Chavez vs. The Venezuelan Electorate

Chavez Down In the wake of the Venezuelan electorate issuing Hugo Chavez a defeat (his first) at the ballot box last week, there was much speculation from blogospheric skeptics about the actual tally of the votes, and about whether or not Chavez manipulated the results. In a report by Jorge Castañeda for Newsweek comes allegations confirming those suspicions (HT: ChrisB):

Most of Latin America’s leaders breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week, after Venezuelan voters rejected President Hugo Chávez’s constitutional amendment referendum. In private they were undoubtedly relieved that Chávez lost, and in public they expressed delight that he accepted defeat and did not steal the election. But by midweek enough information had emerged to conclude that Chávez did, in fact, try to overturn the results. As reported in El Nacional, and confirmed to me by an intelligence source, the Venezuelan military high command virtually threatened him with a coup d’état if he insisted on doing so. Finally, after a late-night phone call from Raúl Isaías Baduel, a budding opposition leader and former Chávez comrade in arms, the president conceded—but with one condition: he demanded his margin of defeat be reduced to a bare minimum in official tallies, so he could save face and appear as a magnanimous democrat in the eyes of the world.

(Emphasis added.) If the reports are true, this shouldn’t surprise anyone whose being paying attention. The emergence of former Chavez ally Raúl Isaías Baduel (profiled here by Fausta) as a check on Chavez’s lust for supreme power has been most welcome. However, while it’s tempting to view the machinations behind the referendum defeat as signaling the end of his strongman status, Chavez is clearly still a powerful leader. The possibility that he was able to manipulate the ultimate voting tally speaks to that power, as does his continued popularity amongst supporters inclined to use violence as a means of furthering the Chavista agenda. Accordingly, I wouldn’t write off Chavez’ ability to get what he wants just yet.

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