[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Tariq Ali on Chavez's (short-term) defeat
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Mon Dec 3 21:49:52 GMT 2007
Lessons for the Bolivarians
Venezuela After the Referendum
By TARIQ ALI
Hugo Chavez' narrow defeat in the referendum was the result of
large-scale abstentions by his supporters. 44 percent of the electorate
stayed at home. Why? First, because they did not either understand or
accept that this was a necessary referendum. The measures related to the
working week and some other proposed social reforms could be easily
legislated by the existing parliament. The key issues were the removal
of restrictions on the election of the head of government (as is the
case in most of Europe) and moves towards 'a socialist state.' On the
latter there was simply not enough debate and discussion on a grassroots
As Edgardo Lander, a friendly critic pointed out:
"Before voting in favour of a constitutional reform which will
define the State, the economy, and the democracy as socialist, we
citizens have the right to take participate in these definitions. What
is understood by the term socialist state? What is understood by the
term socialist economy? What is understood by the term socialist
democracy? In what way are these different to the states, economies, and
democracies that accompanied socialism of the 20th century? Here, we are
not talking about entering into a debate on semantics, rather on basic
decisions about the future of the country."
And this was further amplified by Greg Wilpert, a sympathetic journalist
whose website, venezuelaanalysis.com, is the best source of information
on the country:
"By rushing the reform process Chavez presented the opposition with
a nearly unprecedented opportunity to deal him a serious blow. Also, the
rush in which the process was pushed forward opened him to criticism
that the process was fundamentally flawed, which has become one of the
main criticisms of the more moderate critics of the reform."
Another error was the insistence on voting for all the proposals en bloc
on a take it or leave it basis. It's perfectly possibly that a number of
the proposals might have got through if a vote on each had been allowed.
This would have compelled the Bolivarians to campaign more effectively
at grassroots level through organised discussions and debates (as the
French Left did to win the argument and defeat the EU Constitution ). It
is always a mistake to underestimate the electorate and Chavez knows
this better than most.
What is to be done now? The President is in office till 2013 and
whatever else Chavez may be the description of 'lame-duck' will never
fit him. He is a fighter and he will be thinking of how to strengthen
the process. If properly handled the defeat could be a blessing in
disguise. It has, after all, punctured the arguments of the Western
pundits who were claiming for the last eight years that democracy in
Venezuela was dead and authoritarianism had won.
Anyone who saw Chavez' speech accepting defeat last night (as I did here
in Guadalajara with Mexican friends) will not be in any doubt regarding
his commitment to a democratically embedded social process. That much is
clear. One of the weaknesses of the movement in Venezuela has been the
over-dependence on one person. It is dangerous for the person (one
bullet can be enough) and it is unhealthy for the Bolivarian process.
There will be a great deal of soul-searching taking place in Caracas,
but the key now is an open debate analysing the causes of the setback
and a move towards a collective leadership to decide on the next
candidate. It's a long time ahead but the discussions should start now.
Deepening popular participation and encouraging social inclusion (as
envisaged in the defeated constitutional changes) should be done anyway.
The referendum defeat will undoubtedly boost the Venezuelan opposition
and the Right in Latin America, but they would be foolish to imagine
that this victory will automatically win them the Presidency. If the
lessons of the defeat are understood it is the Bolivarians who will win.
Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is
published by Verso. He can be reached at: tariq.ali3 at btinternet.com
More information about the Debate-list