Hugo Chávez Wins Big, Gives Rivals Six More Years to Climb out of the Hole

Venezuela's socialist President easily won re-election on Sunday, reminding opposition leaders – and Washington – just how badly their earlier anti-Chávez strategies may have set them back

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LUIS ACOSTA / AFP / Getty Images

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez celebrate after receiving news of his re-election in Caracas on Oct. 7, 2012

UPDATED

Although socialist President Hugo Chávez routed his centrist challenger, Henrique Capriles Radonski, 55% to 45% in Sunday’s presidential election in Venezuela, the opposition can take some consolation in the fact that Capriles did a lot of things right. That includes reaching out in a more credible way to poorer Venezuelans, who make up Chávez’s base. The problem is that it wasn’t nearly enough to make up for all the things the opposition has done wrong during the almost 14 years that Chávez and his populist, anti-U.S. revolution have ruled Venezuela and the world’s largest oil reserves. Chávez’s foes, whose unified front should have made Capriles a contender, now have another six years to ponder why the Miraflores presidential palace is still so far out of their reach when so many factors indicate it should be well within their grasp.

They will point to an uneven playing field: Chávez, 58, though his battle with cancer made him a less dynamic campaigner this time around, had access to an enormous trough of oil-fueled resources and, perhaps more important, to a ubiquitous state-run media machine. They’ll claim that Chávez’s socialist crusade has made so many jobs dependent on el comandante that most Venezuelans were fearful of employer retribution if they didn’t vote for him. But Venezuelans had more reasons than ever to vote against Chávez in this election — rampant violent crime has saddled the country with South America’s highest murder rate, economic mismanagement has produced one of the world’s highest inflation rates, and official corruption has begun to remind Venezuelans of the sleaze that Chávez once condemned as he rode to power — and the fact that a majority didn’t reject him says less about Chávez’s heavy-handed advantages than about his opposition’s nagging failure to offer a convincing alternative.

(PHOTOSSix More Years: Hugo Chávez Wins a Third Term in Venezuela)

Capriles, 40, did trim almost 10 points off Chávez’s 2006 victory percentage. Perhaps recognizing that fact, Chávez hinted Sunday night at a more conciliatory, less polarizing government style for his next six-year term. That would be a welcome change — but this is still a guy who called Capriles a “low-life pig” during the campaign, so don’t hold your breath, especially since Chávez has also pledged to double down on his socialist crusade. What Chávez’s rivals really need to think about is this: they have yet to climb out of the political hole they so stupidly started digging for themselves early in their battle against Chávez a decade ago, and which they only stopped shoveling a few years ago. Sunday was a reminder of just how deep a pit they may have dug.

The Venezuelan opposition has long suffered from lame political skills. That’s largely because, during the ultracorrupt decades before Chávez, Venezuelan politicians were far more focused on honing their embezzlement skills — a big reason more than half the population lived in poverty despite the nation’s prodigious oil wealth. When Chávez pulled the rug out from under their venal feet in 1998 with his first presidential victory (he won a special 2000 election under a new Constitution), they possessed few if any of the engage-the-electorate tools they needed to challenge him. Even worse was their blithering denial: fuming over their imported Scotch on Caracas’ affluent east side, they were utterly incapable of acknowledging that their profligate, elitist abuses had been more responsible for Chávez’s stunning rise to power  — and the broad popularity of his poverty-reduction project — than his red-beret demagoguery had been.

So they started digging their hole. One of their chief criticisms of Chávez was that in 1992, while an army officer, he’d led a failed but bloody coup. And yet, rather than try to counter him at the ballot box, as he’d done to them in ’98 and has done ever since, they tried to take him down with … a coup. But that 2002 putsch not only failed — after his brief ouster, Chávez’s legions of loyalists came down from the slums and put him back in Miraflores — it made him stronger, especially since his archenemy, the George W. Bush Administration, gave the impression of backing the coup.

