Not even the systematic dismantling of their democracy could make socialist Venezuelans show Chavez the door.
Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution continues on, as the tyrannical strongman claimed a third consecutive six-year presidential term on Sunday. The Chavez win was somewhat unexpected due to the great problems the country faces as a direct result of Chavez’s leadership -- including endemic government corruption and inefficiency, a tanking economy, vast consumer shortages, severe inflation, electricity blackouts and growing violence. Yet considering Chavez’s radical redistributionist policies, and much of the Venezuelan public’s economic interest in overlooking his abuses, it is an unfortunate fact that his challenger’s failure should not be surprising.
Chavez claimed victory over 40-year-old Henrique Capriles, grandson of Jewish Holocaust survivors and a self-professed Catholic, who had campaigned on promises to rollback Venezuela’s decade-long slide into socialist tyranny and destitution. Capriles and his supporters had been confident that the Venezuelan public would finally be receptive to a campaign of promises to reform the bureaucracy, ease suffocating state economic controls, open up markets, and increase private investment.
Pre-election surveys found Capriles leading by as much as five points before election day, and his loss led many opposition activists to blame massive government-orchestrated voter fraud. The Chavez-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) was criticized for its refusal to allow an independent audit of the voter registry, and the CNE’s own website listed thousands of voters between the ages of 111 and 129.
Nevertheless, Capriles downplayed allegations of widespread voter fraud as the cause for his defeat, defusing the highly combustible situation by saying, “I am never going to mess around with our people, or subject them to instability. The other side obtained more votes and that’s democracy.”
In truth, Capriles may be right. The occurrence of voter fraud in Venezuela’s presidential election, to whatever extent it occurred, may be far less significant than the effect a comprehensive socialist program has had on degenerating the better judgment of voters with respect to what’s in the country’s long-term interests. Rather, habituation to radical redistributionist policies have kept a comfortable portion of voters reliably in Chavez’s pocket, despite his systematic dismantlement of Venezuelan democracy and egregious abuses of power.
The taste for “bread and circuses” governance among Venezuelans has seemingly caused much of the population to overlook Chavez’s totalitarian transformation of the political landscape. Chavez first assumed the presidency in 1999, after which he began a decade-long accumulation of near total control over Venezuela’s economy. His power was amassed through engineered government takeovers of the country’s oil, electrical and telecommunications industries.
Moreover, Chavez’s takeover of Venezuela’s economy was joined by a concurrent hijacking of the country’s governmental institutions. Aided by his control of the National Assembly, Chavez ruthlessly quell any opposition from Venezuela’s judiciary, press, and political opponents.
The Chavez government’s policies centered on a massive wealth redistribution scheme financed mostly by Venezuela’s estimated $1 trillion in oil revenues. This provided billions of dollars in social programs for poor Venezuelans, including free goods and services like medical care, public housing and education.
Chavez’s role as the Venezuelan Robin Hood has built him a strong base of support with the masses, a base which he was eager to exploit this election with a deeply divisive campaign of class warfare. Chavez not only pledged to expand Venezuela’s sprawling welfare state with a continuance of populist programs, but argued that his opposition -- whom he labeled as “fascists,” “Yankees,” “neo-Nazis,” puppets of the “rich,” and “Zionists” -- would take away those government benefits.
Chavez’s vote-buying efforts included highly publicized ceremonies, in which he doled out government-funded handouts to the Venezuelan public, including homes, pensions and cash benefits for single mothers. As one analyst said, “I think he just cranked up the patronage machine and unleashed a spending orgy.”
Chavez was assisted in his campaign by the mostly government-controlled Venezuelan media. What remains of the country’s independent press was likely too fearful of being shut down, or worse, arrested for criticizing him.
Despite these efforts, Chavez received only 54 percent of the vote, his closest margin of victory, but one that did not prevent him from claiming an electoral mandate to further push Venezuela “along the path of democratic and Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century.”
Of course, some are hopeful that Chavez himself may not have a prolonged stay in the 21st century, given his ongoing battle with cancer, a battle which has included surgery to remove tumors from his pelvic region as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment. However, Chavez has claimed a clean bill of health, allowing him to continue on with his socialist revolution at home as well as deepening Venezuela’s friendship and support for America’s enemies throughout the world.
In that latter case, Chavez has spent enormous amounts of money, primarily through discounted Venezuelan oil, propping up the communist Castro dictatorship in Cuba and fellow socialist despots throughout Central and South America, while at the same time fostering a budding friendship with the fanatical Iran regime.
That Iranian friendship was on display recently in a joint press conference Chavez held with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Caracas in which Chavez joked about the two having an atomic bomb at their disposal. As the two leaders laughed about the Iranian nuclear program aimed at wiping Israel off the map, Chavez said, “One of the targets that Yankee imperialism has in its sights is Iran, which is why we are showing our solidarity. When we meet, the devils go crazy.”
This is the man that has attracted such ardent followers among the Hollywood leftist elite, including Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, all of whom have a special fondness for demagogues. Stone found Chavez to be a “charismatic and dynamic figure, bent on helping his country emerge from the crushing weight of US political interests,” while Belafonte once told the strongman, “We’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people ... support your revolution.”
Of course, while the American left may admire Chavez, many of those unlucky enough to live under his tyrannical rule have a differing opinion, best expressed by a Venezuelan auto mechanic who remarked before the presidential election that Chavez “wants to be like Fidel Castro -- end up with everything, take control of the country.” Unfortunately, it is unlikely that slow and steady march will reverse any time soon.
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