Meanwhile, in Venezuela…

Hugo Chávez has narrowly lost a referendum which would have done away with term limits on the Presidential office, and further centralised power. While this could be seen as a defeat, and interpreted in terms of the largely bourgeois opposition triumphing over his Bolivarian revolution, the sort of black and white discourse embraced by Hugo huggers and haters alike obscures a very important part of the reality of the situation – while Chávez himself continues to enjoy great popularity, some of the same voters whom he had himself empowered have made an important distinction between a regime focused on redressing poverty (and no matter how effective or otherwise you think his policies are, there’s no doubt about the intent and the significance of the disruption of oligarchical rule) and the institutions of democracy itself. It’s important to observe, as The Economist did, that opposition to the referendum included the former defence minister, General Raul Baduel, who was instrumental in fending off the 2002 coup, and Podemos, a social democratic party which had been part of Chávez’s electoral coalition from the start. So, you could call it a win for democracy. But don’t forget that it doesn’t fit neatly into the black and white narrative we’ll no doubt have served up to us.

Elsewhere: A similar point made by No Right Turn.

Posted in politics
11 comments on “Meanwhile, in Venezuela…
  1. Liam Hogan says:

    Errata: tag left unclosed after “El País”. Sorry.

  2. mbahnisch says:


    Is that your translation, Liamista, or Babelfish?

  3. kimberella says:

    Elsewhere: A similar point made by No Right Turn.

  4. Antonio says:

    Not to be too narky, but I would translate the El País quote a little differently to Liam.

    “Chavez appeared to acknowledge the ‘pyrrhic’ victory of the opposition, but has not lost the war. According to him, reforms have failed ‘so far’ yet ‘still live’, which suggests he might try to implement them later.”

    I have yet to read a similarly detailed article in English so I have roughly translated the other more interesting parts of this article for everyone below because it quotes Chavez in quite an ominous tone:


    “We overcame abstention [in the previous vote] … but this time we could not”, Chavez said. But he will continue “undertaking the proposal” of constitutional reform, namely to maintain as he says, the way to “accelerate” the establishment of socialism in Venezuela. He called on his supporters not to become discouraged and above all, not to give up. “We will continue to work, we will make the greatest effort to achieve the highest social inclusion, equality as a principle of the system and seek ways of doing so. This proposal [of constitutional reform] is not dead, it’s still alive, and I do not retreat [from it]”, Chavez emphasised.

    The president sought to change 69 articles of the Constitution of 1999, a reform that would have given him almost unlimited power. To begin with, it would have allowed unlimited re-elections for the president and expanded the presidential mandate from six to seven years. Moreover, [it would have] given [him] the control of foreign exchange reserves, the central bank, the management of the country and greater powers to expropriate properties or censor media in emergencies. It also reduced working hours to six hours [per day] and created a social security system for workers and the self-employed.


    Chavez draws two lessons from yesterday’s referendum. First, the government should reflect on the reason for the abstention of some of his followers. Yesterday he received four million votes, compared to seven last December when he was elected president. In addition, he believed that the opposition must “realise that it is possible” to win political gains from the “electoral” process, and thus should “forget about plans for violence and rioting.” Moreover, “I make a very sincere recommendation: learn to manage this victory. [The opposition] won (but) it is a pyrrhic victory.”

  5. mbahnisch says:

    Six hours of work a day! That’s double what Marx recommended for the communist utopia!

  6. kimberella says:

    Thanks for the extended translation, Antonio. He doesn’t sound like a happy camper, and being gracious in defeat isn’t really his thing, I’d have thought. Still, fingers crossed the message is heeded. Alternately, calling on the opposition to abide by democratic processes (which is a more than fair point given the history) implies that he himself will.

  7. Enemy Combatant says:

    “Alternately, calling on the opposition to abide by democratic processes (which is a more than fair point given the history) implies that he himself will.”

    El Presidente likes to huff and puff a lot. He comes from a long line of hot-blooded people not contrained by Victorian reserve. Crimes of passion are commonplace in Caracas; flamboyance, a way of life. His pantomime at the UN last year when he commented (with appropriate hand-fanning gestures in front of his nose), on the stench of burning sulphur at the lectern occupied the day before by “Diablo Bush”, was a classic case of burro-whistling his base, and indeed, played craftily into the Manichean mindset of paysanos worldwide.

    The vote was very close, a mere fraction of one percent in it. Not sure if the Venezuelan Constitution allows Chavez to put the proposition again, but I’m prepared to give give Hugo Grande the benefit of the doubt. Hugo ain’t perfect, but he sure sticks it up The Imbecile like no other oil producing nation’s leader. My take is that Hugo will cop the democratically expressed wishes of his people sweet.

    The Good Shepherds from Langley Virginia always keep a very close watch on their perceived hegemonic flock, so Big Hugo would be unwise to provide them with a counter-revolutionary trigger for exploitation, the likes of which Kermit Roosevelt “found” in another oil producing nation called Iran in 1953.

  8. Liam Hogan says:

    My translation, though Antonio’s is better.

  9. Ambigulous says:

    It’s refreshing to hear that Chavez LOST the referendum. To me, that indicates there is still an independent electoral process in Venezuela, which Chavez’s supporters haven’t seized control of, or corrupted sufficiently to sway the overall vote over to “!Si!”.

    A brief breather for Venezuelans to reconsider their future? He SOUNDS ominous, but you have to allow for Latino windbaggery I think.

    See “Guide to the perfect Latin American idiot” by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza [and others, 2003?] for a merciless satirical dissection of populist rhetoric masquerading in Fidelista, anti-imperialist garb.

    And see an old book: “Che Guevara: the failure of a revolutionary” by Leo Sauvage (1973), for a discussion of Che’s harsh attitudes towards Cuban workers – who were forced to “donate” labour to the Sate – when he was Industry Minister in the early ’60’s.

    A 6 hour day??? Hah!!!

    hasta luego

  10. Paul Burns says:

    I saw that LP had this thread, with some apprehension, and thought, ‘Oh, no, not another Chavez bashing/Chavez supporting event.
    Nevertheless, here goes. Chavez is, as well as being a socialist, absolutely democratic, unlike the Fascistic US backed oligarchy that opposes him. He has clearly accepted the results of the referendum, which was very, very close, and will live with it. I doubt very much that the right in Venezuela would have done the same.

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