Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

Venezuela’s opposition has embarrassed Nicolás Maduro’s ruling socialists by winning an election in the state where former president. Hugo Chavez was born and cherished his Bolivarian revolution.

Opposition candidate Sergio Garrido easily won the Barinas state gubernatorial race, with 55.4 percent in Sunday’s vote to 41.3 percent for government candidate Jorge Arreaza.

“The whole of Venezuela was watching Barinas. The whole world watched Barinas and we did! ” Garrido said in a victory speech. “Barinas won! Venezuela won! ”

The result means that for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, Barinas will not be ruled by a Chávez.

Hugo Chávez’s father was governor for nine years from 1999 before Hugo’s older brother Adán took over and ruled Barinas for another nine years. From 2017, Argenis Chávez was in charge, ensuring that the state remains a family property.

The one-off election was brought about by a dispute during regional elections in November, when Maduro’s dominant Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) won 19 out of 23 state governorships nationwide against the opposition’s three.

The competition in Barinas, the remaining state, was too close to call out, although partial results suggest the opposition won it.

But then Venezuela’s Supreme Court, full of Maduro supporters, said the original opposition candidate, Freddy Superlano, had been banned from public office, arguing that he was facing possible “administrative and criminal proceedings”. It ordered a repeat of the Barinas election.

For the opposition, it was proof that Maduro’s socialists would do nothing to hold on to Chavez’s emblematic home state.

The opposition turned to Garrido, a 54-year-old local politician, as his candidate. He incited forces against Arreaza, a former foreign minister and PSUV big man.

The result justifies those within the opposition arguing that they should run in elections, even if they are skewed towards the PSUV.

Phil Gunson, Venezuela’s analyst at the International Crisis Group, brainstormed, describing Garrido’s victory as “a boost for those in opposition who support a strategy that includes electoral participation”.

The opposition has been divided for years over whether to participate in Venezuelan votes or boycott them.

Venezuela’s US-backed opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, celebrated the “heroic victory”, even though he regularly advocated abstinence and did not run in the November elections.

“Where it started, it ends,” he wrote on Twitter, suggesting that, having begun in Barinas in the late 20th century, Venezuela’s socialist experiment was now over. However, his celebration provoked some ridicule on social media from people who pointed out the contradiction of his position.

Arreaza accepted his defeat, saying the Maduro government would continue to “protect” the people of Barinas.

After losing previous regional elections, the government often found ways to sterilize the winning candidate and hold on to power.

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