracas where he is one of the most popular politicians. Despite the decision, López has not disappeared from the scene because, according to analyst Capriles, “he is not someone whose popularity depends on a situation”. López supports Antonio Ledezma for mayor and, as he is the most visible face of banned opposition candidates, he’s also pushing an international campaign of protest against the decision that expelled him from politics.
His denouncements have been heard before the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Also last Wednesday the European Council condemned the measure as a violation of the Constitution.
The third way
After being the second largest party of the government coalition, the socialist party Podemos distanced itself from Chávez at the beginning of 2007. According to their secretary, Ismael García, Podemos is revolutionary and socialist- but not pro-Chávez- and that is why it rejected uniting with the Socialist Unity Party of Venezuela, the main pro-government political party. During the campaign for the referendum, Podemos opposed Chávez’ reforms. Today García is one of the visible faces of the dissidents from the Chávez movement and considers his party to be a third way. While once an ally in the Congress, which is now controlled by the government after the departure of the opposition in 2005, Podemos has become the only critical voice.
Student activists enter politics
The student movement still remembers their moment of glory. It was their victory for the “No” side in the constitutional referendum, which was Chavez’ first electoral loss. Today the collective leadership of the “chamos”, (young people), has changed and many have made the leap into politics. Freddy Guevara aspires to be a councilman of the Metropolitan District and Stalin González is a candidate for the Libertador municipality in Caracas. Yon Goicoechea, who still leads the opposition from his student platform, received the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty and says that he will use the $500,000 USD to build a “school of leadership for freedom”. The students began to protest when they saw their university autonomy threatened and became national figures as they protested the closing of the Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) network.
The media leader
When RCTV left the airwaves in May 2007, the channel Globovisión, headed by Alberto Federico Ravell, became the main audiovisual opponent of the government. Two weeks ago it grabbed headlines after a tear gas bomb exploded at their headquarters after being declared a military objective of the “Bolivarian militias.” As the November elections approach, pressure against the Venezuelan press has increased. In addition to Ravell, other opposition journalists include Teodoro Petkoff, owner of the newspaper Tal Cual; Marcel Granier, RCTV president and Miguel Henrique Otero, director of El Nacional. During the recent meeting of the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, the Inter-American Press Society, Otero and Ravell sounded alarms about the difficult situation of the media in Venezuela today.
The rebellious ex-wife
Accustomed to fighting against world leaders, Chávez has also faced issues closer to home like with this ex-wife, Marisabel Rodríguez, mother of his youngest daughter, Rosinés. The couple met in 1997 and she was a key figure in his campaign that brought him to power a year later. In 2002 during the coup attempt, she was the one who told CNN that Chávez had not resigned. But two years later their divorce was confirmed. Although her opposition towards the Venezuelan leader has focused on custody of the girl, for the last few years she has also taken up a political stance and today is a symbolic opposition figure. In 2004 she made her discontent known during the referendum, and in 2007 was also outspoken in her opposition to constitutional reform. Not long ago, accompanied by Baduel and Ismael Garcia, she presented her candidacy for the jurisdiction of Iribarren, in the state of Lara.