Socialist Party in Venezuela is riven by conflict after rout

Updated - November 16, 2021 10:19 pm IST

Published - December 11, 2015 02:48 am IST - CARACAS:

There they were, two of the gray-haired confidants of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s late leftist leader, voicing their indignation at the government bumbling that led to Sunday’s stinging electoral defeat of his United Socialist Party.

“We are facing a disaster,” said Hector Navarro, a former Cabinet Minister. “This is not the time to act like an ostrich.”

But in the middle of the news conference on Wednesday, with dozens of journalists jammed into a dingy meeting room in a downtown hotel, a shrill siren wailed and in burst a band of agitators, some in the red shirts of Chavez’s die-hard supporters.

“You are traitors to the revolution!” shouted one man. “Rats! You are sewer rats!” shrilled another.

And they began to chant the name of President Nicolas Maduro.

Handed its biggest setback at the ballot box in 17 years — with the opposition winning control of the Assembly for the first time, and by a wide margin — Chavismo, the movement founded by Chavez, has turned inward to attack its own. “This type of defeat creates a lot of internal tensions,” said Margarita Lopez Maya, a historian. “Chavismo does not have much capacity to process this type of conflict. It’s not used to that.”

In his last televised speech to the nation in December 2012, Chavez called on his followers to preserve the movement’s unity above all else.

Yet since his death the following March, after a long battle with cancer, the top levels of the government have increasingly been split among rival factions — a splintering that the election debacle seems likely to widen.

“Chavez was in charge,” said Jorge Giordani, the late President’s long-time Planning Minister and economic guru, who spoke at the news conference with Mr. Navarro. “Now everyone is in charge. Because there is a crisis of power.”

He said that each faction inside the government was looking to defend its own interests “with their knives between their teeth”.

After the Maduro supporters burst in, Mr. Giordani walked down a back staircase, through a kitchen and into a restaurant of the hotel where the news conference took place. One man called for a broom to bar the restaurant’s doors to protect Mr. Giordani. Then he was shepherded out a back door and into the street where he met up with Mr. Navarro. Both men, leftist icons in their time, were fired from the government after Mr. Maduro was elected to replace Chavez.

On Tuesday, neither of them mentioned Mr. Maduro by name, although they repeatedly appeared to allude to him in their criticism.

They accused the government of widespread corruption and nepotism,. But to hear Mr. Maduro talk, Chavismo’s historic losses were not his fault.

The President was praised for going on television immediately after the initial results were announced early Monday to accept his party’s defeat. But since then he has done virtually nothing to suggest that he accepts responsibility for the loss or intends to work with the opposition-controlled Assembly, which is to be sworn in Jan. 5.

In a speech outside the presidential palace on Wednesday, Mr. Maduro cast the opposition victory as a victory for “the fascist right wing”. — New York Times News Service

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