Learning nothing from that debacle, the opposition then led a strike at Venezuela’s state-run oil monopoly, Petróleos de Venezuela. That reckless 2002–03 shutdown cost the Venezuelan economy some $7 billion. But the opposition leadership wasn’t nearly finished alienating Venezuelan voters. In 2004, instead of conceding they’d have to create and market their own government project, they opted for a presidential-recall referendum, which Chávez handily won. Then, as if to gift-wrap even more power for Chávez than he and his authoritarian governance were already amassing, his rivals made their most boneheaded move of all: they boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections and made the National Assembly a Chávez rubber stamp.

It took university students to snap the opposition parties out of their feckless fog: in 2007, spontaneous Chávez-style youth marches helped defeat his attempt to broaden his socialist powers in a national plebiscite. Finally Chávez’s opponents got the message, and in the 2010 parliamentary elections their parties actually denied his United Socialist Party a majority of the popular vote (though arcane apportionment rules allowed it to retain a majority of seats). That raised hopes that they might unseat Chávez this year, especially as they coalesced around Capriles, the governor of the state of Miranda, who represents a new generation of opposition leaders who for a change do understand why Chávez remains Venezuela’s most popular politician. “Chávez did well to identify poverty as the priority in Venezuela,” Capriles told me this year, “and if we as the opposition don’t engage that social reality, then it’s game over for us.”

Capriles at least made 2012 a much closer game than 2006 — his strong campaign also helped galvanize an 80% voter turnout — and if Chávez’s “21st-century socialism” keeps undermining Venezuela’s economy and security, 2018 may well prove even tighter if not a defeat for Chávez (who got presidential term limits eliminated in 2009). Chávez’s health will of course be a factor, but even that is an example of how much smarter a politician he is than his rivals are, both at home and abroad.

After Chávez announced his cancer last year (he has yet to disclose what kind), conservatives in Venezuela and the U.S., especially former U.S. diplomat Roger Noriega, loudly quoted anonymous medical sources who said Chávez was too ill to make it to the election let alone serve another term. They weren’t just wrong; they may have helped widen the margin of victory for Chávez, who danced at his closing campaign rally last week, by lending him a more messianic, death-defying aura. Chávez’s foes in Venezuela and Washington, where his alliances with the likes of Iran are a headache, are now looking at six more years of him. And six more years to finally climb out of the hole.

38 comments
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BillyHewitt
BillyHewitt

The US invented murder Inc 50 years ago. More murders are committed per 10,000 population in US cities than Venezuela cities. Review the gun laws. A CDC fact that

195,000 Americans are killed every year by Americn hospitals because of medical error. This was a study of 4,000 hospitals completed by Dr D Berwick in 100,000 lives campaign www.IHI.org in 2004 and repeated with 5 million lives campaign of 2006. Note of 37 million patients admitted to American hospitals 15 million patients are harmed for a 40%

harm rate! 

BillyHewitt
BillyHewitt

Thank God for Chavez the greatest leader in the world because his socialist revolution fihts poverty, corruption, and homelessness. All venezuela crooked bankers, judges, and drug dealers have been granted political asylum in Miami, Florida. That is why Chavez closed the consulate in Florida to get away from the Batista Cubans that hugged the mafia and drug dealers and retired dictators living in Miami.

Bug Menot
Bug Menot

The people who lead the revolution always seem to stay in power. And the people who backed them always seem to stay poor. Funny how that works.

Pacifista101
Pacifista101

Bug,

The people who lead the revolution always seem to stay in power (and get rich very quickly)

iPhoneRelease
iPhoneRelease

Long Live Chavez, Long Live Venezuela, Long Live Che, Long Live Castro, Long Live Bolivar  Long Live the Revolution 

Karla Patricia
Karla Patricia

It seems to me that there's a missplaced revolutionary syndrome; "long live the revolution" whenever its somewhere else.  Well i'm sorry but what a cynical Idea this is. 

