Diosdado Cabello shadows the opposition’s campaign trail in Venezuela

The number two Chavista official is traveling the country, following in the footsteps of María Corina Machado and Edmundo González Urrutia who together seek to defeat Maduro in the July elections

Diosdado Cabello, vicepresidente del Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela
Diosdado Cabello at a rally in Caracas on May 27.Raynes Peña R (EFE)

Trujillo, Falcón, San Fernando de Apure, Carora and Barquisimeto, Ciudad Bolívar, Monagas: the tour stops of the first vice-president of Venezuela’s United Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, in support of President Nicolás Maduro, have taken care to match up with the campaign rallies of opposition leader María Corina Machado. Wherever Machado arrives — now accompanied by presidential candidate Edmundo González Urrutia — Cabello soon appears, tearing into his adversaries, clamoring against international sanctions, delivering threats, assessing his base and checking in on the logistical mechanisms of the government’s 1X10 plan, which asks each Chavista to bring 10 other people to the polls.

The situation has raised eyebrows because, if there’s something Chavismo has always been careful about, it is staying ahead of its opponents when it comes to the spread of information. Current pro-government rallies are usually held with the stated goal of protesting international sanctions, which they hold responsible for the country’s paralysis, and to accuse the Venezuelan opposition of promoting them. In other words, placing the blame for the sanctions on Machado.

While Cabello lacerates Machado and González, Maduro and national assembly president Jorge Rodríguez forge on with their proselytizing tour and its rather modest rallies. This multi-pronged electoral strategy, which is bolstered by a widespread publicity campaign that portrays Maduro as a kind of cult leader, was developed during meetings of the Venezuela Nuestra campaign command, run by a coalition of pro-government parties. The group gathered a few days ago at the Humboldt Hotel atop El Ávila Hill, overlooking the capital. As on other occasions, Rodríguez is be the primary coordinator of Chavismo’s electoral machine.

“With this tactic, Chavismo is making an effort to retain its most committed voters, the hardcore Chavismo,” says an experienced political leader close to the opposition command who has preferred to remain anonymous. “It makes sense what Cabello is doing, what he is looking for is to avoid an exodus of his people, to make a show of his presence, to ask for reports, to apply pressure.”

In comparison to how things normally proceed in Venezuelan elections, no altercations between rival political factions have taken place, at least for now. Machado and González Urrutia — along with a large part of the leadership of the opposition’s camp — are being prevented by authorities from flying, so they travel the country by car. Until recently, the attitude of the military at the country’s intermittent checkpoints toward them has not been very friendly, though their animosity seems to be subsiding as of late.

Chavismo is deploying its entire arsenal. “We have to go a little further, to the house of people who are dissatisfied, of those who said, ‘I don’t want to get involved in politics anymore,” Cabello declared a recent rally in his home state of Monagas. “We have to go and look for all of them, talk to them as brothers, as comrades, continue growing the revolutionary forces.”

“Sometimes Chavismo makes this kind of decision,” says historian and political analyst Pedro Benítez. “It happened many times in 2001, in 2002 during the first popular protests against Hugo Chávez. When the opposition makes a call to the street, the Chavistas make another at the same time, to a location that is not very far away. It was a way of qualifying the adversary, of making their presence known, of challenging them in the street.” The difference lies in the size of these rallies that take place in villages, towns and cities. For the time being, judging from images uploaded to social media by both sides, the opposition has the upper hand when it comes to numbers.

“I have an additional hypothesis about this,” says Benítez. “Chavismo has a kind of obsession, wants to closely follow the emergence of the leadership of María Corina Machado, a person who represents the antithesis of Chavista values, the symbol of everything that Chavismo has abhorred in its discourse over the years,” he says.

After rejecting European election monitoring, Chavista authorities have repeatedly asked the opposition to commit to respecting electoral results and have denounced violent plans they say are being formulated to disregard the voters’ decision. “Once and for all, we warn: whoever goes around calling for violence and disturbing the public peace before, during or after the electoral process will go to jail,” declared Rodríguez at a recent press conference.

“The opposition is preparing to call fraud, they are now circulating poll results that name them as the winners,” said Cabello at another rally. “We can’t stop them from showing poll results, but we can start building our victory. They need to have a previous narrative to be able to mount their demand, that’s their thing, street barricades, violence, fascism. We will not allow it. Our victory has to be resounding,” he continued. Even if that means chasing Machado and González wherever they go.

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