By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herand Tribune staff
CARACAS – The smaller parties in the Patriotic Alliance behind President Hugo Chávez are at a crossroads as Venezuela goes into a new year which could yet see him winning the right to successive or "indefinite" re-election.
The social democrats at Podemos are already deemed to be beyond the pale as far as Chávez is concerned. The jury's still out, to one degree or another, for the other minnows such as Patria Para Todos (PPT), the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), Gente Emergente and a flock of tiny regional parties.
Podemos was the first chavista party to disown the idea of disappearing into Chávez' plan to merge all his supporters into one single monolithic United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
That was in December 2006. The complete break came in the following 12 months as Chávez moved towards his failed plan to revise the constitution. Podemos protested that Chávez was trying to accumulate too much power in his own hands, walked out of the coalition and went directly into opposition. Chávez' plan was rejected at a referendum in December last year.
Today, in the absence of the mainstream opposition at the National Assembly following its decision to boycott the last parliamentary elections in 2005, Podemos regularly sounds an often lonely note of outright dissidence in the legislature.
Also out there in the wilderness is Nuevo Camino Revolucionario (NCR), a one-man-band formed by dissident Deputy Luis Tascón after he was kicked out of the PSUV. That was the price he paid for having the temerity to talk in public about corruption in high places and then trying to do something about it by formally filing his allegations with the authorities.
Tascón frequently reiterates his loyalty to the president but that counts for little with Chávez and the top echelon at the PSUV. For them, Tascón is a nobody who doesn't even merit the question, Who?
The question now facing the other small parties on the president's side is how much longer Podemos and Tascón are going to be out there all on their own. This year could see them forced into decision making time whether they like it or not.
Amid increasing signs of irritation at PPT and the PCV having the gall to question the PSUV's dominant sway in selecting candidates for the state and municipal elections last November, Chávez threatened to "pulverize" the minnows if they didn't settle down and do as they were told.
They didn't listen hard or were not scared enough. PPT and the PCV, some times in alliance with each other and in other instances on their own, endorsed their own candidates for governor in no less than six states in outright competition with the PSUV.
None of those candidates prevailed as the PSUV machine moved up a gear. PPT went out on a limb in Guárico state by backing Lennys Manuitt after Chávez disowned her father as the incumbent governor. She ran against former information minister Willian Lara and lost. In this game, as the mainstream opposition learnt long ago, second place simply doesn't count for much.
This is what PPT found to its cost on the day of the vote in not only Guárico but also in the states of Bolívar, Portuguesa and Trujillo. Naturally, at least for public consumption, they don't see things that way. PPT insists it emerged stronger from defeat in Guárico.
That is now how things are seen from the ranks of the mainstream opposition. "All they achieved was to split the anti-PSUV vote," recalled one activist, not without a little bitterness.
This is the nub of the problem for PPT and company. How do they stay on board with Chávez when the biggest single threat to their future existence is his PSUV? For the moment, the answer is a resort to idealogical polspeak which may not make much of an impression on the ordinary voters who count for most at the end of the day.
"We aren't a revolutionary opposition or a messianic revolution," declared Rafael Uzcátegui, a top official at PPT. "We're revolutionaries and socialists," he added.
Uzcátegui went on to make several points of minutiae about PPT's commitment to the collective principle rather than individual leadership. That in itself was revealing about the degree of confusion the minnows have largely brought upon themselves. For if ever there was a single individual top dog in present day Venezuelan politics it's got to be Chávez.