Another six years of Chávez. The outcome itself isn’t surprising, but the proclaimed level of support by which Chávez triumphed is. The central election officials claim that the margin of victory was 54% for Chávez and 46% for his opponent Henrique Capriles.
There isn’t much point in my saying I doubt the results, though, because Chávez took such pains to make sure no independent observers could check them, I do. It is likely the results are authentic. Capriles has conceded, and few are raising public doubts about elections tampering from within Venezuela at this point. If there were doubts, we would have heard about it by now – the way we heard when Zimbabwe cooked its results in 2008, for example.
Chávez still believes he has to threaten the opposition in order to keep them down. There are well-documented attacks on Capriles supporters. On top of that, this year yet another “plot” against Capriles surfaced according to the government. The government claims to be fighting these plots, but it’s interesting how one surfaced during the election in 2006 and another one surfaced during the election this year. Either such plots are popular in Venezuela, or the government is inventing them to threaten the opposition in a public fashion – a sort of “it’d be terrible if something were to happen to you guys” kind of threat. Chávez, of course, suggests that these plots also originate with the opposition…without any actual evidence of this…of course.
Despite this, the take-away is that Chávez’s policies are still popular. It is maddening that Venezuelans would continue to vote for such an authoritarian Cold War anachronism, but it is understandable. The thing that people need to understand about Chávez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela is that its support comes from a manipulated population of poor Venezuelans.
This election was billed as a battle between Chávez’s authoritarian socialism and the “Brazilian economic model” favoured by Capriles. If you ask me to choose between those two, I’d choose the Brazilian model as well. But Brazil is no panacea. The policies of Lula and Rousseff are better than the policies of Chávez, certainly. But Brazil has hardly abolished poverty.
Chávez has not abolished poverty either, by a long shot, but he continues to make those promises, while the Brazilians defend slow and steady progress while people continue to live in the poor favelas on the outskirts of the cities. We have a similar sort of problem here in our part of the world. President Obama makes the same kind of slow and steady progress, but unemployment is still very high, and desperate people demand action.
We have our Chávista demagogues waiting in the wings if that action is not forthcoming a bit quicker than it has been. They will offer the same kind of phony revolution that Chávez has. If we’re not careful, a majority of people might vote for that in North America, too.
This election in Venezuela, disconcertingly, proved that, although Chávez stood ready to fix the election if necessary, he didn’t even have to – his constituency is still intact. People who believe the “Brazilian model” is better need to do more to convince Venezuelans, and other South Americans, that it isn’t code for some people becoming upwardly mobile while the rest are left in South America’s barrios and favelas to fend for themselves.