On February 15, Venezuelans returned to the polls to show their support for President Hugo Chávez by approving a constitutional amendment that does away with the two term limit for governors, members of parliament or the President of the Republic. In this way, Chávez may be a presidential candidate in 2012, the year in which his present term ends.
As one may recall, the government’s supporters lost the December 2007 referendum on constitutional reform, in which the elimination of term limits was included among 68 other articles of reform. Support for constitutional reform has gone from the 4,379,392 votes (49.29%) cast at that time, to 6,003,594 (54.36%) for the present amendment. Meanwhile, votes against the amendment also increased, from 4,504,354 (50.7%) to 5,040,082 (45.63%) but now are in the minority. Those who expected that the referendum would usher in the decline of Chavismo have had their expectations dashed.
The first unknown that should resolve itself is why the government’s supporters lost the 2007 referendum and now, have achieved a comfortable victory with almost nine percentage points in their favor. One thing to keep in mind is that the defeat was already overcome in the November 2008 regional elections, where pro-governmental candidates won a million more votes than the opposition. In Venezuela almost all analysis concurs on the reasons for the 2007 defeat: too many changes to the Constitution that were not understandable or viable, a campaign overshadowed by the conflict with Colombia and Chávez’s initiative to dedicate himself to the liberation of FARC prisoners instead of attending to national politics. To all of this, one must add that now the term limits have not only been raised for the office of president, but for governors and parliamentarians as well; a more coherent policy from a political point of view.
The obvious conclusion is that despite all the deficiencies and errors in the Venezuelan process, there’s hardly any wear on the president, as shown by the fact that he gained even more votes than those he achieved in the 2004 recall referendum that sought to displace him (5,800,629).
The reasons are many: first, a splintered opposition that cannot seem to understand that there is a large popular mass that trusts in Hugo Chávez as the hope for improving the country. On the other hand, a middle class has noticed that all the threats about communism and endangered democracy that have been put forth over the years are absolutely baseless. The bourgeoisie and Venezuelan businessmen have not seen any kind of deterioration of their economic situation and no political measure, either applied or contemplated, endangers their expectations. The complaints from the opposition agents that I was able to collect at the polls demonstrate their disconnect from reality, from those who call all these elections a “horror” because “they are meant to improve Chávez’s dictator image,” to those who are indignant because now “truckdrivers are senators” or tried to explain to me that this referendum was opening the door to “parents losing custody of their children.” The result is that the Venezuelan opposition placed its biggest bets with a handful of upper class students from the private universities who explained to me that their reference point for Venezuela is “Swedish socialism.” Of course, the Chávez government does not lack challenges: putting the new price of oil into its economic future, acting firmly against corruption and putting forth many good initiatives that haven’t gotten off the ground.
While most of the international community is already realizing that Venezuelan democracy is the most legitimate in the entire continent and probably the world, with thirteen elections in ten years, all of them flawless, according to the institutions and observers present at each one; the obsessive and recurrent effort by reactionary sectors worldwide to de-legitimize them through gratuitous accusations of dictatorship, violations of human rights or lack of freedom of expression, never ceases to amaze. It’s sufficient to observe their indignation at the simple fact that Venezuelans can eliminate term limits for the re-election of their officials, just as seventeen countries of the European Union have done. I cannot reach any other conclusion than that put forth on various occasions by professors Carlos Fernández Liria and Luis Alegre: throughout history, democracy was understood as the period in which the country’s government was in the hands of the rightwing and, when the real left came to power, it was toppled by any unlawful means necessary (coup d’etat, civil war, assassination, blockade, destabilization) in order to begin a dictatorial period in which the left was dismantled in order to return later to an “adequate democracy” with the rightwing in power. Venezuela represents one of the few cases in which this mechanism has not succeeded; hence, the desperation.
Everyone is free to share or not share the ideology and program of Hugo Chávez, but the difference between democrats and non-democrats is in accepting and respecting him the way he is, which is what the Venezuelans want.
Pascual Serrano was an international observer at the February 15 referendum in Venezuela.
Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.