In the Venezuelan stronghold of Chavez, a fight for political survival

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Sabaneta (Venezuela) (AFP) – Venezuela’s ruling party is leaving nothing to chance in its attempt to reclaim a stronghold from ex-President Hugo Chavez that shocked the establishment by apparently siding with the opposition in a recent election.

The western state of Barinas, controlled by the Chavez family for more than two decades, voted in large numbers in regional elections on November 21 for a foreigner – opposition figure Freddy Superlano.

The vote count was stopped by a court as Superlano claimed what would have been the first defeat in Barinas since 1998 for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), now led by President Nicolas Maduro.

Superlano is an ally of opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and dozens of other governments as the true president of Venezuela on Maduro, whose re-election in 2018 was not considered legitimate by a part of the international community.

As the opposition competed in regional and local elections for the first time since 2017, Superlano took over as the outgoing governor of Barinas, Argenis Chavez, the older brother of the late ex-president, who later resigned from office. his position.

But the triumph of the opposition was not to last.

The vote count was suspended in the region of 870,000 voters, and Venezuela’s Supreme Court – accused of pro-government bias by opposition and observers – overturned the preliminary result a week later.

He acceded to the country’s public finance supervisory authority’s request to declare Superlano “ineligible” due to “administrative and criminal investigations” into corruption charges, and ordered new elections to be held.

‘A warning’

Superlano’s Popular Will Party replaced him with Sergio Garrido, an unknown regional lawmaker, who faces PSUV’s Jorge Arreaza, a former foreign minister and father of Chavez’s eldest grandson, on Sunday.

Arreaza campaigned fervently, taking no risks.

The November defeat was “a warning,” said Reinaldo Chavez, a local council member for the town of Sabaneta and close to the ex-president.

“Perhaps we have been beaten by our own triumphalism,” he told AFP.

Barinas was the only one of Venezuela’s 23 states not to have the November vote result confirmed by election officials Federico PARRA AFP

Maduro’s party won 19 gubernatorial races in the November 21 vote.

Barinas was the only one of Venezuela’s 23 states not to have the result confirmed by election officials.

EU observers said the voting across the country was marred by irregularities, including the widespread use of state resources by the PSUV and “arbitrary disqualifications” of challengers.

“People are sick”

In Sabaneta, a town of 28,000 inhabitants, stands a six-meter (6.5-meter) bronze and granite statue of Chavez, his most famous son, who died of cancer in 2013.

Murals everywhere pay homage to the beloved man for redistributing Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to the poor, but also blaming the country’s now miserable economy and very high crime rate.

There are no opinion polls to test the pulse of voters ahead of Sunday’s new election.

“We have no electricity,” a woman shouted from her home as Arreaza campaigned on Wednesday in an open-top car emblazoned with the slogan: “Hope Returns”.

Edixon Nieto, a 22-year-old farmer, said he voted for Superlano.

“Here in Sabaneta, I will not lie, people are sick,” he told AFP, citing problems with basic services such as water and electricity.

Impoverished Venezuela is hit by recession and hyperinflation, and three of its four citizens live in extreme poverty, according to a recent study.

Millions of people have left the country in recent years to try their luck elsewhere.

But Arreaza still hopes to capitalize on what remains of Chavez’s popularity.

“Arreaza is the father of a beloved symbol of our Commander Chavez: the beloved grandson of our Commander,” Maduro said, announcing Arreaza’s appointment as governor.

Jorge Arreaza hopes to capitalize on what remains of Hugo Chavez's popularity
Jorge Arreaza hopes to capitalize on what remains of Hugo Chavez’s popularity Federico PARRA AFP

The boy, Jorge Arreaza Chavez – nicknamed “El Gallito” (Little Rooster) accompanied his father on his campaign to Sabaneta, riding the 4X4 with him through the streets as Arreaza waved a red shirt with a white star on the sleeve left, as Chavez used to wear.

Chavez’s father, Hugo de los Reyes Chavez, was governor of Barinas from 1998 to 2008.

He was followed by Hugo Chavez’s brother Adan, a former Venezuelan Ambassador to Cuba, and then by his older brother Argenis from 2017.

Another brother, Anibal José, was mayor of Sabaneta.

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