Hugo Chavez may have just seen his hopes to make himself President-for-Life dissipate in his latest election loss. Opposition parties made major inroads among previous Chavez supporters, including the urban poor who had made Chavez into a folk hero. Now, with Latin America’s worst inflation and an oil-price collapse, Chavez’ failure to deliver appears to have people rethinking the revolution:
From the hardened slums of this city to some of Venezuela’s most populous and economically important states, many of President Hugo Chávez’s supporters deserted him in regional elections, showing it is possible to challenge him in areas where he was once thought invincible.
The outcome of Sunday’s vote was the second blow dealt to the president in a year, after voters rejected last December his plan to alter the Constitution to give himself more power. Although it was unclear whether the results would slow his Socialist-inspired revolution or check his power, they could complicate his ambitions to amend the Constitution to allow him to run again.
Mr. Chávez, who has been in power for 10 years, has focused on raising political consciousness across disenfranchised parts of society. Now, voters in a sizable part of Venezuela sent him a message that they wanted not a monopoly on power, but solutions to economic and social ills that are glaringly apparent on their streets.
Though Mr. Chávez’s allies won 17 of the 22 states in Sunday’s vote, his opponents did well in some poor urban areas, and in states like Zulia, where much of Venezuela’s oil is produced; Carabobo, the home of auto manufacturers and petrochemical plants; and Táchira, rich in agriculture and cattle. Mr. Chávez framed the elections as a plebiscite on his evolving revolutionary ideology, but voters appeared to focus on more mundane concerns like inflation, which at more than 30 percent is the highest rate in Latin America, and fears that an economic boom might be sputtering to an end as oil prices plunge, forcing Mr. Chávez to reconsider his spending plans.
It looks like Venezuelans don’t want to be Cuba South, nor do they seem as enamored of their Castro Mini-Me as before. Rising violence has put the murder rate in Caracas at four times that of Medellin. The Democrats in the US have blocked a free-trade agreement with Colombia because of the violence, but the Chavez government has proven spectacularly inept at keeping order.
Why might that be? Probably because Chavez himself likes to threaten violence in his political tantrums. He threatened to roll across the state of Carabobo if his political ally Mario Silva lost his position as governor. Voters reacted by kicking Silva out of his seat anyway.
Chavez won 17 of 22 states, but he lost the critical unanimity on which he counted. Chavez himself cast this election as a referendum on his governance, and despite threats and intimidation, voters delivered a message that they have tired of Chavez and his antics and expect responsible governance instead. Chavez has never been able to deliver that, and now with his oil revenues disappearing and enery shortages throughout the nation, the outlook is bleak for sudden competence to magically appear.