Me and my younger brother have spent an enjoyable couple of trips to Barquisimieto Zoo recently. There were tigers, lions, ostriches (so funny), baboons, rhinoceres, hippopotamuses and bears, but my favourite was the elephant. We went and watched the elephant for quite a while, which has eyes that look like it is weeping, and almost the whole time it was eating, scooping up leaves and weeds with it´s trunk. It also used it´s trunk to take a swing at my younger brother, missing it´s target by only centimetres. Apparently it eats over 100kg per day; just to think, all the political changes that have taken place in Venezuela… it probably hasn´t even noticed.
Driving in the outskirts of Cubiro, a small town in the hills surrounding Barquisimieto, in the state of Lara, a familiar voice speaking over the radio brought conversation to a halt. President Hugo Chavez was announcing the re-appearance of cancer cells in his body, and the necessity of further medical treatment. For the first time since he was first elected in 1998, Chavez named a political successor; Vice-President Nicolas Maduro. Chavez was a storm of energy throughout the campaign preceeding the Presidential elections, but now, just over a week before voting for regional governors would take place, the seriousness, the gravity of his illness had caught up with him. The next day, Sunday, people gathered in the central plazas of cities across the country to show their solidarity with the man they elected into power, but they knew that it marked a moment of reflection.
One week later, another Sunday, and we were driving into the hills again. Voting was a somewhat quieter affair than it had been for the Presidential elections in October, the atmosphere further subdued by feelings of uncertainty in the air. Current state governor of Lara, Henri Falcon, had actually switched sides by splitting with the government, but still attracted a large amount of support, and is known for throwing parties to make sure that things continue that way. In the event, Falcon was re-elected in Lara, which was one of only three areas in which the opposition came out on top. The government won in 20 states, increasing their majority from the 17 they won last time around. Capriles recovered from electoral failure against Chavez by edging past ex-Vice President Elias Jaua in the state of Miranda, so it won´t be the last we hear from him.
During his announcement, Chavez stipulated that if he was to become incapacitated during surgery or from illness, Maduro would take his place and fulfill his term as President. However, a new term is due to begin on January 6th and, according to the Venezuelan Bolivarian Constitution, should Chavez be unable to take office, new elections would have to be held within thirty days of that date. Another twist in the political rollercoaster of recent Venezuelan history.
In an interview I read recently with a political colleague of Chavez, he says that they used to joke about the coincidence of dates. In 1992, Chavez led an attempted coup against the Carlos Andres Perez administration. In 2002, there was the coup d´etat against Chavez´ government. What would happen in 2012, they used to wonder. The mentioned year is coming to an end, but the repercussions, and the potential challenges caused by recent events, will undoubtedly continue into the next.