CARACAS – Venezuela’s leftist regime has created shadow governments in states led by the opposition, establishing special entities with money to spend ahead of next month’s crucial, test-of-strength municipal elections, experts say.
Three government-funded corporations have popped up since March in states that elected opposition governors in December 2012.
Sanctioned by law, the state corporations have their own budgets for public works and in every case are led by the losing “Chavista” gubernatorial candidate.
For instance, in the populous state of Miranda, which includes part of Caracas and whose governor is opposition leader Henrique Capriles, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua heads “CorpoMiranda.”
Capriles charges that “the money allocated to CorpoMiranda is not to resolve problems, but for political activities.” And he says the corporation received more funds this year than the entire state budget, which is also assigned by the central government.
Jaua, on his Twitter account, denies that and insists “we are performing miracles for our people, efficiently and honestly.”
The rivalry has intensified with the approach of Dec. 8 municipal elections, which are being closely watched as the first real test of political strength since President Nicolas Maduro’s disputed April 14 election.
Maduro was handpicked by the late Hugo Chavez to be his successor. But the coming contest will indicate how much force the endorsement still carries, especially as the country confronts a deepening economic crisis.
“The government seeks to weaken the image, the authority and the financial resources available to the elected authority by establishing a parallel administration,” said John Magdaleno, an expert on Venezuelan politics.
Maduro appears nearly every day on the state-controlled television, and in many of these broadcasts is seen inaugurating new schools, roads and clinics with the presidents of the state corporations.
Not in the pictures are the opposition governors, who accuse the government of abandoning their states.
In Venezuela, states do not have power to borrow money and must work within the budgets assigned to them by the central government.
“We have come to govern directly, to build factories so that the people of Miranda have jobs, to address health issues, education,” Maduro has said.
Maduro’s government accuses Capriles, who lost the April presidential elections by 1.5 percent and has yet to concede defeat, of neglecting the state as he campaigns nationally for the opposition. And it holds up Jaua, when he isn’t attending to diplomatic duties, as the “Protector of Miranda.”
“It’s too tropical, this business of taking care of the foreign policy of Venezuela and the local ones of Miranda at the same time,” said Magdaleno.
But, he said, “Chavismo has no alternative but to confront (Capriles) publicly and to try to change the climate of public opinion in Miranda at the same time.”
The state corporations have precedents tat go back to the 1960s, when the government established the Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana to oversee state mining and electric power industries in the country’s south. In the late 1980s, development corporations were assigned different territories as part of a decentralization effort.
Chavez, however, was the first to create a parallel local government in 2009 after his party lost the mayoralty of Caracas to the opposition.
Nicmer Evans, a political scientist and university professor, said that while the state corporations are legal entities, their use of government funds for political proselytizing during campaigns is not.
“That is the crime,” he said. “There is abuse (of power) from the point of view of institutions, which cannot be used like that.”