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The Dictator of Caracas

Editorial | Wall Street Journal

December 6, 2005; Page A20 | After last week's editorial about his oil-for-influence campaign aimed at the U.S. Congress, several readers objected to our description of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as a "dictator." Let's hope these forgiving souls paid attention to Sunday's congressional elections in that country.

Mr. Chávez's party or parties sympathetic to his Bolivarian revolution won all 167 seats in the country's unicameral congress. Every single seat. But that Saddam-like sweep was only possible because most Venezuelans decided not to participate. Even the government admits to an abstention rate of greater than 75%. While it's true the opposition boycotted, it did so knowing how the government had cheated to win the August 2004 recall referendum.

The Chávez transgressions in 2004 included the use of voting machines in which software was not reviewed, refusal to allow auditing of the voting registry, not guaranteeing the secrecy of the vote, and using the list of Venezuelans who had signed the recall petition to threaten the livelihoods of government employees and contractors. Overseeing it all was a government-appointed electoral council, which did what it could to outlaw competition. The European Union was so appalled that it refused even to monitor the 2004 vote.

The EU and Organization of American States did show up this weekend. But suspicions were heightened before Sunday's vote when a technician showed foreign monitors that the fingerprint tracking machines used at the polls could be used to identify how individuals voted. In a country where the government owns the means of production (mostly oil), Venezuelans fear that voting wrong could cost them their jobs.

The government agreed to pull the fingerprint scanners, but the damage was done. Venezuelans went on electoral strike. Mr. Chávez demanded that government workers go to the polls, but to little avail. Venezuelans seem to think they live in a dictatorship. The only issue is whether the rest of the world, especially the OAS, will have the nerve to admit it.

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