Venezuela: Chavez and the Falcon Threat

3 MINS READMar 16, 2010 | 20:36 GMT
Henri Falcon, the governor of Venezuela's Lara state, issued a statement March 16 in which he accused the government of trying to discredit him and bar him from political office. He also decried Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's recent statements accusing Falcon of being a traitor following a "bourgeois" strategy that was attempting "Chavismo without Chavez." Falcon had sent a letter to Chavez on Feb. 22 stating his resignation from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and his decision to join the Patria Para Todos (PPT), a political party which remains aligned with the PSUV in a ruling coalition. While Falcon's resignation letter criticized the government's policies, it was tame in tone and expressed respect for the president and a desire for dialogue with the ruling party. However, Chavez and other PSUV members have since lambasted Falcon for his decision to leave the ruling party. Falcon carries significant support in Lara state, Venezuela's fourth largest state by population, where his supporters claim he has worked hard to battle government obstacles in providing services to the people. According to a STRATFOR source, certain members of Chavez's Cabinet view Falcon as a growing political threat to the president. In his March 16 statement, Falcon made a point of thanking the PPT and Lara state for their support. He said that in Lara state, he was elected governor with 74 percent of state votes and vowed to defend his regional authority. Falcon claimed Feb. 26 that other state legislators and officials had followed his lead in leaving the PSUV to join the PPT. It remains to be seen whether Falcon can carry broad support beyond Lara state, but his public statements that seem to patronize Chavez for his public attacks are gaining attention across the country. A STRATFOR source has said Falcon is being counseled by one of Chavez's former advisers who sees Falcon as a potential replacement to Chavez should the Venezuelan president fall from power. Falcon's strategy involves distancing himself from Chavez by leaving the PSUV, but retaining his "Chavista" credentials by joining another party in the coalition, the PPT, to get support from both the Chavista loyalists and those who are beginning to see Chavez as a political liability. That said, Falcon's growing visibility will also likely attract increased pressure from the Chavez regime, which has cracked down heavily on other governors considered political threats. For example, former Zulia state governor and Maracaibo mayor Manuel Rosales, who became an ardent public opponent of Chavez, was forced into exile in Peru in March 2009 after the government charged him with corruption. Falcon clearly is taking a risk by publicizing his opposition to Chavez, but the fact that he is willing to take such risks may attest to the severity of the political situation in Caracas. With Venezuela's electricity crisis growing daily with no clear resolution in sight, it will be important to watch figures like Falcon as he positions himself for a potential break within the regime.

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