Hugo Chávez’s Re-election Bid: Is the Latin American Left Stumbling?

Venezuela's firebrand socialist president is no longer a shoo-in to win re-election on Oct. 7—for reasons that are also haunting other leaders on the Latin American left.

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Tomas Bravo / Reuters

A sticker of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles is seen over a poster of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in downtown Caracas Oct. 2, 2012.

As I write in the international edition of TIME, and as Girish Gupta wrote last week on TIME.com, Venezuela’s burgeoning violent crime will be a key factor in the Oct. 7 presidential election. The baffling inability of socialist President Hugo Chávez, who controls the world’s largest oil reserves, to rein in a murder rate that by some estimates is four times higher than when he took office 13 years ago, including some 50 homicides a week in Caracas, has rankled Venezuelan voters. Chávez wasn’t helped last Sunday when two supporters of his centrist challenger, Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, were shot and killed in Chávez’s home state of Barinas, allegedly by Chávez backers who were blocking a Capriles campaign caravan.

A third victim, also a Capriles supporter, is in critical condition. Chávez urged Venezuelans to “confront each other with votes, not violence,” but he just as quickly took the polarizing low road and blamed his “bourgeois” opponents for the deadly confrontation. The Capriles camp was angered again on Wednesday when a judge in Barinas, where Chávez’s elder brother Adán is Governor, inexplicably released two of the shooting suspects.

Chávez, who is battling cancer, is certainly favored to win re-election this Sunday. But the Barinas episode is a reminder of why he’s no longer considered an overwhelming shoo-in – and why a Capriles victory is no longer unthinkable. More and more, Chávez’s left-wing revolution is marked by the kind of dogmatic denial and bullying bluster that has left Venezuelans like Luz Marina Morón, a nurse I recently interviewed in the poor Caracas barrio of Catia—a cradle of el presidente’s political support—feeling “harta,” as she told me, or fed up. Doctors at the hospital in Catia say 80% of trauma cases are gunshot wounds; Morón’s son was gunned down a few years ago in Catia by a street tough who wanted his tennis shoes. To her, the homicide plague spotlights the paradox of Chávez’s long rule: How his welcome anti-poverty mission has been undermined by his mismanaged socialist mission—how crises like crime, inflation and corruption have become as much a part of the revolution’s landscape as new health clinics and defiance of the U.S.

(MORE: Challenging Hugo Chávez: Can His Old Foe Capriles Unseat Him?)

But whether Chávez wins or loses, his revolution’s decline is a reflection of a larger malaise among the Latin American left after a decade of robust resurgence. Chávez’s two Achilles heels going into Sunday’s vote are crime and inflation, which at 28% last year was the world’s highest. In Argentina, meanwhile, demonstrators have been taking to the streets en masse in recent weeks, banging pots and pans, to protest leftist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner—and their two biggest complaints are crime and inflation. Argentina, according to the Organization of American States, has the highest armed robbery rate in the western hemisphere; and inflation, pegged at close to 25% by independent analysts, has prompted Fernández to impose tight currency controls that have all but barred Argentines from buying dollars.

Like Chávez, Fernández has amassed a surfeit of authoritarian power that often blinds her to flaws in her populist crusade. But with economic growth projected to be negligible this year, government deficits ballooning and her Vice President embroiled in a major corruption scandal, Fernández’s approval rating has free-fallen from 64% last autumn, when she won re-election by a landslide and economic growth was running at 8.9%, to 24% now, according to the Argentine polling firm Management & Fit. Moody’s Investment Service downgraded Argentina’s risk rating last month, while Fernández railed at the International Monetary Fund for demanding more reliable economic data from her government. The Casa Rosada, the presidential palace, sets inflation at a highly questionable 10% or less—and actually fines anyone who publishes contrarian figures.

The IMF is certainly no saintly institution; critics say its fiscal rigidity helped bring on the epic financial collapse Argentina suffered a decade ago, which Fernández and her late husband and presidential predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, are credited for fixing. But Fernández didn’t find much global sympathy last month when IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde warned that she would issue no more “yellow cards,” as she said in soccer-ese, and that Argentina must produce accurate data by Dec. 17 or face the unprecedented red card of IMF censure if not expulsion.

