Chavez’s overwhelming victory in gubernatorial elections: a national and regional tsunami..Hugo Chavez

Chavez continues to be the hero in Venezuela and the region. In the last elections for state governors that took place on Sunday, December 16th, Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), won overwhelmingly and now holds 20 out of the 23 state governments in the nation.  

The opposition lost important states such as Zulia that it had controlled for more than eight years. Likewise, the opposition lost the state of Carabobo, a state that has never been in the hands of a pro-Chavez government. Even in the state of Tachira, which was the only state the opposition won in the October 7th presidential election, was lost to Chavez’s political loyalists.

Those who think that Chavez’s movement will not survive his death should be dissuaded from this belief given the results of this gubernatorial election which proves exactly the opposite.  

Populism and the government’s massive use of state resources were key to winning those elections.  

In addition, there is an undeniable emotional element that played extremely well among the population. As El Universal journalist, Roberto Giusti, pointed out in a recent forum in Miami, “Chavez used his own illness to achieve political gains. As he flew to Cuba for a new round of cancer treatment, there was a massive national mobilization to pray to God for Chavez’s well being. ” Thus, Chavez’s popularity increased as a result of his martyrdom. If people pray for his health, most probably such prayer could well be translated into support on the ballots. Another Venezuelan journalist called it “an emotional Tsunami”.

Paradoxically, the overwhelming support for Chavez comes as projects aimed at reducing poverty have been stagnant now for six years. Almost, like in a communist country, 44% of the population works in the informal sector of the economy or an underground economy.

With the rise of populism, based on a welfare economy and worship of the leader, the Venezuelan people have converted themselves from being a civil society into a mob, an amorphous mass of people prone to political manipulation.

The main role of this mob is to support the political power of Chavez and his circle as well as his revolution. Whatever individual or social aspirations they may have are not so important anymore. Their voice is their vote. The channels to place demands are not open. It is up to the state and to the government to decide for them. The government will reward the people with gifts. But God-forbid they make demands of their own. God forbid they demand civil liberties, release of political prisoners or freedom of the press.

When Peronism, the most influential populist regime in history, was in power the people who supported it were often blamed of having sold themselves for “lentil stew”. The sociologist, Gino Germani then responded that those Argentineans who supported Peronism, and particularly the working class, received something material in return but at the same time did not lose anything in terms of civil rights and freedom because what preceded Peron was a decade of military rule where neither civil liberties nor democracy really existed.

However, in the case of Venezuela the situation is different. Although the two parties that ruled Venezuela after the “Punto Fijo Pact” were oligarchical and corrupt, the basic freedoms that a democracy provides were fully maintained.

Venezuelans have now shown that freedom and democracy is not a priority for them except perhaps in the very act of voting. They do not seem at all bothered by the behavior of the Venezuelan Government. Chavez’ as national figure and protector of the poor seems to prevail above anything else.

Though extensively discussed in various articles of the Americas Report, there are numerous examples of repression at various levels of the government under the Chavez regime.

As an illustration of what is now occurring in Venezuela Carlos Alberto Montaner reminded us that Venezuelan judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni provided a verdict on an individual that Chavez wanted to send to jail. Judge Afiuni applied judicial principles and followed the spirit of the law and after a careful review she ordered to release that individual since he already spent three years in preventive custody. Her verdict angered Chavez and led him to order the imprisonment of Judge Afiuni without any legal foundation, just by virtue of arbitrary prerogative.

While in prison Judge Afiuni was raped by several guards and she got pregnant. She was released later because of medical reasons but her house was shot down with gun machines.

Liberty and basic rights are sacrificed in the name of a regime that promotes equality or income distribution. The Chavez regime is not merely about power but it has to be consistent with its ideology of reducing inequality and proceed with a project of income distribution. This is the reason why the Bolivarian Revolution is so acclaimed, after all. It is a “generous” tyranny.

Perhaps, it is why Chavez is so admired by a variety of intellectuals, journalists and other left-wing romantics who are obsessed with the issue of “equality”, “wealth or income distribution”.

