Monday, 16 February 2009

St. Valentine's Weekend: Chávez Win Means Democracy Will Limp

Este fin de semana, ganó el amor del hombre que le pega a la mujer. Ganó el amor mentiroso.

I will try to speak metaphorically about this. Imagine that, years after the last football game you played (you had a serious injury that kept you out of the the pitches for all this time,) you decide to give it a try once again. You start to prepare for the big game late, a few weeks before, but you do prepare well. You run, stretch out, bike every day with discipline ... despite the fact that you know that playing football again might hurt your leg. And a defeat -- clearly the return of your injury in this case, -- will kill trust inside of your heart. But the heart is tougher than the mind, and you keep training. You even try to do this with a friend of yours.

The day of the game you feel ready. You stretch out for a long time, think about the implications and dream scoring a goal, or just doing a good job. Then, something unexpected happens: you come out of the game limping, with an injury different from the one that crippled you for two years.

I say all this BS because there are two sides to this very one story. Chávez knew that Venezuelans were far from having reached a consensus on this. But he had no fear, mobilised his supporters, prepared for a tough debate, and at a very moment of internal dissent, he managed to rally his rank-and-file, lure them into this project. He did know what he had to do, and he was right. Abstention rates fell to about 32 percent -- compared with an average 42 percent in the past two elections. We said this that the higher the voter turnout, the more likely a Chavista victory. Chávez campaigned in the name of love in front of his supporters, but continued to intimidate rivals and foes to a point unheard of in the history of this nation's democracy. Chávez always use the word ''love´´ to enchant his supporters (they know a flurry of petrodollars will come into their pockets.) Abuse of power, use of public money, all those things that you, readers, probably imagine or know.

On the other hand, there is the opponents to his referendum effort. The opposition was complacent, indulgent, waited for too long to attack the proposal. They fell again in Chávez's game, that of being the centre and victims of political polarisation, and opted to stay away -- as if running away from Chávez's criticism was going to protect them. Stupid attitude that resembles the stance they took on in the Dec. 2005 congressional elections. They lost yesterday's referendum foolishly and by a large margin after having squandered a 10-point lead not long ago. The opposition lost this ballot because no one is as better prepared to tackle on the country's politics than Hugo Chávez.

That is why the opposition left out the pitch limping. One won, the other lost. The opposition, civic organisations tired of Chávez as well as many citizens might be asking themselves ''What did go wrong?´´ and all that. The win of this amendment is mainly due to Chávez's virtues. But the opposition helped quite a lot here. This was just to summarise.

The consequences for the economy will be devastating, if history tells us something. Apart from his deprecatory comments about his opponents, in which he often calls them ''farts,´´ Chávez vowed to be conciliatory to the opposition. St. Valentine's lies -- you know what I mean, don't you? Radicalisation in politics and the economy will follow: the president has an urgent task of finding a solution to the economic crisis and it might be on the imposition of measures to ease the growing economic imbalances in the country. Or he may chose to toughen the current restrictions that are hurting businesses and investment, ramp up spending and continue the mess, even as the feast is already long gone. I am sure this second path will be chosen, with the long-term implications in terms of high inflation that will be tackled on with the wrong policy tools, unemployment that will be temporarily solved by surges in state hiring and nationalisations, disinvestment that hardly be cured with more state intervention, and the very dangerous tendency to extend the military's control of the nation's resources -- to this one there is no solution: It is the Cuban model, nada más!

One reader said that term limits should be eliminated because they are undemocratic. He might be right. But the referendum election in Venezuela didn't take place on a level playing field. Democracy was already injured, it wasn't prepared to face the match and, when the moment of playing arrived, it came out of the field limping.


  1. Hola Senor!

    I love your "Chavez.. Limp" essay this morning... the football metaphor especially... de veras eres un escritor.. you are right to mention the opposition's own shortcomings. poor leopoldo. as far as radicalization, asi ya lo dijo: "hoy fracaso la cuarta republica y fracasara para siempre!!!!!!!). or something.

  2. What you explained is what a lot of people don´t see in and out of the country. I am currently working in Venezuela, not a venezuelan myself, but there is a sadness all around that speaks volumes for what happened last night.

  3. Thanks a lot to the two anonimos. I am sure that the country will learn from this. Hopefully not too late.

    Thanks a lot for reading this blog,