Fernández rejected Lagarde’s notice as an affront to Argentina’s sovereignty. But many Argentines seem weary of her Cristina-against-the-world act, which hit a crescendo this year when she peremptorily expropriated Spanish petro-giant Repsol’s $10 billion controlling stake in Argentina’s largest oil company, YPF. As a result, they seem far less enthusiastic about her not-so-veiled bid to change the Constitution so she can run for a third four-year term in 2015.

(MORE: All Hail the Queen: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner)

In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa is also favored to win re-election on Feb. 17. But he may not have the resounding support of el pueblo that he assumed. Between corruption allegations—there is growing clamor inside Ecuador’s Congress to investigate hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable no-bid government contracts handed out by Correa’s government, including big ones to his brother—and Correa’s own authoritarian bent, most evidenced by his crackdown on media and free speech, Correa (who also granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange asylum this year) may face strong enough opposition to force a second-round runoff. One of his main challengers, centrist congressional deputy César Montúfar, just had his candidacy suddenly disqualified by Ecuador’s Correa-friendly election council for lack of petition signatures, even though his bid was already certified in July.

Oil wealth-generated corruption—a pestilence that Chávez came to power decrying—is a key issue for Venezuelan voters, too. But as with crime and inflation, Chávez barely mentions it, insisting only that he’ll double down on his socialist agenda if he wins another six-year term, even though foreign investment has all but dried up. His officials, in fact, outright dismiss the problems. Chávez’s Information Minister, Andrés Izarra, once began laughing uncontrollably on CNN en Español in an attempt to mock another guest who argued that Chávez’s failure to reduce the spiraling murder rate hurt the poor, who are by far the majority of victims.

Izarra’s unseemly mirth—and the Chávez government’s refusal to release violent crime data in recent years, apparently believing the problem will go away if it’s not acknowledged—are symptoms of a larger arrogancia that seems to be catching up with the Latin American left. Whatever Sunday’s outcome, Chávez’s movement isn’t laughing so loudly anymore.

MORE: Will Venezuela’s Pandemic of Crime Destabilize Chávez’s Regime?

35 comments
Dardo_Staniel
Dardo_Staniel

The result of this election says a lot about the rock-bottom average IQ

of Venezuelan voters. Hugo Chavez is dangerous and unbalanced and could

easily unleash a war with his neighbours.

Rafael Pla-Lopez
Rafael Pla-Lopez

Chavez winned presidential polls in Venezuela for 54% in front of 44% of Capriles, with a participation of 81%. XXI century socialism goes ahead 

Rafael Pla-Lopez @plalopez

tosi30
tosi30

So, tell me Time Magazine, will you next week write an article explaining that Chavez won another clean election, this time by 10% of the votes? Will you tell your readers that that type of support is unprecedented around the world after 14 years of a democratic government in power? Let me guess.... of course not.  You will write nothing about it, or, if you write something, it will be to tell your readers how the left, somehow, is "declining" in Latin America, how Chavez is, somehow, losing power, etc etc. 

I am not anti or pro Chavez, but the continuous cheap propaganda of Time Magazine is just disgusting. 

And those of you who are Venezuelans, live abroad, and complaint against Chavez, I bet you were the ones in the top 1% and got affected but Chavez's socialist policies. Maybe you can see the bright side, thanks to those socialist policies, now millions of Venezuelans are no longer below the poverty line.  There MUST be a reason for Venezuelans continuously voting for Chavez, right?

indiana_jones_8888
indiana_jones_8888

Correction....I meant to say  "....to those that were not seen or HEARD..." etc., etc. ....

indiana_jones_8888
indiana_jones_8888

Chávez has given voice and dignity to those that were not even seen or heared before....He has certainly accomplished trascendental social changes in favor of the masses ....Of course, there are still some issues, such as security, that have to be improved....Though, it is undeniable that Venezuela is doing very well with Chávez....Venezuela is becoming independent and stronger....In fact, all South America is becoming more independent and able to have its own sovereign voice....Of course -and unfortunately- the ultra-right will always prefer to serve other foreign interests....It is about time South America be respected and  not considered only as the "back patio" of the USA....Oh! yes! It is about time....

SubairMI
SubairMI

You ba**ardy imperialist neo-colonists can only bray and posture at the resurgent nations like Venezuela under their brave leaders like Chavez! F**k you ba**ards, the days of your imperialist, condescending 'dominance' is over!