The well-known economist and political theorist, Thomas Sowell has made the following point: “If there really were some pre-existing body of income or wealth, produced somehow –manna from heaven, as it were-then there would be of course a moral question as to how large a share each member of society should receive. But wealth is produced. It does not exist somehow”. [1]

Productivity is the result of a number of factors that include initiative, entrepreneurship and, of course also labor plus other factors such as education. Empirically speaking capitalist societies have been more productive than non-capitalist societies because freedom of enterprise and a market society enabled individual creativity that were converted into initiatives. These initiatives created wealth, provided employment and increased the purchasing power of the people. It is no wonder that the Soviet Union and its communist satellites collapsed. No initiative, no creativity, and no productivity were encouraged. A mighty military co-existed alongside a bankrupt and decrepit civil society.

Let us recognize that in a market society there could be an element of exploitation or unfairness between those who own or manage and those who work or hold positions at lower levels. This is why labor unions have played the role of reducing those gaps. However, these gap reductions have not been aimed at creating pure equality, (particularly when economic growth or wealth production often brings about inequality). These labor conflicts were aimed at providing fair income to the workers, not to create equality of income across the board.

Venezuela-mapWhere then does the Bolivarian “equality” lead us?

Since Venezuela is a producer of oil, and since that industry is managed by a state company where the government has constantly interfered in its management, the 21st Century Socialist revolution is going to lead to a regime similar to the one held by Arab oil secular tyrannies and monarchies such as Saadam Hussein’s Iraq, Gadaffi’s Libya and Saudi Arabia.

None of these autocratic rulers have ruled with the power of repression alone. They were more sophisticated than that. They used oil income to distribute wealth and to co-opt dissenters. This policy not only created a lack of economic diversity and served to minimize individual creativity, but also reduced entrepreneurship and personal responsibility.

This is going to be the fate of the Venezuelans that had agreed to live under this setting. They will continue to receive government’s gifts and bring no initiative until the price of commodities in the international market will collapse altogether. Then they will become more impoverished than they ever had been.

This is going to have tremendous consequences for the Venezuelans’ work ethic and productivity. By contrast, as Chilean journalist, Lorena Medel pointed out at the same conference in Miami, in Chile “people look for opportunities to be productive, not for Government charity”.

But it is this Venezuelan “Arab” model that it is celebrated not only in the countries of the Bolivarian alliance, but also in the “Europeanized”, modern Buenos Aires. This is particularly true for those intellectuals and opinion leaders close to the government of Cristina Kirchner. The grassroots of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) and the Movement for Popular Participation (MPP), the strongest sector within the ruling Broad Front in Uruguay, also admires this model. Even the ultra- atheist President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, joined the prayers for Chavez’s health.

There is no sector within the Latin American left, even among the social-democrats, that does not have a pro-Chavez sector in their ranks.

The Chavistas have also managed to silence their critics. Many may not like Chavismo and Bolivarianismo in private but they cannot display such antipathy in public. Even conservative governments like those in Colombia and Chile have to pay this lip service in order not to be marginalized in the region and benefit from regional integration.

This shows that the Bolivarian Revolution has enough hegemonic power to exercise its veto up to the point that many leaders (including the more rational Brazilian President Dilma Roussef) mistakenly believe that the survival of the Bolivarian regime in Venezuela is a necessary condition for the successful continuity of regional integration. In fact, regional integration is in the interests also of conservative countries in the region such as those mentioned above. Hugo Chavez or his accomplices do not constitute a necessary condition for the survival of regional integration. Any president or leader would like to benefit from such integration.

Even the United States government has accepted this code of silence by adopting a passive attitude thus leaving our allies at the mercy of this new regional “common understanding”.

All the Bolivarian Revolution needs now is just enough support from his allies and enough silence from those who are not.


 The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy’s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. Published weekly, it features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press. For example, past topics have included: the radicalization of the Latin American grassroots, Hugo Chavez’s involvement in Colombian political scandals, and the ideological alliance between Chavez and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.