May 22, 2013
Time for the Americas
All roads can also lead to Twitter
All roads lead to Rome, they always said, but since the advent of Francis, the first Latin American Pope in history, they could all be running in reverse direction to lead to the New World. Vaticanists are already prophesying that after two Eurocentrics (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) in Rome, the Jorge Bergoglio papacy now shifts the centre of power to Latin America.
That future “Americas-centric” papacy will above all preach to the poor. A kind of re-evangelization of those first evangelized as from 1492. But also a new colonial advance on the territory of the populism and welfare policies now chronic in most Latin American countries.
The New World Pope is no stranger to the world of the poor. He has trodden those paths often enough — as the archbishop of the Argentine capital, Bergoglio threw his support behind the slum priests, who preach but, above all, are socially pro-active in such deprived neighbourhoods as the Villas 31 and 21 shantytowns. That first-hand knowledge of the needs and realities of the most downtrodden fringes of society who are such easy prey for the political patronage seeking to “co-opt” their votes is perhaps the asset which the leaders of Latin American populist governments fear the most. The Pope’s first swing through this region in July — he is coming to Brazil for the Rio Youth Congress but Argentina, Chile and Colombia are also tipped for inclusion — will doubtless make its mark. Messages of hope, compassion, inclusion and forgiveness pronounced to Latin America by the Bishop of Rome will wrongfoot more than one populist leader. Who will be left baffled by how Francis could “steal” their script without greasing it with the delivery of goodies ranging from hot dogs to consumer durables.
Tsunami francis overshadows venezuela
Meanwhile in the six days between his election (last Wednesday) and yesterday’s enthronement, Tsunami Francis has overshadowed much of what has been unfolding in Venezuela, now less than a month away from its April 14 presidential elections with 14 years of Bolivarian populism at stake.
Everything points to Nicolás Maduro heading the opinion polls until then but he does not have the same grip on the captive vote which was the legacy of the late, lamented Hugo Chávez, buried last Friday after a 10-day wake. According to Datanálisis consultants, 49.2 percent intend to vote for Maduro, well shy of the 55 percent garnered by the comandante last October 7. This is no minor detail — 55 percent marked a historic floor for the Chávez vote, which in the previous 2006 elections swept the field with 62.8 percent.
But to focus on the other side of the net, Henrique Capriles, the standard-bearer of the opposition’s MUD unity panel, does not have as much going for him as before either. Datanálisis says 35 percent intend to vote for Capriles, placing him almost 10 points below last October’s 44.3 percent.
The Datanálisis survey attributes a 78.6 percent positive image to Chávez at his death (March 5) while Maduro had 55.4 percent. The consultants add that the limited transfer effect of the emotional bond with Chávez to the acting president could represent a “threat” to a “less charismatic” leader like Maduro.
In the face of this threat, the latter’s campaign bunker has been busy during these days of papal protagonism boosting the campaign begun 100 days ago (on January 8 when Chavéz left to Cuba) and which will be formalized between April 2 and 11. So much so that the enormous blow-ups of the Chávez visage and respectable voting intentions for Maduro do not seem enough. Thus last Sunday, Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas presided over the first transmission of the new series of the Aló, Comandante, combining old Aló, Presidente programmes exclusively starring Chávez. Meanwhile, as a new means of embalming the dead leader and pulling in the votes, the Twitter account of the late, lamented comandante continues to throb. “@chavezcandanga will be maintained and used to spread his reflections,” said Aragua state Governor Tarek El Aisami, one of the spin-doctors in Maduro‘s presidential campaign.
The road to the presidential election also haunted by far from minor problems such as a stalled economy, zero access to foreign exchange, rising inflation and worrying shortages of basic products. Not very promising for an election campaign. That is why President Maduro yesterday promised to create a new mechanism for “administering” export dollars, replacing Sitme (swept away by the February devaluation). According to Maduro, the hope is to channel exchange through the new system and thus “doom the black-market dollar.” This song remains the same as the music played in these latitudes with Guillermo Moreno as point and Ricardo Echegaray counterpoint.
Maduro also promised that the Bolivarian government would administer funds in a manner worthy of Chávez; “Chavista style,” he said. Whether the electorate falls for such blasts from the past remains to be seen.
Maduro bunker anxiety: ‘francis effect’ among poor
As for Chavism in both its inherited and recycled modes, the Nicolás Maduro campaign bunker cannot conceal its anxiety over the “Francis effect” in its most treasured turf— the poor of Venezuela representing 75 percent of the electorate. From that bunker last Sunday, after its presidential candidate had uttered his first tweet, the Miraflores spokesman said: “What a happy coincidence that this Sunday President Nicolás Maduro and Pope Francis should both have tweeted their first messages.” From Rome or from Caracas, all roads can also lead to Twitter.