Investor´s business daily
November 07, 2006
Latin America: Rejection at the U.N. for a Security Council seat. Half a million marching across Caracas against him. Hugo Chavez is in bad shape. That's why he's acting like a cornered rat.
Not since 2002 has Caracas seen the likes of Saturday's 15-mile presidential campaign rally for Chavez's rival, Manuel Rosales, ahead of the Dec. 3 election. Dragging through the capital, the march crossed through the eastern and western slums that are supposedly Chavez's political stronghold.
As many as half a million people showed up, one out of 12 residents of Caracas, making Chavez's claims of continuing popularity farcical. The march was a big sign of voter rejection of Chavez and his "revolution." It's telling that there have been no comparable pro-Chavez rallies of this size. And don't think Chavez isn't worried.
The mood in the Caracas streets reflects a Nov. 2 AKSA Partners poll putting Chavez just four points ahead of Rosales, 52-48, with momentum shifting to the challenger.
Chavez isn't despised just at home. His campaign to win a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council also ran aground, marking the first time Venezuela has lost a bid for the U.N. seat. It was a humiliating loss because Chavez jetted around the world seeking votes and pledged as much as $4 billion in aid to nations in exchange.
His September anti-American "devil" speech at the U.N. General Assembly lost him many votes, and his refusal to graciously concede dragged the U.N. through 47 rounds of voting, second highest on record.
Chavez didn't even get to choose the compromise candidate. Front-running Guatemala did. Chavez accepted it only because the dragged-out humiliation was becoming a campaign issue in Venezuela.
To its credit, Guatemala didn't accept Chavez's favorite suggestions, like Bolivia and Dominican Republic. Instead, it went for friendly Panama, where the government has demonstrated a clear eye about Chavez's intentions.
That's bad news for Chavez even as he crows that he won. Chavez's confrontational attitude toward the U.S. backfired on him and diminished his country's standing, both abroad and at home.
Meanwhile, the allies he's sought through cheap oil handouts are failing to materialize. In Alaska, poor Indian tribes rejected Chavez's proffered handouts, refusing to let themselves be used for Chavez propaganda.
Also, Chavez's cheap oil offer was abruptly canceled in London. Even more interesting, a visit by London Mayor Ken Livingston to Caracas this week was canceled because Chavez's fuel handouts to wealthy Londoners are so unpopular among poor Venezuelans. Chavez knew that cavorting with Red Ken over oil could cost him even more votes than he's already losing.
These failing fortunes suggest Chavez is on the way out. But given his absolute power and messianic complex, it's hard to think he'll leave office willingly if voters reject him. That's where the danger of dictatorship lies.
Supposedly ensconced in popularity and leading in polls, he's worriedly threatening state oil company workers with firing if they don't explicitly give him their votes in December. He had his oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, warn workers that their ballot was no longer secret.
Anyone who wasn't with Chavez's "revolution" could just "go to Miami," Chavez snarled.
In another sign that he won't go willingly, the Venezuelan government seems to be sponsoring pro-Chavez polls of dubious merit.
One is from Zogby, which gave Chavez an odd double-digit lead over Rosales but refused to say who paid for it. Now there's a new one by a San Francisco pollster, Evans-McDonough, which claims Chavez is 22 points ahead of Rosales, countering other polls.
It may be reported in the mainstream media as news, but Evans-McDonough has been in the pay of Venezuela's government in the past. The San Francisco Chronicle profiled it two years ago as a Chavez supporter. This survey was paid for by PDVSA, the oil firm where workers were intimidated into voting for Chavez for fear of losing their jobs.
The potential aim of all this is to put enough polls out there to suggest that Chavez is popular, letting him get away with outrageous fraud. Should a fraud-tainted election happen on Dec. 3 and cause an outcry, Chavez could point to government-sponsored pre-election polls as cover for the inevitable outrage in the streets.
Make no mistake: Chavez's lies and intimidation don't sound like the actions of a political leader who's secure in a coming re-election victory. As vast crowds gather in the streets of Caracas, it's going to get more important to note their role in countering a potentially rigged vote in a Potemkin democracy that could only fool election observer Jimmy Carter.