Headaches for Hugo?

by Patrick Brennan

Robert Noriega, a visiting fellow at AEI and a former Bush-administration State Department official, has an interesting (and hopeful, in some ways) piece in the Miami Herald about Venezuela’s upcoming election. He sees potential for an election scenario similar to Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009, in which a clearly stolen election is only won with the deployment of armed thugs, significantly damaging the legitimacy and stability of the regime. Excerpts:

According to sources in Miraflores palace, about two months ago, Chávez began refusing cancer treatment and check-ups, insisting that returning to the campaign trail would invigorate him. In recent weeks, as doctors warned, this dangerous decision has taken a terrible toll. As a result, it is increasingly difficult for his medical team to prepare him for periodic public appearances.

At a Sept. 15 rally in San Fernando de Apure, Chávez wept openly during an emotional appeal at a political rally. Two days later, the Spanish-language Univision caught two senior government ministers on an open microphone lamenting the poor organization and underwhelming turnout of a rally in a Caracas barrio. The Univision report contrasted that event with massive mobilization held days earlier by Capriles’ campaign. These anecdotes and a series of narrowing poll numbers suggest that Chávez’s followers are demoralized by his faltering performance.

In a front-page exposé on Sept. 21 the Spanish newspaper ABC published a series of leaked Chavista documents detailing plans to deploy “armed commandos” on the streets as 19 million Venezuelans go to the polls. Investigative journalist Emili Blasco describes “rapid mobilization networks” — known by their Spanish initials, REMI — modeled on the “Iranian basij units that aborted the ‘Green Revolution’ in 2009.” Consisting of mobile teams of 5-7 members, the REMIs are expected to “organize street demonstrations and resistance,” “control territory,” monitor opposition activities, etc. One of these gangs, known as La Piedrita, is headquartered very near the presidential palace. Blasco cited a Venezuelan colonel who said that 8,000 Russian assault rifles were distributed to these REMIs beginning in June. . . .

Chávez also is taking steps to ensure that the international community accepts his victory, no matter what the outcome. In this, he is counting on former President Jimmy Carter and retired governor and Clinton Cabinet member Bill Richardson. On Sept.11, Carter described Venezuela’s electoral system “as the best in the world.” Carter then called Chávez, and the two men exchanged compliments during a 30- to 40-minute conversation. According to palace sources, Chávez’s team hopes that Carter will deploy a last-minute electoral mission, bless a Chávez victory and gain tacit recognition of the Obama administration . . .

The election is in just a week, and if things do go south, one hopes that President Obama would not reprise his performance during the summer of 2009, practical silence as Iranian protesters were shot and beaten in the streets — if he does, now he has a challenger all his own, Mitt Romney, who should call him on it.