Venezuela’s authoritarian populist President Hugo Chávez announced that presidential elections will take place on October 7, 2012. Chávez, who continues to battle an unspecified cancer, is convinced he will win. In office since 1999, Chávez argues he must have another six years in order to install Socialism of the 21st Century, i.e. a slightly modernized version of Cuban communism.
Chávez remains the Western Hemisphere’s most active backer of Iran, the world’s most dangerous sponsor of terrorism. As Muammar Qadhafi’s No. 1 friend in the Americas, Chávez continues to side with the deposed Libyan tyrant and soul mate. He has extended similar support to Syria’s bloody leader, Bashar al-Assad. In his most recent outpouring, Chávez cast his current mission as fighting the “imperialistic madness” of the United States and “saving the world.”
The electoral campaign will be arduous and unbalanced, with Chávez commanding powerful resources, the government machinery, and a muzzled media. Chávez and his followers already see themselves as preparing for the decisive battle for the future of Latin America. Their polarizing efforts will relentlessly seek to portray the opposition as a handful of turncoats linked with the “fascists” in the Republican Party. In the shadows lurk threats from senior Chavistas to overturn a defeat either by military intervention or employ “other methods of struggle.”
Venezuela’s democratic opposition needs to know that the U.S. and the Obama Administration will to do all that is possible to ensure that the elections are “free and fair” and that it intends to employ active public and private diplomacy to sustain the democratic process and speak openly when rules are violated.
There is also an urgent need for Congress, think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, human rights bodies, and ordinary citizens who care about the future of democracy in the Americas and around the globe to find ways to support the democratic opposition.
What Venezuela desperately needs is a peaceful, democratic regime change—one that rejects global support for tyranny, ends endemic and unpunished criminality, and restores checks and balances, government transparency, rule of law, and the protection of individual rights.