Tuesday 25 November 2008

Rhetoric vs. reality in Venezuela

It appears that Hugo Chavez might not be as wildly popular as we had been led to believe. According to a New York Times report from Caracas:

From the hardened slums of this city to some of Venezuela's most popular and economically important states, many of President Hugo Chavez's supporters deserted him in regional elections, showing it is possible to challenge him in areas where he was once thought invincible.

And this wasn't a revolt of the privileged. Chavez did badly in some of the poor urban areas that might have been expected to support him:

In Petare, a sprawling area of slums on the eastern fringe of Caracas, long lines at polling stations snaked into alleyways on Sunday as voters delivered the area, part of a municipality long considered a Chavez bulwark, to Carlos Ocariz, a mild-mannered 37-year-old engineer.

'We punctured the myth that only Chavez can be a champion of the poor', said Eduardo Ramirez, 61, a political activist in Petare who campaigned for Mr. Ocariz.

'Chavez's rhetoric is one thing,' he said, 'but the reality is another when he  does nothing to stop the bloodshed on our doorstep.'

Among the losers in the elections was Mario Silva, the host of a programme on state television 
that regularly attacks Chavez's opponents. It was Silva who was in the news recently for his habit of broadcasting the cellphone conversations of opposition politicians.

The Venezuelan leader's reaction to the results should give pause for thought to those, like Tariq Ali, who have faith in Chavez's 'commitment to a democratically embedded social process'. Appearing on state television on Monday night, Chavez warned the opposition: 'Don't think you control Petare'. And with Silva trailing in the polls in Carobobo state, the president threatened to mobilise tanks in the area in the event of his ally's defeat.

Previous posts on Chavez and his apologists here , here , here , here , here and here.

As if threatening to use tanks against those who refuse to vote for you wasn't evidence enough of illiberal tendencies: Mick reports that Venezuela was one of only two non-Islamic countries (the other was that shining beacon of democracy, Belarus) to vote for a new UN anti-free-speech resolution outlawing the 'defamation' of religion.

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