Anyone who listened to this podcast on how the voting was done in Venezuela would certainly not be surprised that Hugo won. As Daniel says,
Nobody really trusts the Venezuelan electoral system.
Anyone who’s been paying attention to how Chavez has been seizing all institutions, property rights, and the political scene in Latin America might be surprised that he won by a 60% -70% margin.
Marc Cooper’s right on the money: Sundays With Hugo — Hundreds and Hundreds of Them
But it just won’t be middle-class lefties applauding Hugo. According to this marvelous piece that ran originally in The Guardian earlier this month, despite Chavez’ blustering about imposing socialism, Venezuela’s rich are actually getting richer. Underneath the surface of Chavez’ radical rhetoric, what’s mostly going on is lavish state spending and subsidies fueled by record-high oil prices, a high-octane edition of old-fashioned patronage politics. That’s a lot different than any fundamental restructuring of the economy, any strategic national development plan or any re-ordering of grossly unequal property rights and relations.
In the end, Chavez is one more (but a lot wealthier) Peron-like populist who represents no real threat to the elite.
What is being threatened are the already unreliable institutions of Venezuelan democratic society. Let’s be clear that the corrupt political establishment that pre-dated and to a great degree produced Chavez should be given credit for that. But Chavez has contributed to the slide.
Just a few days ago, Chavez publicly dedicated his coming to victory to Fidel Castro, hardly the most re-assuring thought for those who value open, civic society. Some months ago Chavez also raised the possibility of re-writing the constitution to allow for unlimited successive re-election. Not a happy thought.
In the short term, Chavez is also threatening to shut down privately-owned TV stations after his re-election. And, please dear Chavistas, don’t waste any breath telling me how irresponsible and right-wing these stations are. Whatever their political color, you don’t shut them down by mandate. If silenced, they will only be replaced by electronic versions of those pasta packages i.e. instruments of wall-to-wall state propaganda.
It’s a shame that the Venezuelan people don’t have better political choices as I see Sunday’s election as strictly lose-lose. It’s either go with the opposition and risk restoring the rule of a disgraced and dysfunctional traditional political class. Or re-up the uber-ego of Chavez and risk the forfeiture of democratic institutions. The satisfaction of eating state-subsidized spaghetti wears off after the first 20 years or so of one-man rule.
And what happens when and if the price of oil falls?
From yesterday’s liveblogging at V Crisis,
7:37pm: CONATEL, Venezuela’s broadcasting watchdog forbade transmissions and coverage from Miami-based channel Telemundo.