Venezuelan People Say NO! to Chavez

The vote to give Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez near dictatorial powers was probably not as close as the announced tally - 51-49. Many observers, in fact, believe that it was a landslide against Chavez who manipulated the vote to lessen his embarrassment. Almost all of the pre-election polls had the NO! camp winning by more than 55%.

There were late night shenanigans at the CNE - the electoral commission in charge of the vote - where NO! representatives were kept from seeing the final tally and fistfights broke out. And there is late word that the big reason the announcement of the final tally was delayed was because some kind of negotiation took place between the two camps where Chavez desperately tried to reduce the margin of victory to hang on to some vestige of dignity.

We may soon know the truth of that last rumor. That's because the real heroes of this victory for democracy were Venezuelan students who poured into the streets for much of the last month to voice their opposition to Chavez's "reforms."
The student movement (the real winners last night) made a huge effort to make sure no one left their polling stations without their Hot Audit tally sheets in hand. This made it impossible to steal the final outcome, and the nation owes them a huge debt of gratitude.

Having won is no grounds for complacency, though. At the risk of seeming ungracious, they have to complete the task they started. They need to scrutinize last night's results, check them against the hot audit tallies acta por acta, and tell us clearly if they were massaged. Because the viability of the long, tortuous path back to democracy we stepped onto last night hinges on it.
So the vote is over. Now what?
The defeat slows Mr. Chávez’s socialist-inspired transformation of the country. Venezuela, once a staunch ally of the United States, has become a leading opponent of the Bush administration’s policies in the developing world. It has
also taken the most profound leftward turn of any large Latin American nation in decades.

The referendum followed several weeks of street protests and frenetic campaigning over the amendments to the Constitution proposed by Mr. Chávez and his supporters. It caps a year of bold moves by the president, who forged a single Socialist party among his followers, forced a television network critical of the government off the public airwaves, and nationalized oil, telephone and electricity companies.

[snip]

Uncertainty over Mr. Chávez’s reforms, meanwhile, has led to accelerating capital flight as rich Venezuelans and private companies rush to buy assets abroad denominated in dollars or euros. The currency, the bolívar, currently trades at about 6,100 to the dollar in street trading, compared with an official rate of 2,150.

Venezuela’s state-controlled oil industry is also showing signs of strain, grappling with a purge of opposition management by Mr. Chávez and a retooling of the state oil company to focus on social welfare projects while aging oil fields need maintenance. Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company, says it produces 3.3 million barrels a day, but OPEC places its output at just 2.4 million barrels.

And private economists estimate that a third of oil production goes to meet domestic consumption, which is surging because of a subsidy that keeps gasoline prices at about seven cents a gallon.
A newfound unity among the opposition versus Chavez and his oil wealth. The significance of former chavezistas abandoning the President to join the opposition cannot have been lost on Chavez. For the first time in a while, the democratic left in Venezuela awoke and joined the business/middle class right in standing up to the would-be dictator. Whether this means the moderate left has finally had their blinders removed about Chavez and will now work to beat him when he runs again is unknown. But it certainly shows the Venezuelan President that there are clear limits to what powers the people will grant him.

But the problem for the opposition is that Chavez has already grabbed so much power that it will be very difficult to oppose him effectively. And Chavez proved he is not above using the power of the state to crack
down on opponents:

Police raided Venezuela’s main Jewish social club on the eve of a national referendum.

The raid on La Hebraica late Saturday night occurred just hours before Venezuelans went to the polls to decide on constitutional changes proposed by President Hugo Chavez.

The raid was seen as a provocation against the Jewish community, which is almost unanimously opposed to Chavez, a major ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his leftist reforms.

The police raid took place as 900 Jews enjoyed an all-night wedding party at the nearby Union Israelita synagogue in Altamira, an upscale suburb of Caracas.

According to sources, members of the police unit that investigates drug-trafficking and terrorism broke the main gate of La Hebraica in the middle of the night, allegedly looking for weapons and explosives. Officers searched the premises but found nothing, the sources said.
Pure intimidation. It was not the first time that the authorities harrassed Jews. A similar provocation occurred in 2005 when authorities searched a Jewish school for weapons.

