05 December 2007

Meanwhile, in Venezuela...

Venezuela's state flag, with new Chavez-ordered seal of 2006.
Civil flag lacks the seal.

Venezuela just held a referendum a few days ago, on 69 constitutional changes proposed by President Hugo Chavez. It was barely defeated at the polls, the first defeat for Chavez since his first rise to power in 1998.

There were some very progressive ideas floated about in the "reform" package, such as shorter work week, lowering of legal voting age to 16, social security for the self-employed and the informal economy, and equality for women and gays. Many on the left, including American liberals, hailed these provisions of the package as forward-thinking.

What did Chavez in this time, however, was his mad power grab; not satisfied with his current ability to rule by decree, he had proposed to eliminate term limits for the presidency, and asked for the ability to suspend the legislature in national emergencies. These were the two factors that had caused many Chavez supporters to stay home, allowing the opponents, who otherwise failed to gain much ground, to prevail. Chavez had argued that he needed to stay in power past the term limit in 2012, in order to continue his socialist revolution and redistribute power to the outcasts of the society, including black Venezuelans. But this is an argument dictators of all political persuasions like to make.

Dictatorship is dictatorship, whether we are talking about US-backed fascist ones (like 1970s Chile) or autonomous socialist ones (like today's Venezuela). At least Chavez is abiding by the results of the close election, and that's one silver lining. The best thing for Venezuela to do is to continue to hold democratic, free elections, and let the people, including the college students who have been the opposition leaders, decide whether Chavez's ideas are acceptable or not. And Chavez needs to go when his time is up, and groom a successor before then, if he wants to leave a legacy.

It is also worth noting that despite his supposed commitment to human rights in his country, Chavez continues to befriend some of the world's worst human rights abusers, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

Last, but not the least, the US needs to stay out of Venezuelan affairs. W has been extremely unhappy with Chavez's revolution, and wants it stopped at all costs. But if democracy and freedom are to prevail, the best course of action is to let the everyday people of Venezuela - be it the working class or the intellectuals or the entrepreneurs - speak out for themselves, not install a fascist puppet regime.

I will see how Venezuela continues to evolve over the next several years, including, of course, whether Chavez will leave office on time and let a democratically elected successor take over.