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Rolling Back Hugo Chavez's "Revolution" By: John R. Thomson
Washington Times | Monday, December 10, 2007


CARACAS, Venezuela.

It has not been a happy few weeks for Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. First, he was roundly chastised by the king of Spain in front of his Latin American peers and, later, the world. A few days later, the red-shirted dictator was dealt a major verbal blow by his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe.

Then, most embarrassing of all, his countrymen defeated Mr. Chavez's proposed constitutional changes, which he had assured one and all would be overwhelmingly approved. And the defeat was not by the purported slimmest of margins, 50.7 percent, as announced by Venezuela's electoral commission: Highly reliable sources put the opposition's majority at 53, perhaps as high as 55, percent. Of course, we will never know the actual vote, as the commission can change the automatic voting machine tallies at will.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela George Landau notes: "Venezuelans, even the poor, do not want a Cuban-communist regime. What killed Chavez were the abstentions of his own people ... unhappy that, while they live in misery, Chavez subsidizes vast parts of the world, even including the Bronx...Food shortages were a big reason for massive abstentions. Student involvement was a major factor that goes back to Chavez closing the popular RC-TV, his biggest mistake so far because people realized he was an absolute dictator."

And there were numerous other reasons, not the least the turning against Mr. Chavez of longtime ally and former Defense Minister Raul Baduel. Capping his personal campaign to vote "No," Mr. Baduel essentially told Venezuelans the day before the referendum to defeat the referendum and his former army colleagues to let the results stand. Among other once close Chavez confidants, it was even reported his hand-picked president of the Supreme Court, Luisa Estella Morales Lamuno, voted "No."

Although Hugo Chavez controlled virtually all government forces, much of the media remained opposed, as did the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Perhaps most telling, Mr. Chavez lost the support of much of his longtime power base, the poor. Some 44 percent abstained, a sharp reversal from 2006 when he gained a crushing re-election victory.

Indeed, one former senior government official cited "the unusual and undocumented growth of the official voting roles during the last few years, which increased from less than 11 million voters to more than 16 million...and this still couldn't save the day.

"With scarcity of basic staple products like milk, eggs and rice, plus a rising personal insecurity crisis, citizens felt abandoned by a government, which has not fulfilled its promises, even more unacceptable when the country is earning the highest petroleum income ever. Venezuelans had enough moral reserves to reject a totalitarian proposal intended to convert the country into yet another socialist fiasco," he concluded. "The Chavez revolution has been fatally trapped in its own rhetoric."

In less than three weeks, three stinging reversals, but unfortunately, the contest in question is not baseball, Venezuela's favorite sport. It is deadly serious politics — not only domestic, but regional — and Hugo Chavez cannot be counted out.

The former army colonel is a survivor. In the 1992 failed coup attempt, he was the only one of six rebel officers who failed to obtain his objective [instead of capturing Miraflores, the presidential palace, Mr. Chavez took shelter in a nearby military museum during the fighting] leading to the coup's failure. Nevertheless, following capture and conviction, he received a pardon and was free to mount his successful 1998 bid for the presidency.

Mr. Chavez has committed to effect the changes he needs to achieve one-man rule and dictate as long as he wishes; moreover, he remains fully committed to strengthen and extend his Bolivarian Revolution throughout Latin America.

With five countries — Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela — effectively within his orbit, the next targets are Peru and Colombia. Fortunately, Peru has been supported by the recently approved free trade agreement with the United States.

Colombia is more gravely threatened for two reasons: proximity to Venezuela and congressional opposition to its own free trade pact. Bowing to opposition by the AFL-CIO, purportedly because of "human rights concerns," Democratic congressional leadership has so far refused to schedule a vote for the agreement, playing directly into Mr. Chavez' and Colombian leftists' claims that Washington is no friend of Colombia.

Almost since coming to power, Mr. Chavez has curried relations with FARC, the murderous Colombian communist guerrilla and narcotics trafficking organization. FARC troops maintain bases in the Venezuelan jungle bordering Colombia and their leaders have safe haven homes in Caracas (FARC "Foreign Minister" Rodrigo Granda carries Venezuelan identification and is a registered voter).

Chavez functionaries have developed a plan to give some 2 million permanent resident visas to Colombian illegal immigrants in return for voting their way in 2010, and Venezuelan medical vans, manned by Cuban doctors, offer free care to Colombians across the border.

In addition, the would-be Venezuelan president-for-life has close relations with leaders of Colombia's far left Polo Democratico Party, which finished second in last year's presidential elections and in October elected its second successive mayor of the country's capital, Bogota.

Mr. Chavez has boasted of spending as much $5 billion — more if necessary — to have his favored candidate win Colombian presidential elections in 2010, and everything suggests that between his FARC and Polo Democratico allies he has a powerful supporting infrastructure.

President Alvaro Uribe has waged an all-out war on narcotics and terrorism — even sending specialist army troops to aid in Afghanistan's war on drugs — ranking his government as the United States' closest Latin American ally. Failure to approve the U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement will hurt democracy gravely, not just in Colombia but throughout the entire region.

Hugo Chavez has declared war, but not between imperialism and revolution, as he claims, but between democracy and autocracy, between civil liberty and militarism, between the free market and socialism.

The people of Venezuela clearly understood and rejected the Chavez alternative on Dec. 2. It is up to freedom's friends to do everything possible to roll his Bolivarian Revolution into the dustbin of history.

John R. Thomson, an international businessman and former diplomat, writes frequently on developing world issues.


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