President Chávez's Recent Victory

Latin America and the Caribbean

On Sunday, President Hugo Chávez bolstered his "mandate" in Venezuela when the "Yes" vote triumphed in a referendum to lift constitutional limits on presidential and political terms - despite the failure of a referendum that included the same question only a year ago. This victory resulted in many congratulatory remarks from governments in the region - ranging from a close friend, Bolivian President Evo Morales, to even closer sometime foe, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe - and even led to a statement from the U.S. State Department noting the "civic and participatory spirit of the millions of Venezuelans who exercised their democratic right to vote." With 54.4% of the population voting 'yes' on the referendum, President Chávez is already preparing for his bid for the renewal of his presidency when the current term ends in 2012. However, in order to maintain current levels of popular support, Chávez must overcome many hurdles - such as high levels of crime, 30% inflation, sagging oil prices, and a sizable opposition. According to an article in the New York Times, Chávez's victory speech showed that he too was ready to tackle these domestic issues, "focusing on more mundane tasks like improving government efficiency and combating violent crime, as if acknowledging the criticism leveled at him during the campaign and the limitations likely to be imposed on any grand plans for the time being." With President Chávez needing to focus on domestic issues for the time being, the question remains how this is going to affect Venezuela's foreign policy, which has been focused on using the country's vast oil wealth, bolstered by high oil prices, to provide grants and loans to other governments in the region. Below are links to and excerpts from different editorial boards from the United States and throughout Latin America. Other news coverage on the referendum and its consequences can be found in Just the Facts' news archives. Views from the United States: New York Times: Venezuelans' Right to Say No (written on Feb. 13, before the election) "Hugo Chávez apparently doesn't believe Venezuelan voters, who just more than a year ago rejected his bid to eliminate the term limits that are blocking his continued rule. On Sunday, he is giving them another chance. For the sake of Venezuela's democracy, they should again vote no on changing the nation's constitution." Los Angeles Times: Hugo Chávez's staying power "Venezuela just took a democratic step closer to dictatorship.... Although the balloting was deemed valid by opposition leaders, who have said they will not contest the results, the victory came about because of Chávez's gross misuse of government funds, government workers and federal facilities for the campaign, and neighborhood enforcers to "persuade" voters to support him. ... As much as we deplore what looks like the incremental disintegration of democracy in Venezuela, the U.S. must reengage with Chávez. There are many issues of mutual interest and importance to both countries: trade, immigration, economic development, drug policy and a resolution to the leftist guerrilla conflict across the border in Colombia." The Dallas Morning News: Venezuela's Chávez digs deeper hole "On Sunday, he used the democratic process to advance an undemocratic goal - his own perpetuation in power. .... This is a dictatorship with a democratic patina. ... Chávez now has more time to dig himself deeper into a hole. Obama would be wise not to interfere with this work in progress." Views from Latin America: Ecuador El Comercio: Hugo Chávez and the future of Venezuela "The possibility [of being reelected in 2013] will not only depend on Sunday's victory, but instead on what happens during the three years leading up to the elections: different than what has happened until today, the world economic crisis will oblige Chávez to be austere in the management of the money that comes in from petroleum sales. Additionally, he must fight against the grave levels of citizen insecurity, 30% inflation, food insecurity, high foreign investment, high levels of bureaucratic corruption and the 'new Bolivarian bourgeoisie....' If he is to be part of Venezuela's future, Chávez will have to lower the tone of his belligerent discourse and must be rigorous and realistic in his local management and his international position. The responsibility is immense." Colombia El Tiempo: Chávez, unlimited "The dangers of democracy by the way of questions to voters has been widely studied. What is found is that government take advantage of the official apparatus under their control in order to stay in power, while the parties lose their programmatic and collective role. That way, the leader ends up being more worried about their popularity levels than administrating, and the space for dialogue with the opposition is substituted by permanent calls to 'consult the people'." Argentina Clarín: Chávez, net triumph and partition "Chávez has known how to interpret the poorest and most left-behind sectors of a polarized society. At the same time, as is also known to happen in these processes, he has managed democratic values with authoritarianism and disregard. The crossroad of Chávez and the opposition is to find a formula that attempts to resolve and dodge the dangers of the temptations that are opened to the winners of indefinite reelection and the powerless losers." Honduras El Heraldo: A decisive day for Venezuela (published on Feb. 15, before the election) "Although he has publicly denied marxist-leninism and has even spoken of a 'christian-socialism', there is not a doubt that Hugo Chávez has fed class struggles in Venezuela because he thinks that it is the way to maintain the large majority's support, who continue to be poor, with the goal of continuing his 'revolutionary process' through the electoral path." Views from the United Kingdom: The Times: Strongman for now "For such leaders, hostility from Washington is essential to their grip on power. President Obama would be wise to deprive Mr. Chávez of this external bogey. Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Obama should simply ignore Caracas. He should continue buying the oil, but the falling price will soon produce a sense of realism. No further invitations to Moscow to send a warship will protect Mr. Chávez from popular exasperation with a strongman no longer strong enough to deliver."