(i appologize for the formatting on this)
I Thought Dictators Couldn't Lose Elections!

December 3, 2007
By Carlos Martinez

Last night was a very tense evening for all in Venezuela, awaiting the final results of the referendum while varying rumors about the outcome came every few minutes with the only certainty being that the vote was closer than many expected. I was in front of Miraflores, the presidential palace, at the time the results were released. As one can imagine, there were many teary eyes and bowed heads in what was a particularly perplexing moment for a people not accustomed to losing for a very long time.

The image that appeared on the massive video screens in front of the palace immediately after the results were read was that of an unusually somber faced Chavez. What followed may have been even more unexpected for those in the opposition and weary of Chavez?s unrelenting bravado. In contrast to the lack of diplomacy that many now associate him with, Chavez went on to gracefully concede the election and congratulated his adversaries. This was especially significant considering the closeness of the margin, with 4,504,354 votes against, (50.70%) and 4,379,392, (49.29%) for the YES. Chavez went on to say that he was happy to see the election end peacefully.

While many in the progressive community have been trying to argue that democracy is in fact alive and well in Venezuela for so long now, it has been a difficult argument to maintain with Chavez always on the winning side. Certainly, Chavez?s concession of the vote and his request that those in favor of the SI recognize the results serves to delegitimize those that continue to call Chavez an "aspiring tyrant" as Donald Rumsfeld did in his editorial released yesterday entitled "The Smart Way to Beat Tyrants Like Chavez?"

The opposition response has been jubilant. The irony is thick considering what a response from the opposition might have looked like if the results were switched. There were reports that opposition groups were already found to be printing shirts reading "Fraud". Something that has been particularly interesting in the last few months has been to see the way the opposition has come to embrace the 1999 constitution as their own, adding to the irony, since many of these same people were vehemently opposed to the that constitution's passing.

However the opposition has also been forced to recognize that many people did in fact want to see the constitutional reforms pass, leading them towards a new rhetoric. Former Chavez ally, General Isaias Baduel, who came out against the reforms has emerged as a new leader amongst the opposition. Calling for national reconciliation yet continuing to champion inclusion of the popular sectors, he is essentially establishing a more moderate opposition pole. Meanwhile, Manuel Rosales, governor of Zulia State and losing candidate in the last presidential elections has said that he will support the creation of a "Social Fund for the Self-Employed", one of the articles proposed in the constitutional reform.


December has arrived and Venezuela basically closes down at this time of year. It will be an important time for reflection for those in support of the Bolivarian process. There are many reasons that one could offer to explain the outcome of this election. Many are pointing to the powerful disinformaton campaign launched by the opposition with heavy financial support from the United States. It is true that to a great degree the constitutional changes themselves were not actually voted on yesterday, but rather peopele's perceptions of the reform. Many did go to polls still believing that their children or their third car or their home could be taken away by the government, although in reality the constitution did not contain any such articles and actually reiterated its recognition of private property.

It is evident that many in the Chavista camp abstained from voting or actually voted against the referendum. It has been said that this outcome is not an indication of a growing opposition but rather reflects those who have traditionally been supportive of Chavez but remain tied to a
bureaucratic vision of governance and do not want their own power challenged. There has also been talk of disillusionment amongst the popular sectors, the poor and working class citizens who have been considered the real base of support for the Bolivarian Revolution. Partially this is seen
as a result of the effects of this bureaucratic class widely perceived as a primary cause for the continuing disfunction within the revolution. As I write this, a spontaneous concentration has formed outside of Miraflores Palace demanding a "house cleaning" to remove the corruption pervading the process.

Additionally, some believe that the way the constitutional reforms were proposed was not as inclusive as it should have been of these popular sectors. While this constitutional reform did receive a wide amount of consultation from a variety of social movements, there are some who believe that the participation was not profound enough for a country seeking to establish a radical model of democracy and whose citizens want to truly be at the forefront of change.

Regardless of what the actual reasons were for the outcome, those supporting more radical changes will undoubtedly be in a state of serious evaluation to try to figure out what this means for Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution. Chavez proclaimed in his concession speech "por ahora no pudimos", for now we could not, repeating the famous phrase he made in 1992 after his failed attempt at taking power through staging a military coup. Many are hopeful that this is another necessary step needed for the Bolivarian Revolution to evolve and deepen, possibly even beyond Chavez and with a greater focus on doing base building at the grassroots. Indeed many of the changes proposed did not need to be made through the process of a constitutional reform and many believe that the next steps needed to deepen the process such as the expansion of the communal councils, the acceleration of the land reform, and the growth of a grassroots economy really depend on the role that social movements play and how determined the government is in
supporting them.

Carlos Martinez
Global Exchange
Venezuela Program Operations Director
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  1. Anonymous7:32 PM

    so chavez lost to a party backed by the u.s.?

  2. Anonymous8:28 AM

    this is what i don't understand (because i haven't been following the details, just the headlines): is chavez no longer in charge then? or was it just a referendum that got shot down?

  3. At this point, Chavez is still in, but he is bound by the constitutionally set limit of two terms in office.

    And the opposition to Chavez received financial support from the U.S. (apparently) in efforts to convince people to vote against the reforms proposed in this latest referendum...


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