Monday, December 03, 2007


So the big vote in Venezuela went against Hugo Chavez. The margin was small, but the result was significant.

The final report by the CNE (Consejo Nacional Electoral) of the vote on the Constitutional Reforms reported 50.7% against the reforms and 49.29% for the reforms. The CNE also reports 40% abstentia in this vote.

Right wing forces and the White House will crow about the beginning of the end of Chavez.
Chavez and company will blame those who abstained and the US for the loss.

Supporters of Chavez will point to the fact that he has accepted the results as proof that his regime is a democratic one.

Opponents of Chavez will warn that the President plans to push ahead with his planned reforms one way or another. They will point to the words of the President who said while conceding defeat his proposals would remain “alive" as proof that he is no democrat.

Lots of folks won't say anything, because they simply aren't sure what to think.

I've decided though I find it hard to write about Hugo Chavez I'll go ahead and make some off the cuff comments.

Personally, I believe that Hugo Chavez is more of a "egotist" then a "socialist." I have no doubt that Chavez enjoys the power he has and would like more. He relishes his appearances on the world scene more than anyone I've seen since the early days of the Brother Leader Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. In fact, he reminds me a of the Brother Leader (who once had the coolest wardrobe of any world leader). His Bolivarian rhetoric is not dissimilar to al_Gaddafi's Pan-Islamist. Chavez is a populist of sorts with lots of cash thanks to his country's oil reserves (so was al-Gaddafi). He is loved by the poor for the simple fact that he recognizes they exist and he is willing to spend some of that money on programs that actually benefit them (so was al-Gaddafi). He posits himself as the center of the battle against US imperialism (so did al-Gaddafi). He's charismatic (so was al-Gaddafi). He is in love with himself (so was al-Gaddafi). Most importantly, he's no socialist despite what he says (neither was al-Gaddafi).

I hate being overly critical because I think the forces that make up the main opposition to Chavez are far worse than him (And I do get kick out of the way Chavez needles our own illustrious leader, the way he simply drives the Bushies mad). The oligarchy's return to power would be a total disaster for the vast majority of the people of Venezuela. Bush's wild support of those forces isn't for nothing folks.

What I think is really needed is a truly revolutionary movement in Venezuela which for one forces Chavez toward the actual left and eventually replaces him with a real socialist not a phony cardboard one.

And that will be anything but easy. For now, its virtually impossible.

So what to do with a guy who thinks it A-OK to cozy up to the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (no friend of progressive people anywhere)?

My honest answer right now is "beats the hell out of me."

The only thing I want to make clear is that Chavezism is not the same thing as what I believe in.

I wish I could point to a state or a world leader off hand that is.

The following comment comes from the London based Guardian.

A good day for democracy
Conor Foley

"I thank you and I congratulate you," said Hugo Chávez to his opponents. "I recognise the decision a people have made."

Neither a socialist saviour nor a fascist dictator, Venezuela's leader has shown again how far off the mark European and North American perceptions of Latin America tend to be. Only a couple of days ago Richard Gott was predicting here that the "Chávez revolution is clearly here to stay". Tariq Ali earlier proclaimed that "Latin America is on the march again in a 'struggle spearheaded by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela." Yet on Sunday voters narrowly rejected his proposals for constitutional reform which would have enabled him to stay in power until 2050 and Chávez graciously, perhaps after some behind the scenes arm-twisting, accepted the result.

Latin America has witnessed a kind of revolution over the past few years as a "pink tide" has brought leftwing parties to power in country after country. This shift clearly reflects a rejection of the so-called Washington consensus, but it masks the fact that there are two quite different political trends within the Latin American left and these differences have their origins in the different social and economic conditions within the continent. As Max Cameron has pointed out, countries such as Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica have all have made sustained investments in human development which has included the creation of efficient public sector institutions based on the rule of law and the separation of powers. The left here clearly has an easier task than in countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, where the power of the traditional oligarchs is much stronger. This is what has produced fiery leftists such as Chávez and Evo Morales.

Chávez's brand of political populism should be seen in this political context. It draws on a tradition most famously used by Juan Domingo Perón of Argentina who successfully exploited his people's nationalist sentiment and built up a heavily corporate state which many accused of quasi-fascist leanings. Populism has been used by the right as much as by the left in Latin America although, since the advent of George Bush in the White House, it has been much easier for the left to appropriate this territory. Indeed, if there is one clear lesson that can be drawn from Chávez's defeat it is the counterproductive nature of the attempts to demonise him.

One of the main factors behind Chávez's rise to power has been the spectacular incompetence of Venezuela's political opposition. These have mounted boycotts, political strikes and an attempted coup in an effort to oust him, all of which has only strengthened his political dominance. Up until a couple of weeks ago many were advocating a boycott of Sunday's poll and it was only the growing influence of the student protesters who helped to tip the balance. Ironically, by accepting defeat at the polls, Chávez has refuted his opponents' strongest charge against him.

However much some of his political stunts have irritated other left political forces on the continent, they have remained publicly supportive out of a sense of basic solidarity. President Lula of Brazil is due to finish his term of office in 2010. His Workers' Party (PT) has no obvious successor and there are some moves to change the constitution to enable him to run for another term. Lula has publicly rejected the suggestion and many of his supporters would also oppose it on principle, but it would be nobody else's business if that is what Brazilians were to decide.

Latin America has only emerged from the shadow of its northern neighbour quite recently and anti-US opinion here still runs deeply. Chávez regularly brands his opponents as serving Washington's interests because he knows that this taps a groundswell of popular feeling and western attacks on him only reinforce this sentiment. Western foreign policy-makers might choose to ponder on this point for its wider implications, but Chávez's advice to his supporters yesterday to not feel sad has a wider resonance. Yesterday was a good day for democracy.

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