Stephen Swain
Stephen Swain

For far too long Hugo Chavez has been portrayed as a kind of left-handed Robin Hood clown.  He is not a clown.  He is a very dangerous man whose ambitions span right out onto the global stage.  The West should take his antics very seriously.

rusty cheeks
rusty cheeks

chavez will not tolerate a loss he will rig this election no doubt

zyg85271123
zyg85271123

From this article, I have learned what is Achilles heels means.

ChickPeaA
ChickPeaA

This article supports a fundamental truth: capitalism is more than an economic principle, capitalism is a moral force that betters humankind.  In the context of world  history, capitalism ranks only second to humanism as a force improving human well being.  Unfortunately, it seems humankind has a short memory must repeatedly relearn this fundamental truth.    

Brian Buckley
Brian Buckley

wohoo hold there.. lets not go from one extreme to another. Capitalism is not some utopia. it TOO is evil as we have seen in the US when it gets out of balance. Clearly the combination of capitalism and socialism is best. Democratic Socialism or Market Sociailism, it's what Canada, Australia, Europe has..the vast majority of the western industrialized world has. So long as it is REGULATED which is precisely what radical conservative capitalists HATE. So beware!!! 

ChickPeaA
ChickPeaA

Regulations that support capitalism, and enhance free market competitive economies serve the public best.  Regulations that restrict free competitive economies or capitalism (substitute governmental for private ownership of capital resources) serve the public poorly with few exceptions.  In particular, the recent recession did not occur from an out of balance economy.

Harry Kuheim
Harry Kuheim

Chavez...Obama...samething with a different accent...both frauds.

Lucia Matias
Lucia Matias

Socialists.... While they can rob  from the others, they can govern. These guys are not creative and inventive enough to take care of a pigsty.

Venezuela, Argentina are approaching chaos. Those idiots think that by simply believing in their socialist ideas miracles will happen...

T Marq
T Marq

Ahhh, a test for the people and a fixed system.

Plumbline
Plumbline

Luke 22:25-27..........

25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.

Keisha Jackson
Keisha Jackson

More importantly, Hugo Chavez endorsed Barack Obama this week.

Does that mean that both socialist leaders are doomed to lose their respective elections or is it nothing more than one radical leftist endorsing his kindred spirit in another country?

macaulayken
macaulayken

Quite a few independant analyst's  link Venezuela's increased crime rates to the massive influx of Columbian refugees (over 200,000 in the last decade) which are heavily involved in the drug trade, amp; contain large numbers of former right-wing militia group members since their official disbanding in Columbia.

The author seems to have missed mentioning this in the article.

Also missing is the Brazilian presidents recent statements blaming high inflation amp; currency volatility (a problem across the majority of emerging markets worldwide, amp; especially in South America) on the US QE progams, which are major knock-on effects across currency stability worldwide.

.
.

inflation has gone down under Chavez.  it was at 100% in 1996.

Jeffrey Geez Glavick
Jeffrey Geez Glavick

Bs, pure and simple. Carne Molida one year ago 22Bf, now 60Bf, almost everything has the same rate of inflation. Do the math

Rigon Prefontaine
Rigon Prefontaine

YOU ARE TALKING SEVERAL "CRAPS "AGAINST CHAVEZ ..SO YOU ARE A LIAR¡¡¡¡

companyemails
companyemails

I thought the world's highest inflation rate is enjoyed by Iran, followed perhaps by Zimbabwe (though their currency collapsed entirely so that might no longer apply).

craig hill
craig hill

CORRECTION:  Despite the rah-rah from the pseudo-moderate right, Time-Life Inc, Capriles is toast, and there is no tide turning against the left throughout South America over anything, especially a fictionally high murder rate outside of Venezuela, as this article dishonestly implies.  This isn't reporting, it's propaganda designed to fool North Americans into thinking the right (not centrists, as Time lies, the epicenter is Chavez, where the vast majority of votes are) is on the rebound in some supposedly popular way. Capriles has never lacked for campaign funds, that's for certain, but when you're wealthy that's no sign of anything beyond self-promotion.  The lopsided advantage for Chavez is guaranteed of victory, by a still-wide margin, and there is no "trend" otherwise, anywhere.

We now return you to the usual unrepresentative, disingenuous, rightwing propaganda.

