A movement for change in Venezuela
From the hardened slums of this city to some of Venezuela’s most populous and economically important states, many of President Hugo Chávez’s supporters deserted him in regional elections, showing it is possible to challenge him in areas where he was once thought invincible.I suspect the rural areas where Chavez candidates did well do not have as much crime as the urban areas.
The outcome of Sunday’s vote was the second blow dealt to the president in a year, after voters rejected last December his plan to alter the Constitution to give himself more power. Although it was unclear whether the results would slow his Socialist-inspired revolution or check his power, they could complicate his ambitions to amend the Constitution to allow him to run again.
Mr. Chávez, who has been in power for 10 years, has focused on raising political consciousness across disenfranchised parts of society. Now, voters in a sizable part of Venezuela sent him a message that they wanted not a monopoly on power, but solutions to economic and social ills that are glaringly apparent on their streets.
Though Mr. Chávez’s allies won 17 of the 22 states in Sunday’s vote, his opponents did well in some poor urban areas, and in states like Zulia, where much of Venezuela’s oil is produced; Carabobo, the home of auto manufacturers and petrochemical plants; and Táchira, rich in agriculture and cattle. Mr. Chávez framed the elections as a plebiscite on his evolving revolutionary ideology, but voters appeared to focus on more mundane concerns like inflation, which at more than 30 percent is the highest rate in Latin America, and fears that an economic boom might be sputtering to an end as oil prices plunge, forcing Mr. Chávez to reconsider his spending plans.
Violent crime, an Achilles’ heel for Mr. Chávez, also weighed heavily on voters. While his government no longer releases detailed homicide statistics, private organizations here put the murder rate in Caracas at about 130 per 100,000, about four times the rate in Medellín, Colombia.
In Petare, a sprawling area of slums on the eastern fringe of Caracas, long lines at polling stations snaked into alleyways on Sunday as voters delivered the area, part of a municipality long considered a Chávez bulwark, to Carlos Ocariz, a mild-mannered 37-year-old engineer.
“We punctured the myth that only Chávez can be a champion of the poor,” said Eduardo Ramírez, 61, a political activist in Petare who campaigned for Mr. Ocariz.“Chávez’s rhetoric is one thing,” he said, “but the reality is another when he does nothing to stop the bloodshed on our doorstep.”
The president’s candidates won in the largely rural red states. But in a shift that may point to further erosion of Mr. Chávez’s clout, Venezuela’s cities, and more important, its slums, are in play. How else to explain the victory of the opposition in most of Caracas?
Luís Pedro España, an economist who studies poverty issues, said poor voters here who voted for Mr. Chávez’s opponents had the same access to information, and many of the same complaints about public services, as neighbors in wealthier districts.“The more modern part of the country wants political change,” he said.
I would like to be more optimistic about Venezuela, but I think Chavez is not inclined to accept defeat or rejection. He has already tried to rig elections by keeping opponents off the ballot. I suspect that will only get worse in the future.
Chavez is an ignorant stubborn man trying to resurrect socialism from the ash heap of history. In its most extreme forms it has never been accepted without severe repression of the yearnings of most to live free. I think he is the kind of guy who will not have a logical answer when suggestions are made beginning with "Why not..." That is the way of despots.