Time To Wash Off That Sulphur

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Was calling George W. Bush "el diablo" (multiple times) really the best use of Hugo Chavez's time? While he's only ever enjoyed electoral landslides in the past, two polls from Venezuela show Chavez stuck around 50 percent in his re-election bid. In a Hinterlaces poll, he leads opposition candidate Manuel Rosales 48-30; in a Penn, Schoen & Berland poll, he leads 50-37. Assuming the U.S. doesn't do anything stupid, like bigfoot its way into the election against Chavez, he could get a bloody nose—or even a defeat—via that democracy stuff we hear so much about.

(Worth mentioning: a Datanálisis poll shows Chavez with a much bigger, 58-17 lead. The difference is in the screening of answers.)

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  1. he could get a bloody nose – or even a defeat – via that democracy stuff we hear so much about.

    I wouldn’t bet on it. Your jefe/caudillo types, of which Chavez is merely the latest in a long and sorry line, don’t much cotton to public humiliation. He’ll make sure the final vote tally doesn’t embarrass him too much.

  2. Elections? We don’t need no stinking elections!

  3. It’s funny to see people like RC Dean accuse Chavez of undermining the legitimacy of Venezuelan democracy, after repeatedly winning elections certified as fair by international observers, after having fought off a coup d’etat backed by the United States. Even though he is the one who has preserved Venezuelan democracy, and his opposition has tried to eliminate it, people JUST KNOW that Chavez is the real threat to democracy.

    One problem is that the anti-democratic sleaziness of the opposition will inevitably drive potential supporters into the arms of Chavez, if only to preserve the continuation of democratic procedures.

    Chavez is probably still too popular to be defeated this time around, but with policies as bad as his, that won’t last forever. The best thing the opposition can do is to swear off anti-democratic activity, run a clean campaign, and accept their defeat magnanimously – celebrating the improvement in their vote tally,
    congratulating Chavez on a well-run campaign, and looking forward to the rematch.

    As the results of the 2004 elections show, and the Republican collapse that immediately followed them, demonstrate, the people will eventually catch on when an elected official is destructive and incompetent. It just takes time. Having a sulk for a few years is part of supporting democracy. Don’t give Chavez the chance to rally the population around the flag; don’t let him make the elections a referendum on “Yankee Imperialism;” just let his geopolitical wile goose chases and massive (for Venezuela) armament program look like the delusions of an unstable ideologue, and as the economic situation fails to improve for the people Chavez made all of his promises to, those people will inevitably begin to resent that their government is using its limited resources on foreign misadventures, and turn on Chavez.

  4. joe,

    Its not that he won rigged elections the first time around, but its yet to be seen if he’ll accept defeat if he ever loses his populist edge.

  5. L.I.T.

    Agreed. Let’s not forget, he actually did lead a coup himself years ago – I don’t know if it was against a democratic government or not, but still…

    Which is yet another reason why strengthening the infrastructure of democracy – including recognizing that Chavez is a democratically-legitimate leader, respecting the reports of credible international observes when they report that he’s won fair and square, and fer chrissakes NOT SUPPORTING COUPS – are so important for us, and for the opposition in Venezuela.

    Chavez needs to be buried under so much respect for democracy that he won’t be able to dig himself out if he’s tempted to.

  6. how many articles were written at reason about Venezuela ruling oligarchs before Chavez came to power? My guess would be one or two. The people who ruled Venezuela were far more destructive to the ordinary lives of people living there but you never heard a thing up north because they keep their mouths shut and played nice.

  7. I’m with joe. . . . but . . .

    In a kind of Reagan-esk trust-but-verify fashion, I’d like to think “we” have a long memory, too.

    Before his speech at the United Nations Hugo Chavez visited with President Ich-meanda-jihad in Iran, and then with him again, (along with several others), in Cuba. The US had a little “discussion” with Cuba once about missiles. Things have progressed since then.

    One day we may see North Korean-designed, Iranian-built missiles being installed in Venezuela instead. Will we be left wondering if these missiles are carrying Iranian or North Korean nuclear warheads? Will we then better understand the meaning of three different statements, from three different men, who spoke to us with one voice last week from different parts of the globe.

    Statement No.1
    “The devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.”. . . . — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, referring to President Bush, on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly.

    Statement No. 2
    “To those who doubt, to those who ask is it possible, or those who do not believe, I say accomplishment of a world without America and Israel is both possible and feasible.” . . .– Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Statement No. 3
    “No army in the world is strong enough to disarm us.” . . . — Hezbollah terrorist leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, last week to a “victory rally” of thousands of Hezbollah supporters.

    What else needs to be said and/or done to us before we understand the fact that there are people out there who “do not like us” and are working towards our destruction?

  8. Joe, you mean that election that was boycotted by the opposition due to fraud and intimidation? The anti-democratic measures of Chavez are documented in many sources. He is not a freely elected leader just because he had an election.

  9. Elmo,

    Cuba wasn’t a democracy.

