Coyuntura Venezuela

David Smilde

There is no good translation of coyuntura in English. The literal translation is “conjuncture” which is indeed used by some social scientists. But conjuncture doesn’t quite have the political feel that coyuntura has. In Spanish coyuntura clearly gives a feeling of a crossroads, of a turning point, of a moment in which history will be defined.

Venezuela is in a coyuntura. Whatever happens, the next six months are going to be months of transition in which Venezuelan history will be defined for years to come. If President Hugo Chávez and his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) win the October 7 presidential election it will mean a radicalization of the transition to socialism already in course. Chávez has won presidential elections three times before (1998, 2000 & 2006) and all indications are that he will again roll to victory in October. With popularity in the low 60s, and a formidable war chest (due to high oil prices and massive loans from China), the only thing that could stop him would seem to be his continuing battle with cancer. A victory for Chávez would be interpreted by the government as support for socialism and lead to continued consolidation of its project.

If Henrique Capriles Radonski wins the October elections, it would mean a transition to an opposition presidency in a context in which the PSUV would still dominate all other branches of government. This would undoubtedly be a contentious situation in which the PSUV would likely try to strip away competencies from the executive branch during the months between the election and swearing-in. However, at this writing Capriles’ chances look slim, with most polls placing him ten to fifteen points behind Chávez. Beyond some major exogenous impact such as an infrastructural or foreign exchange crisis or a failure of Chávez’s health, it is doubtful that Capriles will become Venezuela’s next head of state.

Yet, if Chávez were to succumb to cancer it would mean a transition to a post-Chávez era. There is still no officially disclosed public information specifying the diagnosis or progression of Chávez’s cancer. But having suffered a reappearance of tumors within a year of his first surgery, his prognosis does not look good. If Chávez were to die and a smooth transition to a substitute candidate took place, it is very probable that his charisma could carry that candidate to victory. But if there was no succession plan in place, it could generate considerable conflict within the governing coalition. In the best case, a substitute candidate would be named through conflict internal to the Chavez coalition. In the worst case there could be real violence in the streets. Thus, a post-Chávez PSUV presidency would likely be a contentious situation as well. There is no single person other than Chávez who could hold together the current coalition—which ranges politically from longtime socialists to progressive activists to military nationalists, and includes competing networks of licit and illicit economic interests. No matter who takes over, some of these groups would feel threatened.

Such a situation of looming conflict could increase the possibility of a Capriles victory. But if Capriles were to win as a result of Chavez passing away or a difficult succession, it might be hard for some elements of the Chávez coalition to accept and could also create conflict. Chávez and the PSUV have a track record of accepting electoral defeat; however they have never faced defeat in an election in which the very continuation of the revolution was at stake. The opposition, in contrast, has a track record of crying fraud throughout the Chávez period—most importantly in response to the 2004 recall referendum—and could do so again.

The coming six months then, represent a coyuntura that will define the course of Venezuelan history for years to come. Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights aims to provide independent, reality-based analysis and commentary to help English language audiences understand the complex situations that will occur during this period. In our view, Venezuela discussion and debate suffers from an excess of opinion, partisanship and abstract narrative, and a paucity of facts, sustained analysis, and aspirations to objectivity. “Reality-based,” of course, does not mean that our facts or our analyses are always right. Rather it means that our posts seek to engage facts and be influenced by them rather than trying to select facts to support pre-established perspectives. And of course, “independent” does not mean apolitical. The contributions to this blog will be consistent with WOLA’s values of human rights, democracy, and social justice, and this is in itself a political position. But it is a non-partisan position insofar as it does not ally itself with particular political projects, parties, or personalities. Rather, we seek to call it as we see it, identifying the good, the bad and the ugly on all sides of the political spectrum.