By Freedom New Mexico
It looks as if Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who despite appearing like a bit of a buffoon to many is a shrewd political operator, miscalculated big-time when he submitted a long list of constitutional amendments to a popular referendum.
The Venezuelan people turned out to harbor suspicions about a president who wanted to be able to run for office for life, and rejected the proposals by a 51-49 margin.
In the process, President Chavez’s overreaching seems to have stirred up enthusiasm and led to building coalitions among Venezuelans who do not share his grand vision for Venezuela.
This defeat is unlikely to convince President Chavez that his plan for a socialist Venezuela (built on the willingness of nasty capitalists to pay sky-high prices for petroleum, Venezuela’s principal natural and government resource) is an idea he should abandon. But it puts a number of roadblocks in the way of his vision.
For starters, as Ian Vasquez of the Center for Global Liberty at the libertarian Cato Institute said, the opposition vote came “from a broad spectrum of ideologies, and from every class, from rich and poor.”
Thus President Chavez will not be able to claim, as he has so often, that the only reason for a Venezuelan to oppose or question his plans and policies is because he is an imperialist tool, a Latin American clone of George W. Bush, and probably being paid by the CIA.
The CIA wastes a lot of money, but it’s not likely to have 51 percent of the Venezuelan people on its payroll.
The defeat for the constitutional referendum, which in addition to allowing a president to run for office an unlimited number of times would have centralized political power dramatically, puts to the lie the impression, which most observers had passed along uncritically, that President Chavez enjoys overwhelming support from the Venezuelan people, or that his socialist plans represent the aspirations of poor people in Venezuela.
This setback administered by the Venezuelan people in a democratic forum will also reduce President Chavez’s regional influence. Using Castroite rhetoric and oil money, President Chavez had been talking up a Latin American alliance to oppose Yanqui influence and domination. It was not surprising that Bolivian President Evo Morales, an ideological fellow-traveler, had expressed support, but recently Chavez had received a sympathetic hearing from more moderate leaders.
For those who understand that socialism is a failed philosophy whose implementation would be disastrous for the Venezuelan people, this is good news. Those who had come to see President Chavez as an important and growing threat to the United States, however, would do well to reconsider their view.
Hugo Chavez is an eccentric bully bolstered by the high price of oil, who aspires (as do most politicians) to have as much power as possible for as long as possible.
Venezuelans should be concerned — and have begun to express their concerns in ways the would-be president-for-life may yet come to regret — but the United States has little reason to worry.
This doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a terrible idea, as the Democratic Congress is on the verge of doing, to reject liberalized trade deals with Colombia and other Latin American countries. Expanding trade with Latin American countries is one of the most effective ways to neutralize blowhards like Hugo Chavez.
We don’t expect Hugo Chavez, who seems actually to believe that socialism as a viable system, to give up his dreams and delusions. He spoke of accepting defeat (and did so fairly graciously) “for now.” But they have been dealt a serious blow.