jueves, enero 01, 2009

Project Syndicate

Carlos Romero es un Venezolano que forma parte de la Asociación de Periódicos Mundiales. El escribió lo que sigue:

Chávez at Bay
by Carlos Romero

SÃO PAULO – The recent opposition victories in Venezuela's municipal and state elections, together with the international financial crisis, have begun to set limits on the powers of President Hugo Chávez for the first time in the decade he has been in power.

Indeed, the elections demonstrated that Chávez's control of the country is no longer total. There is now a solid opposition in Venezuela and less distance between those who rule and those who want to rule. This is important progress, considering that the opposition is still paying a price for its boycott of the 2005 elections that gave Chávez absolute control of Parliament.

The growing strength and coherence of the opposition is not due to the number of disaffected Chávez supporters alone. In fact, those who once hoped for the creation of a "third pole" in Venezuelan politics were pushed aside by the traditional polarization between Chávez's supporters and opponents. Instead, the opposition grew because of a return to its 1998 and 2001 levels of popular support – around 40% – and because it was able to bring back into the fold some of the abstainers and undecided, including important popular factions.

The opposition is now represented mostly by professional democratic politicians who not only united a wide group of factions, but also displaced the "Salvadores de la Patria" (the Nation's Saviors) – a group accustomed to leading the opposition from the reception rooms of the capital's hotels. The opposition's new leadership also displaced those who wanted to supplant "populist" leaders with an anti-political discourse.

Thus, the opposition achieved its objective: a beachhead in Venezuelan politics with real and significant popular support. This political rebalancing – in terms of both votes and institutions – could create higher barriers against any authoritarian deviation, wherever it might come from.

Chávez and his partisans must now learn what it is like to rule within limits. The president had hoped to repeat his role as Great Campaigner in previous elections, and so personally led his own campaign, ignoring criticism that he was unfairly taking advantage of the powers of his office. But in the end, that advantage, and his usual verbal threats, mattered less than the desire of voters in some cities and regions to punish his regime because of its mismanagement.

The paradox of this jolting election is that it will actually stabilize politics in Venezuela, at least for now, and will favor a renewal of democracy. This is important for the opposition, because their new influence is arising at a time when the economic downturn and slumping oil revenues will make it difficult for the government to continue to buy support through subsidies and handouts.

This does not mean that Chávez's revolutionary and anti-imperialist rhetoric has lost all its appeal. But it is no longer enough to guarantee his unchecked power. Indeed, the shadows of militarism that have appeared over the Chávez regime may well have unnerved a majority of Venezuelans, who wonder who the next adversary to be pursued will be.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Chávez will continue with his tropical socialism, proclaiming the value of Venezuela's participatory democracy and insisting on his anti-imperialist creed. The opposition, meanwhile, will try to expand on its victory, which, though partial, was significant in its political symbolism. Between these extremes, Venezuela's people will watch events develop, unwilling to compromise their democracy or lose the economic privileges they have attained.

Chávez now faces a new electoral reality, one first established in December 2007 when he lost the advisory referendum he had called in order to secure a new Constitution. The electoral results of November 2008, and a global financial crisis that has strained Chávez's ability to pay for his radical policies, may now limit his chances to continue dividing a country whose inhabitants, like most people, want to live in a peaceful and prosperous democracy.

Carlos A. Romero, a retired professor at the Central University of Venezuela, currently teaches Latin American Studies in São Paulo, Brazil.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2008.

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