Last night's photo finish election result certainly didn't lack for
drama. But fortunately the outcome is not in dispute and President
Chavez himself gave a lesson in how one accepts adversity.
first thing that needs to be pointed out is that this is a very real
defeat, but not a major defeat. Chavez still has five years on his term
and won't see his current powers weakened in any way. Further, the
notion that we now know he will definitely have to leave in 2012 is
silly. Surely if Venezuela does well going foward and Chavez is popular
this will be revisited. In fact, if this had been 2011 instead of 2008
and people were facing the immenent loss of Chavez (who lets remember
is still VERY popular) these reforms would almost certainly have sailed
Also, it bares noting that although many, including
this blogger, believed all along these reforms had major defficiencies
they ALMOST passed. That Chavez played a losing hand so well confirms
how popular he is. Further, as Chavez himself said, a narrow defeat is
better than a narrow victory.
Finally, as someone who never thought much of these proposed reforms I'm certainly not losing any sleep over their defeat.
To me the really important part starts … NOW.
The most important thing was for Chavismo to accept this defeat. That they did.
second, almost equally important thing, is they can't run away from
this defeat. They can't ignore it, or block it out of their minds, or
claim it was just a bad day. Rather, they need to spend the next few
months analyzing it completely and objectively, with everything on the
table and no sacred cows.
Chavismo needs to take a good look in the mirror and of course this needs to start at the top with Chavez himself.
the past months many of the things that Chavez will see, if he is
honest with himself, have been discussed here in this blog. Just to
point out a few:
1) There are still very significant domestic
problems that the Chavez has been unwilling to address – the issue of
crime being front and center. There is a bloodbath on the streets of
Venezuela and ignoring it or pretending it isn't that bad, which has
been the strategy up until now, won't work and won't stop it from
eating into his support. The issue of crime needs to be addressed
2) Spending half your time on foriegn affairs
when your own country has so many pressing needs and unresolved
problems probably isn't a good idea. Saving the rest of Latin America
would be great and most all of us are for that. But to truly help
others you first have to help yourself. An economically prosperous and
powerfull Venezuela will be of much assistance to the rest of South
America. A poor and underdeveleped Venezuela can't even help itself.
Fawning over tyrants and then not expecting people to be nervous when
you do things like extend term lengths and make recall referendums more
diffic is a little unrealistic. As we saw yesterday, it even makes a
good chunck of your own political base nervous.
4) People who
question your proposals are not necessarily traitors. I didn't like the
role PODEMOS and Baduel ultimately played either. But think about it,
did Chavez really give them much choice? When they raised their hands
with questions and objections he branded them traitors, and worse. But
were they really triators? Or simply canaries in the coal mine? Chavez
needs to ask himself that question and answer it honestly.
And last (but not least, in fact, probably the biggest point) is you
don't help yourself nor your movement when you surround yourself by
people who are little more than sycophants. The level of subservience
around Chavez and the unwillingness of people to stand up and say what
THEY believe, rather than simply what they think Chavez and their other
friends in the movement want to hear, is appalling. I can remember when
I was happy that Jorge Rodriguez replaced Rangel as Vice-President –
"Good" I thought "now there is someone energetic and hopefully with new
ideas". Little did I know that he would spend all his time and energy
trying to out Chavez Chavez. (and lets not even talk about Mario Silva
who I can barely watch anymore).
Worse, this is not only among
people who are in Chavez's inner circle or hold government positions.
Amazingly it has spread to his supporters who at least in theory are
free to speak their minds.
With out naming names it has
shocked me over the past year to watch people who are very intelligent
and whom I respect tremendously fall into a trance over Chavez. The
worst profess to have absolutely no doubts over anything Chavez does,
as if they were witnessing the second coming of Jesus Christ.
do acknowledge issues, but them over time become less concerned with
them most likely because they surround themselves almost exclusively
with other pro-Chavez which ensures they will only be swayed in one
Some time ago someone coined the term "the opposition
echo chamber" to refer to the Venezuelan opposition which listened only
to itself and was therefore completely clueless as Venezuelan's kept
Now it would appear that Chavismo has its own
little echo chamber. This is not entirely its fault. The fact that the
opposition is so radical and that Venezuela is so polarized makes it
difficult for many to listen to the other side. But you must always
listen to the other side and see things from other perspectives.
Otherwise you become inbred, arrogant, complacent, and overconfident.
that it is somewhat understandable in no way makes it acceptable.
Either Chavismo does away with its own little echo chamber, or that
echo chamber will be the undoing of Chavismo.
As has been famously said – "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger".
defeat by no means mortally weakens Chavez. In fact, it can make him
and his movement much stronger. But only if he spends the next period
analyzing this defeat, taking a good look in the mirror, and making the
appropriate changes. That is not a painless process and no-one likes to
go through it (which is probably why the Venezuelan opposition has
NEVER done it).
But if Chavez walks the walk on this both he and Venezuela will emerge much better for it.