LOCAL ROADS TO POWER

September 25, 2007

In the 1980s, various leftists including Andres
IVelsquez of the Causa R and MAS' Carlos Tablante
gained prominence at the local level. Velasquez, as
president of the steelworkers' union in the state of
Bolivar, and Tablante, first as a city-council represen-
tative and later state deputy in the industrial state
of Aragua, established their credentials in struggles
around concrete issues and then catapulted onto
the national stage. Other MAS leaders emerged first
as local muckrakers and nd activists, and subsequently
as popular politicians in other states. These up-and-
coming figures in MAS were given a boost in the
1988 campaign by the party's presidential candidate
Teodoro Petkoff who on the stump reserved a major
part of the limelight for the party's congressional
candidates. Petkoff, in a departure from MAS' previ-
ous campaign policy, went so far as to admit that he
had no chance of winning, and urged uncommitted
voters to split their ticket in favor of the party's con-
gressional candidates. Increasing political diversity has cut heavily into
the influence of the AD and Copei party machines in
Caracas as well. Following a nationwide trend, the
nation's largest city has been carved up into several
new municipalities. The district taking in the city's
center (which retains the name Caracas) is governed
by the Causa R's Arist6bulo Isturiz, who in 1992
upset AD's future presidential candidate Claudio
Fermin. Like Ist0riz, other mayors in the Caracas metropolitan area depart from traditional molds and feel no need to be deferential toward the pow- ers-that-be at the national level. One mayor is a national spokesperson of a neighborhood move- ment, whose candidacy was launched by a commu- nity-based electoral group. Another, Irene Sez, a former Miss Universe, is an independent who has multiparty support in her bid for reelection this December. AD did not relinquish its traditional strongholds without dogged resistance. In Bolivar in 1989, and in four states and Caracas three years later, the
Causa R and MAS mobilized support on the streets
to defend their electoral victories which AD and, in
one case, Copei refused to recognize. In the state of
Sucre, MAS' gubernatorial candidate Ramon
Martinez locked himself in the governor's palace
and under the threat of an assault by an AD-orga-
nized squad allegedly under the direction of the
state police, declared, "the only way they will take
me out of here is dead." In the state of Portuguesa,
MAS' state organization conceded defeat in order
to avoid a bloody showdown between security
forces and an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 supporters
on the streets. The MAS national leadership, how-
ever, overruled its state chapter, and pursued the
matter in the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and
then the Supreme Court. MAS leaders challenged
election results in three other states as well. Reruns
were eventually held in Lara, Sucre, Delta Amacuro
and Barinas. In the latter three, MAS was on the winning side.
The struggles that leftist candidates had to
endure in order to take office set the tone for their
three-year terms in office. Relations between tradi-
tional power holders and incoming anti-corruption
reformers have been tense from the outset. Mutual
animosity was particularly pronounced in Bolivar
after 1989 when AD threatened to use its two-to-
one majority in the state legislature to alter Andres
Velasquez' proposed budget and at the same time
oust him from the governorship. Never easily intim-
idated, the Causa R responded by calling assemblies
in localities throughout the state in hopes of gener-
ating active support for the party's budgetary allo-
cations. Such a response was consistent with the
Causa R's concept of participatory democracy, but it
was also a political imperative given the recalcitrant
opposition of AD and, to a lesser extent, Copei state
deputies. Eventually, Velbsquez defied the legisla-
ture by putting his original budgetary program into
effect and taking the matter to the Supreme Court,
which decided in his favor.

Tags: Venezuela, leftist politics, MAS, Causa R, decentralization


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