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Hugo Chavez May Well Win

By Val Dorta

The latest poll by the Washington firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc., made public today by Reuters, shows Hugo Chávez winning the referendum by a very small margin. I don’t have any idea if the poll is valid, as it could simply be just another blow in the pre-referendum campaign, but it was apparently ordered by the pro-opposition Venezuelan TV station RCTV.

This is bad news for Venezuela, but it is also congruent with the real long-term situation I have reported on, one that is somewhat different to what you see in several good-intentioned blogs. The Venezuelan electorate is —and has been for more than a year— divided into three more or less equal sectors, pro-Chávez, anti-Chávez and ni-ni (neither-nor). And the referendum is clearly in the hands of the latter.

The ni-ni are right, of course, if for the wrong reasons. They sense Chávez is not the cause of the country’s chronic problems, but they don’t have a clear reason why. They don’t want to go back to the Fourth Republic, but most of them still think populism can be revived. They want change but modernization is not in their immediate plans, as capitalism and globalization are almost four-letter words in the country.

Talking about Latin American woes (yawn):

Last week, the ubiquitous Juan Forero reviewed the well-known problems of our Southern hemisphere. As expected of him and the NYT, he comes up with the old canard “democracy today is broad, but it’s not deep” and the rest of symptoms of a chronic illness he can’t recognize: “the gap between the haves and have-nots of money and power” and “political corruption.”

The article can’t hide the failures of practically all the governments that have come and gone in the region, failures that are “eroding the foundations of democracy.” Or the stubbornness of “a 40-year old Marxist insurgency” in Colombia, or Peruvians’ disenchantment with their latest failed populist Alejandro Toledo and their nostalgia for even worse populists like Alberto Fujimori and Alan García. Neither can the article hide the polls that show “56 percent of those asked said economic progress was more important than democracy.” So much for dogma.

A country the article doesn’t mention is Chile, el Convidado de Piedra, the gorilla in the parlor nobody wants to see, an extreme paradox because of its sore-thumb evidence. That Forero doesn’t mention Chile at all in his long article surprises me not a bit, because he would have to accept Chile as the exception to the Latin American rule. Forero finds it easy to follow the trend, as practically nobody in Latin America wants to confront the truth. That capitalism is the only system that works and that it tends to fix the other problems because they are not causes of anything, but consequences of the very illnesses that befoul the region: populism and statism. And that, given enough time to redress the many lost years, it would also rescue democracy from the pit where it now languishes.

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