Chávez's Fix

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 02/27/2008 - 6:02pm.

 Last year, President Hugo Chávez staked much of his considerable political capital on a national referendum featuring sixty-nine proposed amendments to Venezuela's Constitution.

Given that Chávez had won all five national votes he'd faced since he took office in 1999, including the 2006 presidential election, when he garnered 63 percent of the vote, the referendum's defeat in December was a dramatic turnaround. But the outcome was actually the best thing that could have happened, if not for Chávez himself then certainly for the "Bolivarian" movement he has led for more than a decade.

The referendum was the most recent flashpoint in the often high-stakes and always high-decibel struggle that has raged for years between Chávez's supporters and his critics, with each side fully convinced that it is protecting Venezuelan democracy from the other. Unfortunately, the substance of their competing claims has been largely drowned out by polemics that reduce the country's complex political dynamics to a single question: is Chávez a dictator or a democrat? Those who say "dictator" see a military strongman who has exploited high oil prices to buy political support--at home through clientelistic social programs, abroad through gratuitous jabs at an unpopular US President--while seizing control of the country's political institutions. Those who say "democrat" see a charismatic leader of a vibrant popular movement intent on deepening democracy--in Venezuela by empowering the poor, abroad by defying the political and economic dogmas of Washington and Wall Street on behalf of the entire region.

Given the deep disenchantment with democratic institutions that exists throughout much of Latin America today, the political transformation under way in Venezuela deserves to be the subject of a vigorous regional debate. Instead what we've gotten has been more like a shouting match, with the Washington-Caracas mudslinging topping the international headlines. Donald Rumsfeld compares Chávez to Hitler, George H.W. Bush calls him an ass, Pat Robertson calls for his assassination. Chávez, meanwhile, denounces George W. Bush as an assassin, a coward, a drunk, a donkey, a birdie and, most famously, the devil. Condoleezza Rice calls Chávez a tyrant who is "really, really destroying his own country"; Chávez quips that Rice is an illiterate in need of a husband.


Daniel Wilkinson - February 22, 2008 - posted at

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 02/27/2008 - 6:02pm.