Monday, December 29, 2008

2008: the year Hugo Chavez lost his democratic fig leaf

There are many ways to write a routine article to review a year. As far as this blogger is concerned 2008 will mark the year when the pseudo Bolivarian Revolution has been proved without a doubt to be only a vehicle for Chavez personal ambition to retain power forever. Or, in other words, 2008 will come down as the year where it became impossible to ignore the undemocratic nature of Chavez and his followers.

That is good in a perverse way, in that now we have a clearer panorama of the situation. Now it will be very difficult for any supporter of chavismo to dare support this masquerade.

A simple summary will be enough to refresh any one’s memory and to sustain my point.

In December 2007 Chavez lost his first vote when he tried to modify the constitution in order to accumulate more power for himself. A true democrat can always be appreciated in defeat. Chavez was a sore loser. If on the first night he grudgingly accepted defeat (after a considerable delay) a couple of days after he showed how bitter he was posing in the middle of his generals, just as the landscape of Caracas was being dotted with posters warning that he was not giving up.

The first sign of what was to come was when the Electoral Board, CNE, failed to release the final results of the referendum. To this date we still do not know the exact margin of victory for the NO. In what democratic country one can observe such a disregard in telling the people the result of a supposedly free and fair election? Thus the political umpire of Venezuela was the second in exposing its naked partiality.

Through 2008 a series of decree laws established many of the provisions that were rejected in 2007. The argument here is not whether these changes could have been applied through laws without a constitutional change. The point is that Chavez tried to get them through a constitutional change, the people said NO and Chavez went ahead anyway.

At the end of 2008 Chavez tried to transform what should have been regional elections into a plebiscite on himself. Never as for these elections the machine of state was used to the extent it was used to favor one side, the Chavez side. Never was a presidential language as foul as the one used by Chavez during this campaign where political adversaries where labeled traitors and worse. But again, the specifics of the election, as tasteless as they were, are not the real point, nor the final results: the riveting moment was when chavismo refused to relinquish the few places won by the opposition or when it pillaged and turned them into nothing before finally allowing the newly elected officials to take charge. The opposition officials were served notice that they would not be allowed the means to exert the position for which the people elected them.

To crown this already telling year, Chavez within hours started yet a new electoral campaign where he threw aside all pretense of the noble aims that he tried to make us believe guided him: a single amendment to the constitution to allow his reelection. Simply put, Chavez is blackmailing the country with the reactionary argument that if he is not allowed to run for office again, that if he must leave office one way or the other, the country will fall into chaos. The implication here is not that Chavez should be allowed to run again for election, the implication is that not only he should be allowed to do so but that he should be allowed to use any forcible mean to ensure that he is reelected. Make no mistake: this coming referendum is also a referendum on Chavez campaign style, on the material abuses he commits, on how he twists the law to remove any opponent that could become a threat to his hold on power. Those who will vote YES on the February 2009 referendum will also vote to allow a man to use such tactics that he will never be threatened at the ballot box. We saw those tactics in 2008, they include from incomplete electoral results release to restrictions of civil rights to whomever displeases him.

Those are the only things worth retaining from the 2008 year in Venezuela. All the rest are mere distracting details.

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