Decembre 08, 2006
HUGO CHÁVEZ'S victory in Venezuela's presidential election Sunday was unsurprising, given the campaign that led up to it. The would-be "Bolivarian" revolutionary flooded the country with petrodollars in the months before the vote, decreeing a pay bonus for all government workers. He dominated the media, receiving by one count 22 times as much airtime as his opponent. He also freely employed intimidation, endorsing a declaration by the director of the powerful state oil company that its 40,000 workers would be mobilized for the president and that anyone who opposed this would be guilty of "a crime." Such tactics, along with the fact that many people who signed petitions in a campaign to recall Mr. Chávez two years ago have been subject to government sanctions, clearly had an effect: A poll conducted for the mAssociated Press showed that 57 percent of Venezuelans believed that voters who did not support the president might suffer from retaliation.
The real news of the election was the reappearance of a credible Venezuelan opposition. Manuel Rosales, a state governor, managed to unite the anti-Chávez forces and energetically barnstormed the country, drawing hundreds of thousands to rallies in Caracas. In the end he received 38 percent in the official count, preventing Mr. Chávez from getting anywhere close to the 10 million votes he set as his goal. On Sunday night Mr. Rosales formally conceded – an important signal for an opposition that too often has resorted to self-destructive boycotts or other anti-democratic tactics. Though Mr. Chávez controls the judiciary and every seat in the national legislature, Mr. Rosales is now positioned to represent the millions of Venezuelans who oppose the president's drive to monopolize power.
A strong opposition will be needed. Mr. Chávez has announced plans to follow his reelection by removing the constitutional barrier that would limit his tenure to six more years. He has also threatened to shut down private television stations sympathetic to the opposition, and his congressional followers say they plan to give him far-reaching decree power, so that he can personally order the seizure of private property. For those who trust that political pluralism will remain intact, Mr. Chávez had a message. "There is no room in Venezuela for any project other than the Bolivarian revolution," he declared last week.
In fact, Mr. Chávez's rule contains the seeds of its own destruction. His wild use of oil revenue -- government spending has grown eightfold during his eight years in office -- has gone mainly for consumption or foolish foreign adventures. Investment in the economy, and even in the oil industry itself, is paltry, and most experts believe Venezuela's petroleum production has declined. Crime and corruption are soaring: Murders are up 67 percent during the Chávez era. If oil prices continue to drop, Mr. Chávez's revolution eventually will be revealed for what it is: a populist fraud.