A Recall Referendum in Venezuela? Maybe

Whether there is a recall referendum in Venezuela depends much more upon the opposition than on the Chavez government. So far, despite media efforts to portray the opposite, the opposition has not really been interested in the referendum.

Standing in front of a large painting of Jesus, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez began his Thursday night address to the nation by invoking the name of “Christ Redeemer” and adding some personal religious thoughts. By the end of his introductory remarks, had there been a live audience present with some Christians in attendance, one possibly would have heard “Amen’s” and “Alleluia’s.”

Chavez was about to share his reflections on the announcement by the National Electoral Commission that sufficient signatures had been gathered to have a referendum regarding his presidency. He wanted make his comments in the presence of his most important heroes.

After standing in front of Jesus, he moved to paintings of Simon Bolivar and Antonio Jose de Sucre. Finally he ended his remarks next to a bust of Ezequiel Zamora.

It was with Zamora in mind that he projected himself into the future and announced the new battle of Santa Ines. In 1859 Zamora gave the federal army the impression that his troops were retreating. They succeeded in their movement, turned around and conquered their enemy.

The question now is if Chavez will be able to do the same. The mass media likes to proclaim that his popularity has dropped from the almost sixty percent that voted for him to less than thirty. This should probably be seen as a publicity scheme against Chavez rather than a true measurement of the current reality.

But the problem for Chavez is not how many people support him. It is what is the opposition going to do between now and the time scheduled for the referendum.

The first question is whether it will ever happen. For the past few years, the opposition has done everything possible to avoid the constitutional referendum. The April 2002 coup and the two-month lockout/strike at the end of that year are the most striking examples. They never liked the idea of a referendum. They still don’t, but there was no other option open. If they knew they had sufficient votes to recall him through a referendum they would have waited. They didn’t. Will they be able to oust him legally now?

Chavez is a master in front of the television camera. This goes back to his first appearance on February 4, 1992 when, after his failed rebellion against the regime of Carlos Andres Perez, he announced to the country and to his troops that “for now” their objectives were not attainable. Those two words are now indelibly written in the collective memory of the people.

His presentation Thursday was a collage of Chavez: friend, teacher, magician, politician and strategist. At one moment the viewer could feel s/he was in the middle of an intimate conversation with him. Then it was as though one were in a classroom learning about the history of the country. In a brief moment, he even pulled a surprise out of an old hat. From there we were off to a political rally where he took a few moments to lance some spears against his opponents. Finally, he announced his strategy.

The moment of magic occurred when Chavez shared a videotape of his presentation to the constitutional congress in 1999. Yes, as everyone who doesn’t rely on the mass media knows, Chavez was the person that suggested the idea of putting the referendum into the constitution. The mass media always presents him as being the main opponent of the referendum. Well, not much news in that. But what was interesting was this: He had suggested that only ten percent of the voting population should be required for a referendum, not the twenty percent that the constitution now requires.

Does Chavez believe in participative democracy? You bet. Does Chavez believe in respecting the rights of the minority? He sure does. Is that a problem? You better believe it is.

A young man said to me one day that he voted for Chavez twice but that he would not vote for him again. Why? “I wanted a dictator and Chavez isn’t a dictator.” Many people expected that Chavez would rule with an iron hand, throwing the corrupt political leaders of the past into prison.

Maybe he should have, but instead he respected the constitution and relied on the courts to do that. But the courts were as full of corruption as was the political system. Besides, even before he was elected the mass media was calling him a dictator and the U.S. was looking for a way to remove him from the political scene. There was enough complicity between the elite of business, labor, church, mass media, armed forces and the U.S. government, that he probably would never have got far as a dictator even if that had been his inclination.

The opposition has taken advantage of that failing of Chavez, the failing of being a true participative democrat.

What will happen now? If the opposition doesn’t encounter some means to avoid the referendum (e.g. through violence), Chavez should win it. But don’t count on that. If they go for it, millions will be spent in propaganda to oust him. And before it ever takes place, the whole voting mechanism will be questioned. As one opposition member said to me, “We will accept the results, unless there is fraud.” The opposition have been experts in fraud. They will find plenty of ways to accuse Chavez of it.

And now, my sad conclusion. Whether there is a referendum or not, whether Chavez wins it or not, doesn’t really matter. The opposition with the help of the United States is out to control this country. That will not stop on August 8 or whenever the referendum might be held. Even before he was elected, the powerful decided that they would not give up their power nor share their wealth.

That is a shame.

Chavez has called the people to a peaceful revolution, a beautiful dream. Revolution is going to happen. However, it is up to the elite here and in the United States to decide before it is too late whether it will continue to be peaceful.

Source: Cowboy in Caracas