“Each one of you should make a list of the problems that you have, and ask yourself, how many of those problems has this famous revolution solved for you?” Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles told a recent rally.
Nationalizations have weakened private enterprise and given party apparatchiks growing control over jobs. Weak law enforcement, dysfunctional courts and plentiful arms have made Venezuela more violent than some war-torn countries. Frequent blackouts are an annoying reminder of squandered oil income.
“Enough Chávistas have moved to Capriles’ side that the president faces a real chance of losing the vote,” reports suggest.
“I ask: What has 21st century socialism done for Caracas?” Capriles told a rally in Caracas on Sunday – the largest the opposition has mustered in about a decade.
He said that if he has an ideology, it’s “to overcome poverty, have jobs, not have violence, invest Venezuelans’ resources here to generate opportunities.”
Chávez has nothing specific to say to voters hoping to improve their lives, says Francisco Toro.
“At times, the Comandante Presidente has seemed downright contemptuous of the concerns of everyday Venezuelans,” he notes, citing a recent Chávez speech.
“Some might be dissatisfied with our government’s failings — that the potholes didn’t get fixed, that electricity is out and water isn’t running, that they don’t have a job and they haven’t gotten their house. That may be true in many cases … but that’s not what’s at stake. What’s really at stake is the life of the fatherland!”
“And so the role reversal is almost complete,” writes Toro, who blogs about Venezuelan politics at CaracasChronicles.com: “a president who came to power as a tireless crusader for the poor now seems downright bored of dealing with their problems, while an opposition long dismissed as an embittered reactionary clique comes to embody the people’s aspirations.”
If Chávez is defeated in Sunday’s election, it will set a historic precedent of a kind, says historian Enrique Krauze.
“The only case of an authoritarian leftist regime democratically overturned was that of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in 1990,” he notes.
“But the difficulties then weren’t as great as those involved in the Venezuelan process, for the very reason that the Sandinista government — already in decline at the end of the 1980s — wasn’t democratic, nor did it pretend to be.”
Unlike his hero Fidel Castro of Cuba, the Sandinistas or the old dictators such as Paraguay’s Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia or Venezuela’s Juan Vicente Gomez, Chávez has “astutely used democracy to do away with democracy,” writes Krauze, author of “Mexico: A Biography of Power” and of “Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America.”
While the Capriles campaign has been “brave and conciliatory,” by contrast, Chávez has “vilified him incessantly with crude insults and has committed the sacrilege of calling him a Nazi, knowing that Capriles’s great-grandparents were exterminated by the Nazis.”
Whether the campaign ends in violence or a highly-charged transition, Venezuelan democrats and civil society have a clear strategic priority, says Krauze:
They must restore true meaning to what has become a corrupted democracy. …. Chávez may triumph, but it will be a hollow victory, and after his eventual death, divisions within his group as well as internal and international pressures may pave the way for a return to full democracy. Such a development would have the additional effect of precipitating the Cuban transition, drawing us nearer to the emergence — unprecedented in history — of an entirely democratic Latin America.
Hudson Institute’s Center for Latin American Studies—in conjunction with the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis—cordially invites you to…
Elections in Venezuela: What’s Next?
After nearly 14 years in power, the reign of Hugo Chávez may be at an end. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has been polling head-to-head with Chávez and stands a good chance of becoming Venezuela’s next leader, if he wins the October 7 elections. This political transformation could send ripples through all of Latin America, and would have long-reaching ramifications in the region.
What does this election mean for the future of Venezuela? What could cause this political transformation, and how would a regime change affect the dynamic of Venezuela and Latin America as a whole?
Hudson’s Center for Latin American Studies will hold a timely and important analysis of the Venezuelan election, and what it could mean for U.S. policymakers.
The discussion will feature a distinguished panel of experts on Venezuela including:
Keynote Speaker: Patrick Duddy is the last U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, he served from 2007 until 2010. In September of 2008, he was declared persona non grata by President Hugo Chávez and expelled from the country. That designation was rescinded in June 2009, and Ambassador Duddy returned to Venezuela to continue his post and duties. He is currently a Visiting Senior Lecturer at Duke University.
Anibal Romero is Professor of Political Theory at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela, and has published various books and articles on Venezuelan politics and President Hugo Chávez.
Jon B. Perdue is the Director of Latin America Programs at the Fund for American Studies in Washington. His articles on Latin America and U.S. security issues have been widely published in Latin America and the United States, and his latest book is The War of All the People: The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism (Potomac, 2012).
Antonio José de la Cruz is an energy specialist who has worked for many years with Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA). He is currently working as a consultant.
Jaime Daremblum, Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson Center for Latin American Studies, will moderate.
October 17, 2012, 12:00 – 2:00 PM – Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters Lunch will be served.