February 19, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Ruslan Kostyuk


Chavez got a chance to become the "eternal" President of Venezuela

National referendum, which took place on February 15 in Venezuela and had to show people's opinion about the abolition of the ban to being elected to the Presidential post more than two time, became a symbolic outcome of the "red decade" of Hugo Chavez's presidency. After the "misfortune" during the constitutional referendum in 2007, when a bit more than a half of active electors said "no" to the executive power's suggestion about changing of the Constitution, another "misfortune" on recent plebiscite would mean Hugo Chavez's strategic fail. But this didn't happen: 54.4% of electors supported the idea of Hugo Chavez's right to be elected unlimited number of times. So, now Chavez has all the chances to be elected to the highest state post in 2012. Venezuelan leader immediately announced he was ready to "serve the Bolivarian Republic eternally".

Speaking about this Hugo Chavez's political success, we can't but say about the relativity and fragility of his victory. More than 45% of electors voted against Chavez's plans, which include various social and professional groups and different political "families". And this means millions of people and definitely points at the contradictoriness of a "red decade's" results.

There's no doubt, that the reforms of the Left, which were social in the essence, changed social-economic system of Venezuela in the end of XX – beginning of XXI century very much. The living standards of the major part of habitants changed for better, the number of Venezuelans behind the poverty line substantially decreased. Illiteracy and some diseases, which seemed to be eternal, are vanishing rapidly.

However, at the same time Venezuelan economy is still underdeveloped and non-diversified in its structure. National financial sector is also far from stability. A possibility for a large variety of social programs appeared not only because of Chavez's voluntaristic etatist course, but also due to the "epoch of expensive oil". But now oil prices fell down essentially, which means the threat of a real budget deficit and probable reduction of state subsidies for ambitious programs in public health, education and construction in Venezuela.

One should also bear in mind that the difference in incomes between the highly-paid strata and state officials, on the top of the society, and a huge "army" of Venezuelan poor, on the other end of the social spectrum, is really tremendous. And such social sores as corruption and crime are deep-rooted. Venezuela is still really far from the condition of harmonious and equal rights society, though Chavez's reforms objectively bring the country closer to the ideals of justice.

Also contradictions occur if we talk about the political development of the country. On the one hand, after the creation of people's local government bodies and decentralization, we can talk about hundreds of thousands ordinary citizens getting closer to politics and to making decisions. Venezuela was the first from South American countries to introduce a "recall referendum", which means that people are able to make a decision of calling off the heads of executive powers on national and regional levels in the middle of their governing. All this is a clear evidence of Chavez's regime being definitely democratic. At the same time opposition's rights aren't infringed, government didn't take control over mass media, "protesting" parties and organizations act freely, and Chavez has never falsified results of any votes (which is confirmed even by his Right critics).

But on the other hand, the Left regime in Venezuela has a personalistic character. Chavez's populism often endamages the cause of revolution, just like in was during the referendum in 2007. The President "shuffles the pack" of ministers and state officials; half of the leaders and officials of the five-million (!) United Socialist Party of Venezuela founded by Chavez is appointed personally by the head of the state! The highest legislative power stamps presidential bills with no discussions and has de-facto cut its powers for the benefit of the country's leader. This drift might be fraught with many problems for the "21st century socialism", the main of which will be the saving of democratic character of the statehood itself.

Finally, Chavez has problems with foreign policy. He undoubtedly got world-wide popularity and became the idol of anti-globalists. Venezuela sticks to articulate and persistent independent anti-imperialistic and for the same reason anti-US stance. It was Caracas who created Bolivarian Alternatives for Americas (ALBA) few years ago and turned the organization into inter-regional coalition. Nowadays Venezuela is not without a reason viewed as a major initiator of the integration process among South-American nations community. Caracas's foreign relations remain quite diversified. Besides China and South Africa one can see Russia and Iran among Venezuela's friends, and it indicates Left President's well-known foreign affairs "multi-vectority".

On the other hand, Chavez's rigid rhetoric often provokes disapproval among neighbors. It almost came to an open conflict with Columbia, and Peruvian electors ignored Indian leader Ollanta Humala, Chavez's ally, during the second round of Presidential elections, expressing disapproval of obvious Caracas's interference in the election campaign. Chavez's concept faces competition from the side of moderately reformist model in South America, which is expressed, in particular, by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who is an informal leader of the Union of South America Nations (UNASUR) and the South American Customs Union (MERCOSUR). So, such center-left countries of Latin America as Argentine, Uruguay, Chili align themselves with the "soft" Brazil, but not with the "rigid" Venezuela.

Thus, even in spite of the recent victory, Chavez and his followers have many things to think and work over. Taking into account that Venezuela didn't escape from the consequences of world financial crisis, Hugo Chavez will have to make colossal efforts to keep the political support of the majority.

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