(The opposition once again in the Assembly? That would be terrible! Discussions, disagreements, no more “Amen” to what the President says. There would be DEMOCRACY!)
When Hugo Chavez said three days ago that he was withdrawing funding from a Hospital in an opposition municipality, because it would be a “strategic error” and he would not approve funding “so that half the money could be stolen”, it was typical Chavez speaking from his gut.
What was atypical, is that Chavez has always been very careful about such gaffes near elections. Moreover, the statement showed multiple errors, not only was the hospital not run by the municipality led by Primero Justicia’s Carlos Ocariz, but Petare, where the hospital is located may be run by an opposition Mayor, but is a poor barrio, full of Chavistas who voted for Ocariz because of the incompetence of the previous Chavista Mayor and the poor candidate fielded by Chavismo.
In some sense Petare is a microcosm of the choices Chavistas face in the upcoming parliamentary election: Do you follow voting for Chavez, despite the fact that things seem to be getting worse, or do you give a chance to the opposition to show whether they can do a better job?
But the amazing thing is that Chavez seems to have lost the propaganda magic touch he has always exhibited and the hospital gaffe is one more example of Chavez spending all his time being defensive, rather than setting the agenda for the headlines.
Tonight Chavez flip-flopped on the hospital issue approving the funding, saying he had a “small doubt”, but after three days in the headlines, it was clear that this was not just a matter of checking some fact, but a clear act of discrimination and disdain towards the opposition and the poor people of Petare.
And once again Chavez had to back track and try to deflect criticism in a manner which is unusual for him. And the opposition once again took advantage of the issue, grabbing headlines because of the sheer stupidity of the action, as well as holding a clean up day for the hospital today, that sent a clear counter message to the neighbors of Petare.
The question is what has changed in Chavez’ propaganda machine? With 28 days to go to the election, it was only today that Chavez began campaigning, as he was in Cuba on the first day electoral activities were allowed, despite the fact that numbers do not favor him and the opposition, with some luck, has been able to dominate the headlines for the last two months.
And in each case, from Pudreval to crime and now the hospital, Chavez’ reaction has been weak and quite insufficient for an electorate that is still waiting for results after eleven years with little progress in their personal lives.
This flip-flop will not help Chavez, as the blatant lie given by him for the change will also dominate the news for a couple of more days, until another issue takes over. It would have been better for the Vice-President or someone else to say the funding had been approved without explanation. As it stands, he only made it worse.