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December 3, 2007 -- No 18th Brumaire for Hugo Chavez

December 3, 2007 -- No 18th Brumaire for Hugo Chavez

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Published by Rahul Mahajan
Commentary on Chavez's reelection.
Commentary on Chavez's reelection.

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Published by: Rahul Mahajan on Feb 12, 2013
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No 18th Brumaire for Hugo Chavez

Rahul Mahajan December 3, 2007 I confess to being slightly relieved that Sunday’s constitutional reform referendum in Venezuela was defeated. I am, of course, in favor of social security for street vendors and protection of gay rights. And I realize that not supporting the reform puts me in bad company – the New York Times to start, but including all other defenders of the status quo who refuse to believe that another world is possible and that ordinary people can actually be the subjects and not simply and always the objects of their own lives. I am even aware that as I speak the privileged upper classes of Venezuela are rejoicing that they have taught those obnoxious Negros e Indios a lesson. Even so, I’ll stick to my position. For years now, I’ve been worried about anti-democratic trends in Venezuela. Not all of them are Chavez’s doing. He may well not have been involved in the publishing of a “blacklist” containing the names of the millions who signed the petition for a recall referendum. Many of them suffered penalties like loss of government jobs or benefits for exercising their democratic rights. The decision in December 2005 by the opposition to boycott the National Assembly elections, leading to 100% domination of the assembly by Chavistas, was deeply irresponsible and has been disastrous for the country, providing Chavez the rope by which he has tried desperately to hang himself. Especially since his reelection by a landslide in 2006, Chavez’s ego has been out of control, and, in the runup to the referendum his behavior was increasingly erratic. He told Venezuelans that a vote for the referendum was a vote for him and a vote against was a vote for George W. Bush. He threatened to nationalize Venezuela branches of Spanish banks if Spain’s King Juan Carlos didn’t apologize for telling him to shut up. Maybe it’s wise to nationalize them – I don’t know (the right of nationalization has been understood and accepted internationally ever since Mossadegh argued the British into the ground before the UN in 1951) – and Juan Carlos is an unelected former Franco sympathizer, but connecting a major political act with a personal insult is ridiculous. He seems to suffer from the same malady as Louis XIV. And the referendum itself coupled progressive social measures with scary political ones. Eliminating the term limits on the presidency was the one that got the most attention, but it also gave the president the right to appoint officials who would normally be elected, to

huge changes in people’s lives are at stake in Venezuela and for the building of “21st century socialism” not to go the route of 20th century socialism will require a great deal of effort.declare a state of emergency and suspend some civil liberties indefinitely. I was much more sympathetic to him. In any case. The shock of the defeat seems to have given Chavez some much-needed grounding and his concession speech was conciliatory in tone. Or they compare him with George Bush – Chavez acts within the law. Early on. It’s hard to make a case that. It is even possible that the defeat will in the end help to bring some democratic form of socialism to Venezuela. unlike King George. even on the American left. After he won the recall. was the time to slow down and gradually push for his ideas while pressing the opposition to work through normal legal and political means. Chavez needs that kind of power. who point out that. Chavez has routinely put major matters to popular vote. Venezuela needs democracy much more than the United States does. though. . and to designate areas for military control. 15 years in power ought to be enough for Chavez. On the other hand. a revolution that requires him for longer than that isn’t much of a revolution. Bush on the Constitution and democracy has hardly affected the lives of the vast majority of Americans. Now. Chavez does not lack for defenders on the left. who thinks the Constitution gives the president unlimited powers. But comparing any head of state with George Bush is succumbing to the soft bigotry of low expectations. for all the talk about lack of democracy. even with the best intentions. Besides. Even the almost unprecedented assault of Mr. At that point. because it was clear to me that his hopes for transformation in Venezuela would require the accumulation of power. radically different from his rhetoric previously. something that never happens in the United States. Chavez was often criticized for being an authoritarian caudillo type.

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