With the economy tanking, oil production falling, and the poor getting restless due to Chavez promising so much that he can't deliver, Chavez may be in for a rough couple of years. He still has a lot of power to dictate the economy. But regional opposition to his policies will remain thanks to the defeat of the referendum yesterday.
The vote to give Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez near dictatorial powers was probably not as close as the announced tally - 51-49. Many observers, in fact, believe that it was a landslide against Chavez who manipulated the vote to lessen his embarrassment. Almost all of the pre-election polls had the NO! camp winning by more than 55%.

There were late night shenanigans at the CNE - the electoral commission in charge of the vote - where NO! representatives were kept from seeing the final tally and fistfights broke out. And there is late word that the big reason the announcement of the final tally was delayed was because some kind of negotiation took place between the two camps where Chavez desperately tried to reduce the margin of victory to hang on to some vestige of dignity.

We may soon know the truth of that last rumor. That's because the real heroes of this victory for democracy were Venezuelan students who poured into the streets for much of the last month to voice their opposition to Chavez's "reforms."
The student movement (the real winners last night) made a huge effort to make sure no one left their polling stations without their Hot Audit tally sheets in hand. This made it impossible to steal the final outcome, and the nation owes them a huge debt of gratitude.

Having won is no grounds for complacency, though. At the risk of seeming ungracious, they have to complete the task they started. They need to scrutinize last night's results, check them against the hot audit tallies acta por acta, and tell us clearly if they were massaged. Because the viability of the long, tortuous path back to democracy we stepped onto last night hinges on it.
So the vote is over. Now what?
The defeat slows Mr. Chávez’s socialist-inspired transformation of the country. Venezuela, once a staunch ally of the United States, has become a leading opponent of the Bush administration’s policies in the developing world. It has
also taken the most profound leftward turn of any large Latin American nation in decades.

The referendum followed several weeks of street protests and frenetic campaigning over the amendments to the Constitution proposed by Mr. Chávez and his supporters. It caps a year of bold moves by the president, who forged a single Socialist party among his followers, forced a television network critical of the government off the public airwaves, and nationalized oil, telephone and electricity companies.

[snip]

Uncertainty over Mr. Chávez’s reforms, meanwhile, has led to accelerating capital flight as rich Venezuelans and private companies rush to buy assets abroad denominated in dollars or euros. The currency, the bolívar, currently trades at about 6,100 to the dollar in street trading, compared with an official rate of 2,150.

Venezuela’s state-controlled oil industry is also showing signs of strain, grappling with a purge of opposition management by Mr. Chávez and a retooling of the state oil company to focus on social welfare projects while aging oil fields need maintenance. Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company, says it produces 3.3 million barrels a day, but OPEC places its output at just 2.4 million barrels.

And private economists estimate that a third of oil production goes to meet domestic consumption, which is surging because of a subsidy that keeps gasoline prices at about seven cents a gallon.
A newfound unity among the opposition versus Chavez and his oil wealth. The significance of former chavezistas abandoning the President to join the opposition cannot have been lost on Chavez. For the first time in a while, the democratic left in Venezuela awoke and joined the business/middle class right in standing up to the would-be dictator. Whether this means the moderate left has finally had their blinders removed about Chavez and will now work to beat him when he runs again is unknown. But it certainly shows the Venezuelan President that there are clear limits to what powers the people will grant him.

But the problem for the opposition is that Chavez has already grabbed so much power that it will be very difficult to oppose him effectively. And Chavez proved he is not above using the power of the state to crack
down on opponents:

Police raided Venezuela’s main Jewish social club on the eve of a national referendum.

The raid on La Hebraica late Saturday night occurred just hours before Venezuelans went to the polls to decide on constitutional changes proposed by President Hugo Chavez.

The raid was seen as a provocation against the Jewish community, which is almost unanimously opposed to Chavez, a major ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his leftist reforms.

The police raid took place as 900 Jews enjoyed an all-night wedding party at the nearby Union Israelita synagogue in Altamira, an upscale suburb of Caracas.

According to sources, members of the police unit that investigates drug-trafficking and terrorism broke the main gate of La Hebraica in the middle of the night, allegedly looking for weapons and explosives. Officers searched the premises but found nothing, the sources said.
Pure intimidation. It was not the first time that the authorities harrassed Jews. A similar provocation occurred in 2005 when authorities searched a Jewish school for weapons.

With the economy tanking, oil production falling, and the poor getting restless due to Chavez promising so much that he can't deliver, Chavez may be in for a rough couple of years. He still has a lot of power to dictate the economy. But regional opposition to his policies will remain thanks to the defeat of the referendum yesterday.