El_Babalawo
El_Babalawo

Interesting, a couple of months ago Tim Padgett was being accused here of being pro Chávez. Now according to you he is anti Chávez? I tend to trust a journalist when extremists from both sides attack him.

Harry Kuheim
Harry Kuheim

Mr. Hill is living in a White Neighborhood safe and sound no doubt...and Voting for Obama...again.

Jeffrey Geez Glavick
Jeffrey Geez Glavick

@Craig hill--Fictional violence?'People stay home at night rather than go out because of fear, the violence is very real,as are abductions for ransom, that is unless my Venezulean friends are lying to me. I live in Venezuela, you have been misinformed as to the dire state of life here. Shody infrastructure, rampant crime, much of it committed by police officers, almost no convictions ever,life is cheap here, your life that is, inflation is over the top,garbage everywhere. When Chavez was elected oil was 10$ a barrel, now near 100$, where is the money going? a lot has gone to other countries to curry favor, for what exactly?the Chavistas wear rolexes etc. figure it out.

Jeffrey Geez Glavick
Jeffrey Geez Glavick

I live in Venezuela , your comments are outright falehoods, the crime is very very real, as is inflation, carne molida a year ago 22Bf, now 60Bf, figure it out You must be kidding-

Howienica
Howienica

Whether Chavez wins or not, his cancer will kill this Caudillo pronto.

Rhlr
Rhlr

CORRECTION:

Mr. Hill, please allow me to ask you some questions hoping that you're truthful when you post your response. Please think about these question, and thank you for the opportunity to chat with you.

 Where do you live? how many year have you lived there? How many of your  family members have been killed by "gangsters-wanna-bes" supported by your goverment? armed by your goverment? encouraged by your goverment? How many times have you been mugged?, robbed?, how many of your friends have been killed because politycallly they are part of the opposition?

How many bodies arrive on a weekend at your city's coroner's facility? When was the last time that you or any of your family memebers were dispossesed of you properties? your home? your bussiness? your farm? you hard earned money? How many times have you been with no electricity or running water in a week? How many times your car broke because of a big hole on the street? How many times have you go to your local hospital for help and have been told: "sorry, there is nothing with which we could help" because not even gause exists in the emergency room?, How many times have you go to a hospital a shared a bed with another patient? How many time have you go to your local pharmacy seeking a life saving medication like insulin, antibiotics or any other hormone therapy or cancer fighting medications and have been told "we do not have that"? How many times have you been in public transportation only to be robbed by armed indiduals within that vehicle? and have the person next to you killed by gun shot?

How many times Mr. Hill, How many times?

Please tell us how many times...

AgeMingle. C 0 M
AgeMingle. C 0 M

I’m a 40 yr old doctor, divorced. I'd like to meet Younger women with an interest in metaphysics and a sense of adventure who's warm and affectionate 18 to 25. ... I have sooo much passion to share.  See more at ΑgeМīngle. Cᴏᴹ pation8dave

vzla1
vzla1

Mr. Craig Hill, I believe that yoy would be so much better fundamented if you could speak from experience, from actual knowing. I am Venezuelan, and have lived all of 14 years oc Chavez's government. The crime rates are real, all of Venezuela, from the poorest to the richest live frightened for their lives, besides that public hospital function to the barest. Chavez has created a language of hate, of division amongst us Venezuelans, of which we are tired of. Yes, Venezuelans are hartos, are fed up with living suppressed and humiliated throughout a decade and a half. The vast majority of marchers at Chavez's campaign acts are public employees, who have been bused to them under threat of being fired. Those same public employees march on Capriles's concentrations with their face masked, saying that they vote for their freedom. 

We Venezuelans are decided, decided to regain our democracy and our country, a nation not polarized with hate and divided by colors. The numbers are very close for the election, and Venezuela will prevail. Hay un Camino.

Talendria
Talendria

Sadly this is where the U.S. is headed also.  Socialism always sounds nicer in theory than it is in practice.

FLGyant
FLGyant

There is no doubt that extreme violence exists in Venezuela.  Abduction for ransom is just a figment of the imagination.  The famous Venezuelan baseball player could attest to that...I live in Florida which has a large expatriot population and they tell first hand what is going on in Venezuela.  When someone decides to leave their country - its because of violence (political or not).