I have lost count of the number of times I have written about Venezuela being in turmoil. As for now, it is something that we have learned to live with, and when violence gets out of control, you just try to find ways to evade the effects. Only, this time it seems it‘s completely out of control for both parties: Government and Opposition.
To look at this situation is necessary to take it from the moment Mr. Maduro replaced, [although not formally], President Chavez once he left for treatment again to Cuba in December the 8th of 2012. It was a very difficult situation in which the main argument for the Opposition was the Constitution and the Government handling of the responsibility to run office, which was not very clear given that the prognosis of the President’s health condition remained unknown. That of course led to an additional confrontation between Government and Opposition, which gained momentum once the time for President Chavez to take the Oath for Office, January the 10th of 2013, came and according to the Constitution, it had to be decided if his absence was a short or long-term one, that in the latter would require the President of the National Assembly to assume and call for a new presidential election within 30 days. Nevertheless, the case was that thanks to a Supreme Tribunal decision, Mr Maduro not only was sworn but also was chosen Candidate, [as President‘s Chavez televised will stated], for the upcoming April 14th election.
If there has been a critical episode in these 15 years of chavismo, the presidential elections of 2013 were a highlight. There was very little hope for a positive outcome, the Opposition failed in the October 7th of 2012 elections and optimism was not the case in the unexpected presidential bid. It would be a very short campaign and the recent decease of a strong figure as Hugo Chavez, left no doubt it was going to be a lost effort to think of getting close to victory, even with a candidate as Nicolas Maduro, who had been Foreign Minister for the past six years. That was quite enough to make anyone desist to take the challenge, there were voices that clearly recommended Henrique Capriles, the Opposition‘s contender to President Chavez, not to take a risk that would kill his political career. There was not much time to think about, and as expected, Capriles decided to challenge the chosen heir of President Chavez.
The turnout was significant (around 80%), but Maduro won with less than 2% of difference and against all odds, Capriles ended up with a better performance than the one expected, even after loosing. There were some claims of fraud at the polling centers and the candidate exercised his right to dispute the results given the collected amount of evidence. The decision from the Supreme Tribunal was not favorable, and it carried a fine for the candidate, on the charge he disgraced the honor of the tribunal by introducing his petition. Those were not the only setbacks for Capriles, the most serious was from his own coalition, that on the one side was demanding a tougher stand before the higher court and the government, and on the other, his conviction that a bloodshed was not a price to pay, that he was sure he won the election but government exercised all its power to break the will of the people, and with that thought on mind, the way was to grow a bigger and more stronger majority, one that would not allow a doubt about its strength.
Of course, that led to some frustration, not only in the Opposition electorate, but also within the coalition known as the MUD (Table of Unity), that has its own differences and antagonisms to deal with and were put aside because of the unexpected April 14th election and several months later the Mayoral Elections on December 8th of 2013. The different agendas were left to rest until the polls took place, but as soon as the results were known [considerably favorable to the Government], the feuds were let loose and without a single election in the coming year, the different sides of the MUD started to play their game to take control of the Opposition, with harsh criticism towards the performance of the coalition and the leadership of Capriles. Although there are several sides, the two most prominent are: one that favors a more defiant attitude towards the Government and the other that privileges an expansion of the Opposition as an alternative, persuading those that are frustrated with Maduro‘s management of the legacy inherited.
Before April 14th it was clear that Maduro was not Chavez, but they had to carry out his political will. Their major concern was, undoubtedly, if Maduro had the ability to do whatever it was necessary to preserve that legacy. The problem was that during the interregnum, Maduro showed himself, perhaps for the first time, considering he had been serving for a long period as a Foreign Minister, during which he had little chance to get exposed. The perspective was a very bothering one; he was definitively not Chavez, not even close. The narrow and contested victory was a preview of what the ride was promising to be.