President Hugo Chávez has just taught his slanderers another lesson on democracy. On February 15, 2009, for the fifteenth time in ten years, the Venezuelans have been asked to cast their vote, this time to pronounce their opinion on the constitutional amendment that would end the term limits of the President, of the mayors, deputies, and governors.1 For the fourteenth time in a decade, the voters showed their support for the Bolivarian leader as 54.86% expressed themselves in favor of the amendment that would allow Chávez to run again for presidency in 2012.2
No Latin-American President enjoys a democratic legitimacy as proven as is the legitimacy of the Venezuelan leader. The participation in the referendum was massive, reaching 70%. Compared to the failure in December 2007 where the constitutional reforms (69 articles), inadequately explained, were rejected by an infinitesimal majority of 50.7%, the Venezuelan government won about two million votes, reinforcing its popularity.3
Despite the complaints and accusations of election fraud alleged by the part of the opposition, the elections were again praised by the international community for their transparency.4 The Grupo de Río (Rio Group), comprised of 33 nations of the American continent, qualified the referendum as ‘another expression of civil spirit [of the Venezuelans] and congratulated them on their democratic performance’, emphasizing at the same time ‘the ample political participation’.5 The United States also greeted a process that was ‘consistent with democratic principles’, and declared their will to ‘maintain a positive relation’ with Caracas.6 In the face of all that, the opposition had no choice but to admit defeat.7
President Chávez, on his part, was pleased about the victory: ‘Today, truth has prevailed over lies; a people’s constancy was victorious’, he said as he referred to the opposition’s media campaign. ‘Bolivarian Socialism proved strengthened in the eyes of the world’, he added.8
In fact, the opposition and the western media have developed a defamation campaign against the Venezuelan authorities, accusing Hugo Chávez of aiming at converting himself into ‘President for life’, and they forgot that in a democracy it is the people who have the last word. Naturally, the media multinationals took care not to point out that in numerous western democracies, term limits do not exist. Neither did they consider it to be necessary to point out that the Venezuelans have the possibility to revoke their President from office after the first half of the legislative period if his policies turned out to be unsatisfactory, a reality which is inconceivable in the Western world.
In ten years of power, Hugo Chávez has undertaken spectacular economic and social reforms that have particularly improved the level of living standards of the population’s most vulnerable sectors; he has equipped his country with political and economic sovereignty; imbued his citizens with a feeling of national dignity; provided Venezuela with an international stature, whose prestige does not stop to increase in the Third World; grouped a great part of the Latin American nations around the Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas (ALBA, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), an emancipatory and integrating project; and has converted the solidarity towards the neediest into the fundamental principle of his foreign politics. These are, briefly sketched, the roots of the popularity of the Venezuelan leader.9
Nevertheless, Hugo Chávez has yet to confront at least four major challenges: the decline of the price of petroleum on which the Venezuelan economy depends; the criminality rate that, although it has dropped, continues to be a serious problem; an inflation rate which is still high; a level of corruption albeit low but present in some spheres of power, and, above all, an opposition that refuses to condescend to [play according to the rules of] the democratic game, multiplying the media disinformation campaigns whose efficiency is undeniable. However, the elections of last February 15 illustrate the confidence the Venezuelans have in their President to confront those obstacles and continue his politics of constructing an alternative to barbarous neoliberalism, in which it is the human being who is the heart of the project of society.
1 Article 160, 162, 174, 192, and 230 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
2 Casto Ocando, ‘Chávez gana el referendo’; Chávez wins the referendum. El Nuevo Herald, February 15th, 2009. Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, ‘El 15F se impuso la fuerza socialista del pueblo’; On Febuary 15th, the people’s socialist power prevailed. February 19th, 2009.
3 Pascual Serrano, ‘Aceptar a Chávez’; Accepting Chávez. Translated into English by Machetera. Público, 18 de February 18th,2009. Maurice Lemoine, ‘Le Venezuela persiste et signe’, Le Monde Diplomatique, February 18th, 2009.
4 EFE, ‘Rosales atribuye resultados del referendo a la represión’; Rosales attributes the results of the referendum to repression. February 17th, 2009. Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, ‘Oposición no concreta en Contraloría denuncias mediáticas sobre ventajismo’; Opposition does not specify their media accusations of unscrupulousness at the Audit Commission. February 17th, 2009.
5 The Associated Press, ‘Grupo de Río felicita a Venezuela por referendo’; Group of Rio congratulates Venezuela for referendum. February 19th, 2009.
6 Nestor Ikeda, ‘Estados Unidos legitima el referendo chavista’; Unites States legitimize the Chavista referendum. The Associated Press, February 18th, 2009.
7 Agence France Presse, ‘Oposición venezolana admite derrota pero llama a ‘seguir la lucha’’; Venezuelan opposition admits defeat but calls to ‘continue the struggle’. February 15th, 2009.
8 Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, ‘Esta victoria es de todos los pueblos de América Latina’; This is the victory of all the peoples of Latin America. February 15th, 2009.
9 Salim Lamrani, ‘The New Venezuela of President Chavez‘; Axis of Logic. Translated into English by Iris Buehler and revised by Les Blough. Le Monde Diplomatique, December 2008.
Salim Lamrani is temporary lecturer at Paris Descartes University and Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée University and French journalist, specialist on relations between Cuba and the US. He has just published Doble Moral. Cuba, la Unión Europea y los derechos humanos; [Double Standards. Cuba, the European Union and Human Rights.] (Hondarribia: Editorial Hiru, 2008).
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