It could be that California will not be the only place that recalls its chief executive this year. Opponents of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez have presented some 2.7 million signatures — 2.4 million were required — to call a national referendum on Chavez. But the president has questioned the legitimacy of the signatures and vowed that the only recall this year will be in California.
He might well be right. Hugo Chavez has accumulated more power in his own hands than Gray Davis ever did, he has survived several attempts to oust him, and he is known for a certain ruthlessness.
“I think as many as 80 percent of the population now opposes Chavez,” Carlos Ball said. Ball is a native Venezuelan who syndicates Spanish-language articles to newspapers throughout Latin America from his offices in Florida. “But he will do whatever it takes to avoid a referendum.”
Hugo Chavez, who rose to prominence in a failed 1992 coup, is a leftist who has become Fidel Castro’s best remaining friend in Latin America. He was elected in 1998, then rewrote the constitution and won election in 2000. The constitution includes a provision for a referendum on the current president three years into the six-year term. Chavez has already survived a 2002 coup attempt and a general strike in December and January.
In the process, however, he has purged most of the people in the military and civil service who opposed him. According to Ball, the opposition is disorganized and has yet to coalesce round a credible leader. Many of the opposition are the people who misruled Venezuela for the 40 years before Chavez came to power.
Venezuela is the world’s fifth-largest producer of oil, but as in many countries where oil is the main resource, it has been a curse as well as a blessing. The oil industry is nationalized, which means the wealth it generates flows more to those with political power than with entrepreneurial or managerial ability. A small number of people get rich while most Venezuelans remain mired in poverty.
President Chavez promised to help the poor, but the socialist policies he advocates don’t help; indeed, they exacerbate the divide between those with political influence and those without it. And he actively opposes the free-trade policies that might help to overcome the ills inherent in a single-resource nationalized economy.
President Chavez richly deserves to be turned out of office, but whether the movement will succeed — or any likely replacement will be much better — is doubtful.