On October 7, Hugo Chavez won re-election as president of Venezuela for another six-year term.
While accolades continue to pour in from Russia, Cuba, Bolivia, and other unfriendly corners of the world, there is no reason to mince words: Chavez’s re-election was a sad defeat for liberal democracy, economic freedom, and inter-American security. It was also a substantial setback for U.S. interests and values.
In his first press conference, basking in his thumping 55–44 win over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, Chavez was quick to set the tone for the future, lambasting Washington over Syria, Libya, et al.
“How can we not support the government of Bashar al-Assad if it’s the legitimate government of Syria?” Chavez said. He called the rebels who are fighting Assad’s government “terrorists.”
Post-electoral analysis has focused on several critical factors that shaped Chavez’s electoral triumph:
- The Chavez spell or mystique remains strong. Like it or not, Chavez’s popular connections and his divisive, class-based, welfare populism resonate with Venezuela’s have-nots, as does an enduring distrust of the opposition.
- Despite the repeated lessons of history, there are those who still believe that anti-neo-liberalism and anti-capitalism can work—provided you have an unending stream of oil revenue.
- The electoral process was fundamentally unfair—it was a tilted playing field—and heavily favored Chavez, the incumbent.
- Clientelism rules as Venezuela’s electorate becomes increasingly dependent upon government jobs, handouts, and subsidies.
- Venezuela’s once-vigorous private sector has already been starkly weakened by mega-government and will only grow more feeble and dependent.
- Storm clouds on the economic horizon scarcely mattered.
- Issues of foreign policy were secondary as long as the spigots of domestic assistance remain open.
When asked if the October 7 elections were free and fair, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland replied, “That’s a decision that the Venezuelans will have to make.”
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville contemplated the dangers of the tyranny of the majority and its capacity to become both arbitrary and absolute. “When I see that the right and the means of absolute command are conferred on any power whatever, be it called a people or a king, an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I say there is the germ of tyranny, and I seek to live elsewhere, under other laws.”
What was true in 1835 is just as true in 2012.