    Do you think the Venezuelan public wants a military confronation with the US? Do you think they want their government to put the country’s scarce wealth into preparing for one? I think that if Chavez announced he was putting nuclear-tipped ICBMs into his country tomorrow, and the opposition came out against it, he would lose the next election.

    I’m still skeptical about spreading democracy as an effective strategy to reduce stateless terrorism, but as a way to prevent state vs. state military conflict, it has a sterling record. Western democracies don’t screw with us the way you outlined; if we get into a fight, it escalates all the way to trash talking and barely-perceptable slowdowns in the removal of trade barriers, like with France and Canada during the Iraq War. And in this case, we don’t even have to export democracy! We just have to make an effort not to screw it up where it already exists.

    This isn’t about Chavez or his foreign policy being acceptable to us; it’s about keeping Venezuela a western democracy.

  10. Geof,

    First, I’m not holding Venezuela out as a model of democratic probity. There are problems with the fairness of their elections, some of them traceable to Chavez and his followers, and others preceding his administration. Like many countries in the region, particularly the poorer ones, the transition from the authoritarian past to what would be considered acceptable democratic processes in countries like the U.S. and Norway has been halting. I certainly agree with the first part of your statement, that Chavez and his supporters have behaved very poorly.

    But I disagree with you when you jump to the conclusion that the extend of these problems renders the election illegitimate. The opposition boycotted an election that they knew there were going to lose by a landslide, in order to hide the extent of their loss. (This is what makes the closer poll numbers Weigel reports such good news). Pro-democracy and election certifying groups like the Carter Center confirmed that the outcome of the election was never in doubt, even as they condemned the abuses that did occur.

    Our policy in cases like this has been to side with democracy, recognize the outcome of reasonaby-fair elections, condemn abuses as they occur, and use diplomacy in concert with other western democracies and NGOs to work for better conditions – when we’ve bothered to take notice at all. This is what we should be doing with Venezuela.

    Finally, I don’t want to bash Chavez’s opposition too much, because it will be a fairly centrist coalition of the oligarchs and defectors/cast-offs from Chavez’s party that will eventually defeat him at the polls, but boycotting this election and working to discredit the electoral process like that is bad for Venezuelan democracy, which means its bad for their own interests. Instead of showing the country what it looks like a truly democratic party loses an election, they undermined democracy. The more the Venezuelan people get to see political disputes being settled at the ballot box, and the loser accepting the outcome, the better it will be for Venezuelan democracy.

  11. joe,

    Waht ai’m saying pretty much reflects what I get from what you said, as far as what you daid goes. Chavez won in fair election/s.

    I just didn’t stop at the vote count. Since then he has made some very disturbing friends. And Cuba was absolutely pro-west until “after” Castro, (with our blessing), entrenched himself in Havanna. It was only after that when he (Cuba), turned to “other” supporters. Chavez is making all the right sounds, and we should listen to them.

    That is all I said.

    Did I do bad again?

    Shall I stand in the corner again?

  12. Joe, as you pointed out, this is the same guy that previosly attempted a coup. He also rewrote the constitution to increase his power and seems to be making plans to stay in office for as long as he wants even though his shiny, new constitution says he can’t. Hopefully you’re right about his future popularity shrinking and taking away his ablility to win a legitimate election and he’ll put his cajones in a briefcase and leave office peacefully. But judging from his actions and the political leaders that inspire him, I think the default setting for his ability to follow democratic procedures that don’t benefit him has moved from a skeptical “possible” to a cynical “not likely”.

  13. The US government talks of regime change all the time, they overthrew saddam just because they wanted to, they attempted to overthrow Chavez twice, they threaten to overthrow a bunch of other regimes and yet Chavez is bad because he might not leave office if he lost an election and he might get together with other people the US threatens and do bad things to the US…. makes perfect sense.

  14. Elmo,

    It’s all good. I’m wasn’t my intent to disagree with your warnings; I was just jumping to the “So, what do we do about it” phase of the evening.

    scape, ‘I think the default setting for his ability to follow democratic procedures that don’t benefit him has moved from a skeptical “possible” to a cynical “not likely”.’ What I’m trying to express is that that path Venezuela and Chavez will take is not pre-determined. A lot of history can happen over the next few years. It’s Shroedinger’s cat, except the cat is a former paratrooper. We don’t want to take any actions in preparation for Venezuela’s abandonment of democracy, if they are going to make that abandonment more likely. Without arguing over probabilities, you are correct that Chavez himself may be a barrier to the consolidation of democracy in Venezuela. This is why I don’t think it’s a good idea to give him grist for his populist/anti-Yankee appeal.

    anon,

    Twice?

  15. Chavez is bad because he might …

    No, he’s bad because he is eliminating private property, nationalizing private business, strangling his economy, limiting free speech, consolidating power and giving his support to Castro and Ahmadinejad. The what if’s, might’s and might not’s are speculation on what leaders like him usually do.

    Joe, agree. Just sounded like the benefit of doubt you were giving him was more than he deserves.

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