Democracy is Alive and Well in Venezuela

Most TV pundits and opinion pieces in the US savored the loss of Hugo Chavez's Reform during the national Venezuelan election on December 2. The Reform package, which consisted of 69 amendments to the country's constitution, was narrowly defeated 51 percent to 49 percent. Chavez graciously accepted the loss, saying he would not contest the results despite the close election. This is the same Chavez that has been called a Dictator, his Reform touted as major steps toward Dictatorship and Chavez's plan to be President for Life.

These kinds of statements were utterly defeated on December 2.

Even though the National Assembly accepted and contributed to the Reform, the matter was brought to the whole country to decide. The election was held on a Sunday to make it easier for people to vote (unlike in the US where elections are held on Tuesday when most people are working). While only half of the 16 million registered voters took part in the election, a low turnout by Venezuelan standards, it is still much more than in US national elections that generally involve only around 25 percent of eligible voters.

In addition, US pundits decried Chavez's government and paths for change, but his process is still much more democratic than what we have here. For example, there is no electoral college in Venezuela that can reverse the popular vote like it can in the US (remember Gore's victory over Bush in the 2000 popular vote, but his loss in the electoral college when the 9-member Supreme Court certified Florida's crooked election).

Also, Chavez brought his Reform to the public -- contrast this with how the US Patriot Act was decided by Congress in cahoots with the Executive Branch. US voters had no say-so about this act, which has proven to be one of the most unconstitutional and draconian this country has ever produced.

No, I think the election was proof that Democracy is Alive and Well in Venezuela. And let's remember--the people were not voting for Chavez as President for Life. The Reform only asked that those who do run for president can do so indefinitely (including Chavez). The people would still need to elect them. This is a big difference over "President for Life."

Venezuela is in a difficult revolutionary process. It is still moving faster toward social and economic justice than most countries in the hemisphere. But it is also deeply divided, which the US has exacerbated through its varied media/propaganda and clandestine/military destabilization efforts.

Hovering over this process, like in most of Latin America, is the economic might, military prowess and political machinations of the United States government. Remember, the US government was involved in the overthrows of democratically-elected reform governments like Arbenz in Guatemala and Allende in Chile? (and others around the world). From our previous acts and positions, we have no right to judge.

I truly hope the Venezuelan people--especially the poor and working class that are virtually abandoned in most countries--can forge a society and government worthy of their ideals, courage, history, and needs.

With or without Chavez.

For now, the Bush Administration should stand back and stop putting down a process that is wholly more democratic than most countries in the world, including the United States. As far as I can see, the election was a victory for the Bolivarian Revolution because it proved a process of change was still up to the people to decide.

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