I'm from Vzla by the way.

Don McKenzie
Don McKenzie

Yeah, no rigging going on there! I'm sure Chavez has read Hitler's game book!

j_600
j_600

I suppose you also buy into the Jack Welch fantasy about rigged unemployment numbers. Venezuela is proud of its democratic credentials and takes care to maintain standards.

Latin America is no longer a backyard for American adventures in the way it once was and Hugo Chavez is ensuring his country remains independent, I can see why that might irk some people. Bringing Hitler into it shows you aren't coming from an informed perspective when it comes to the Venezuelan voting system.

Pacifista101
Pacifista101

Chavez won? I think it was not him but rather totalitarism, populism, intimidation, misappropriation of state funds, promotion of hatred, abuse of state controlled media, outright lying, ignorance and plain incompetence what really won this election. A Venezuelan majority has chosen the path of failure and it seems it will reach its elected destination any time now. By the way, Tim, your socialist bias is showing. Try to keep it undercover. I think a stupid opposition is always better than a corrupt government.

Pacifista101
Pacifista101

j_600. Please look up in the dictionary the meaning of intimidation, abuse and lying. Then we can talk about it.

j_600
j_600

Evidence? Piling on with accusations isn't terribly convincing. Funny how Americans and proxies tend to view independent nations that don't buy in as "choosing the path of failure."

Pacifista101
Pacifista101

If at this point you are still asking me for evidence to what I said about Chavez's campaign it can only mean you must live 12,000 miles from Venezuela.

Pacifista101
Pacifista101

j_600. Please look up in the dictionary the meaning of intimidation, abuse of power and lying. Then we can talk about it.

j_600
j_600

I'm asking because there are a few million Venezuelans who don't agree with you. A Real News video that featured interviews with people on the streets of Caracas on the eve of the election kept hearing the same refrain - life is good and getting better with Chavez.

For a president just recovered from cancer and with critics tearing down the door, a winning margin of one and a half million over his much younger photogenic rival is pretty darn impressive, by any standard.

Dan Givens
Dan Givens

 Are you talking about our upcoming election in the U.S. or the one they just held in Venezuela?

Pacifista101
Pacifista101

I would say that populism, outright lying, ignorance and plain incompetence are part of the current US presidential race. The rest of the items is something Chavez can get away with because of a weakened democracy.

DamOTclese2
DamOTclese2

Amusing. This should makke right wing Christofascist Republinazi heads explode in the United States. :)

lepantsky
lepantsky

awww yeah.  I have a good buddy in Venezuela and he, and all his family/friends know what life was like before Chavez...A great win for democracy in the world.  The U.S. is just afraid of their oil and will smear this to be a stolen election by a dictator, actually that already happened in the U.S. Remember Bush 2.0?  I do, the western world just reads/hears what is "reported"  Why do you think there was a failed U.S. led coup?  cause at least there the good and light of this world is shining brightly!  Viva Bolivar!

Dot ComNet
Dot ComNet

Lot of ignorance here, go to Venezuela, live there for 3 years then post something. 

Twi Mo
Twi Mo

Bravo! Viva Chavez!  The people have spoken, AGAIN.  Glad the silver spoon privileged scion of corrupt oligarchy money class LOST the election!  Now you see these traitors oligarchy filthy rats scurry to Miami to deposit their money stolen from the people of Venezuela.  The Western  "democracy" + " human rights" doublespeak hypocrites tried but FAILED  to make Venezuela become another Libya and Syria.

Dot ComNet
Dot ComNet

You really are ignorant, you must read all the facts first... 

Tosheba
Tosheba

Thank God we have the lame scream media to figure out and explain everything for us in this life.  They claim to know it all; the why's, the what's, the wherefore's.  A steady diet of propaganda, indoctrination, and whittled down reality is what's for dinner.  Of course when it comes to the really important questions and issues of the day; they ain't got a clue.  

