Not all Venezuelans share Chávez's dream

Por Venezuela Real - 5 de Diciembre, 2006, 14:16, Categoría: Política Nacional

Andy Webb-Vidal and Richard Lapper
Financial Times
December 4, 2006

A triumphant Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's anti-American president, left his supporters in no doubt about his intent following a landslide election win. Addressing thousands of jubilant supporters from the balcony of the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Mr Chávez, a former soldier, announced that the result marked the beginning of "a new era, a point of departure and a point of advance. The fundamental strategic line is the deepening and widening of the Bolivarian Revolution towards socialism."

If confirmed in final results, the 23 percentage-point margin of victory over Manuel Rosales, the losing presidential contender, would be wider than the margins achieved by Mr Chávez in the three previous electoral contests he has fought and won: the 1998 election, the 2000 re-election and the recall referendum of 2004. It looks like a mandate for radical change and unsurprisingly, Mr Chávez dedicated his re-election victory to Fidel Castro, the ailing Cuban leader, and described the result as "a defeat for the empire of Mister Danger" - his favourite description for US President George W. Bush.

But Mr Chávez, whose fresh new mandate until 2013 would, if completed, bring his overall term governing the world's fifth largest oil exporter to 14 years, faces a number of important obstacles in pressing through changes.

Corruption among his allies, is one, about which there is growing concern according to opinion polls. "We now have to redouble our battle against the counter-revolution that is bureaucracy and corruption, we need new and true Bolivarian morals," said Mr Chávez in his victory speech.
Furthermore, much as Mr Chávez would like it, Venezuela is not Cuba.

Venezuelans are accustomed to, and vigorously defend, the typical freedoms of a representative democracy. Venezuela is arguably one of the most pro-US cultures in Latin America, and even poorer Venezuelans dream of visiting Disney World for their holidays. Many Venezuelans are more obsessed by baseball than Bolivarianism. High oil prices, big increases in government spending and a surge in bank lending meant that Venezuela entered the election campaign in the midst of a consumer spending boom, creating an economic environment that could not be more different than the austerity of Cuban-style socialism.

Whatever their commitments to Mr Chávez, pro-government supporters seem to have little patience for the kind of ideological commitment that Cuban volunteer doctors routinely display in overseas posts.
Whereas the 20,000 Cubans who have worked on the misiones – or social programmes – that have underpinned Mr Chávez's popularity, live among the underprivileged in the poorer areas of Caracas and other cities, Venezuelan doctors learning the same techniques of social medicine are apparently not prepared to follow suit. "They want us to live in the barrios but we told them this is not going to happen. We have our own homes," said one Venezuelan doctor.

Opinion polls tend to confirm this. A survey by Caracas-based market research firm Datanálisis found last year that fewer than 12 per cent of Venezuelans favoured the introduction of a Cuban-style political system, while two-thirds of respondents opposed a Cuban model.

All this suggests that efforts by Mr Chávez to press ahead with a radical constitutional reform that would allow for an indefinite number of re-elections, and effectively allow him to remain in power well into the next decade and beyond, might meet with some resistance among government supporters. So probably would his interest in establishing a single revolutionary party in order to unify and discipline the various political factions that have supported Mr Chávez to date. In particular, a new and increasingly powerful business class that has emerged allied to the government could be at odds with the more leftwing ideologues.

Meanwhile, Mr Rosales' quick decision to concede defeat in Sunday's election marks an important departure from the previous, more radical leadership of Venezuela's disparate opposition movement. The subtle but significant shift suggests that moderates such as Mr Rosales' chief campaign strategist Teodoro Petkoff, a former leftwing guerrilla but now a centrist politician, have gained the upper hand within the opposition.

Mr Rosales faces a formidable challenge in building a viable alternative in the months ahead, and holding together an opposition that as a result of the opposition's decision to abstain from last year's legislative elections has no representation in public institutions, such as the National Assembly. His moderate opposition stance, however, may receive an unexpectedly warm welcome from within the government ranks.

In a column in Monday's pro-Chávez newspaper Vea, "Marciano", a nom-de-plume of José Vicente Rangel, the vice-president, signalled that the government was willing to extend much-needed conciliation.

"The faction of the opposition that has reacted sensibly to their defeat and demonstrated its democratic vocation should be taken into consideration," he said. "Chávez needs interlocutors beyond Chavismo."

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