Hugo Chavez’s “roller-coaster is going down,” declared Carlos Ocariz, a mayor that is part of the anti-Chavez Coalition for Democratic Unity, this week.
Ocariz and other Venezuelan opposition activists had reason to be hopeful. Hugo Chavez’s transformation of Venezuela into an anti-American harbor for drug traffickers and terrorists ran into resistance on Monday. The Venezuelan opposition took away the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly held by Chavez’s party, winning 52 percent of the vote and at least 61 of the 165 seats. All of Chavez’s dirty tricks to undermine his opponents failed to prevent a majority of voters from acting to arrest their country’s decline into dictatorship.
Predictably, Chavez declared victory because he still holds a majority in the National Assembly. He mocked the celebrations of the opposition, saying it was he who won. “[I]t has been a great election day and we have obtained a solid victory: enough to continue deepening Bolivarian and democratic socialism. We need to continue strengthening the revolution!” he wrote on Twitter. The state media played an obedient tune, describing the election as showing the country as “red, very red.”
Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation, told FrontPage that although what the democratic opposition “pulled off is extraordinary” and “exceptionally significant,” Chavez still has the power to bring Venezuela down the path to tyranny.
“Already, the government has stated today that they have a three-fifths majority and that this is sufficient to pass an ‘Enabling law’ granting Chavez wide powers. The government of Venezuela manipulates rules, laws, and institutions as it sees fit,” he said.
It remains to be seen how Chavez will react to his loss, but he can be counted on to act in an undemocratic fashion. In 2008, he hamstrung the newly-elected mayor of Caracas because he was an opponent and hit him with steep funding cuts. He punished the city of Petare after they voted for one of his opponents by taking 16 garbage trucks away from them the following day.
He has taken extreme measures to crush dissent, which makes the opposition’s victory all the more impressive. A slight majority voted against Chavez even though his government dominates the media. He issued an arrest warrant for the president of Globovision, Venezuela’s final independent media outlet, forcing him to flee to the U.S. Chavez now controls 72 T.V. stations, 400 radio stations and 18 newspapers.
The wave of support for the opposition was so large that these disadvantages were overcome. The Venezuelan economy is in tatters, with the GDP projected to decrease by 6.2 percent this year and inflation set to become the highest in the world, climbing above 30 percent. Chavez’s approval rating has fallen to 36 percent. Power outages have become common, and the sale of oil has dropped from 3.5 million barrels per day in 1998 to 2.5 million barrels per day. The oil industry is suffering from the nationalizing of foreign companies and cronyism that has led to strikes. The crime rate has soared, with more murders in 2009 than in Iraq or Mexico.