You didn't take it seriously when I suggested Hugo Chavez's big, goofy socialism wasn't turning him into the all-powerful bogeyman pundits thought, did you? Well, what if a Fulbright scholar says so? Take it, Dorothy J. Kronick.
Even as some Venezuelans balk at Chávez's anti-Americanism, though, others buy it, and the percentage of Venezuelans who have a positive view of the United States has declined in recent years. Still, Luis Christiansen, director of the public opinion firm Consultores 21, suggests that this adoption of Chávez's view of the world is fragile. "When you think of socialism, you think of something different from what the average Venezuelan thinks of," he says in an e-mail. "Since this is not a debate of ideas but rather a very basic debate (under what system can I live better in the short term?), Chávez has been able to define capitalism as egoism and socialism as solidarity. It's likely that there are more Venezuelans that would say they prefer socialism than that would say they prefer capitalism, but not as a result of ideological reflection, rather as a result of Chávez's analytic reduction."
Not that Chavez's opponent Manuel Rosales is actually going to win. Yes, we've seen the pictures of his monster "avalanchas." The 2004 recall rallies were pretty big, too.
To be sure, Chávez is likely to win Sunday's election; his generous social spending, mesmerizing charisma, and empowering rhetoric appear unbeatable for now. But, despite commentators' fatalistic predictions, this is not a sign that all of Latin America has tumbled into an anti-American ambit. Felipe Calderón won Mexico's presidential election after linking his opponent with Chávez, and Ecuadorian President-elect Rafael Correa moderated his anti-business stance after falling behind in polls. And, in Venezuela, Rosales's strong performance suggests that his compatriots may share the views not of Chávez, but of his hero, Simón Bolívar, who, while warning against blind imitation, still admitted that the United States was often "an example too seductive not to be followed."