Nicolas Gautier
Nicolas Gautier

Glad there still is a government trying to build the society around people instead of money... Too bad it's only in one country.

After 14 years, i had hoped that others would get the idea. Iceland is on the right path but nobody bothers to even talk about it, it's only the biggest revolution since the French one after all...

Carlos L. Torres
Carlos L. Torres

I'm interested in the "Iceland revolution", please tell me more about what's happening there. I believe you are not well inform, and is not your fault, is the media bussiness that should had have tell you that; I'm from Ecuador, and President Rafael Correa is leading a revolution, that has better quality than the Venezuelan one... Maybe I'm not well inform too about what's happening exactly in Venezuela. I recommend you to read from The Real News Network: "Ecuador creating alternative to Neo-Liberal model", where the economist and author Jayati Ghosh, who writes in The Guardian (UK), talks about an article she posted in that newspaper. You may have a better insight about this process.

Robert2011GB
Robert2011GB

Just because poor whites in America don't vote for their own economic self-interest, doesn't mean that poor Venezuelans have to be equally stupid.

Chavez's victory is a great day for democracy, freedom and Venezuela!

Well done, Chavez!

Bug Menot
Bug Menot

Oftentimes, one's "own economic self-interest" is not in the best interest of the country.

Dot ComNet
Dot ComNet

I guess you don't live in Venezuela... you should go to Petare sometime...

jpm123456
jpm123456

Only someone who has not lived in Venezuela or a country in South America would make a statement like that.

DamOTclese2
DamOTclese2

The citizens of Venezuela have var more representation and voice in their country than Americans have in the United States. The U.S. is a theocratic fascist Oligarchy, run by corporate traitors many of which are foreign enemies of the U.S. -- like Saudi Arabia and other islamic terrorist States, and the Israeli terrorist State.

Learn a little something about the world before opening your right wing yip.

sgtbilko
sgtbilko

Hope you enjoy becoming the Zimbabwe of the Western Hemisphere!

Dot ComNet
Dot ComNet

lol what an ignorant statement, so, come to Venezuela and live in PETARE, is all i am saying to you, is very easy to talk of other country when you don't live there, at least you have rights, we have more kills than you in Iraq war. Lol? I guess you don't use your rights or read your constitution a beautiful one btw.

Robert2011GB
Robert2011GB

As if oligarchs believe in democracy?

 You tried to overthrow Chavez in a coup, then a presidential recall then by economic sabotage. The Venezuelan oligarchs couldn't give a toss about the people.

Only Chavez has proved that he has the policies to lift the Venzuelan people out of poverty.

Your life of privilege is over.

Scurry off to Miami and the Batista supporters where you belong.

GeorgeRoomey
GeorgeRoomey

 Sherry explained I'm startled that some people able to profit $8561 in 4 weeks on the network. did you look at this(Click on menu Home)   

Evangeline Lopez
Evangeline Lopez

 Maybe Chavez should start correcting his corrupt police officials. Recently an American friend went to visit another friend from Venezuela the police seen him with  what appear to be an expensive piece of gold jewelry which cost $20.00 beat him up threaten to take my American friend visa and jail him for ransom and rob him blind. Now tell me if Chavez did anything about it? This is well know all over Venezuela. Police misconduct no one does anything because they afraid of them.

Dot ComNet
Dot ComNet

Why don't you come to Venezuela and live here 3 years? (answer that). But come to PETARE to see by yourself how they live in extreme poverty 14 years later. If having a good house, health care, a car, and NOT GET KILLED every time you go out to the store is a life of privilege then you must live in India or China i guess... You are entitled to think that way... sorry for you. Is call freedom. 

Redoubt South
Redoubt South

I can't believe that anyone really thought that Chavez was not going to win. This so-called election was in the bag months ago. 

Twi Mo
Twi Mo

That's exactly what Wall Street financial mafia said: "election in the bag"

Obama and Romney are 2 faces of the same Wall Street coin.