Despite oil billions flowing in at a record pace, Hugo Chavez's mismanagement of Venezuela has made him less popular than "progressives" theorize a champion of the poor should be. So Chavez naturally fears a popular rival, Leopoldo López, the mayor of central Caracas, who is only 37 years old, highly popular, and sports boyish good looks. Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post outlines the tactics Chavez is using to keep himself in office by keeping his strongest opponent out of elections.
López, a hyperarticulate graduate of Kenyon College and Harvard, is a pragmatic center-leftist, like most of the presidents elected in South America since the turn of the century. He won his last election in the Caracas district of Chacao with 80 percent of the vote. An opinion poll taken this year showed his popularity rating at 65 percent in greater Caracas, compared with 39 percent for Chávez; nationally, he beat Chávez 42 percent to 41. In the upcoming election for mayor of the capital district -- the most important elected post in the country after the presidency -- López leads the Chávez-backed candidate by 30 points.
"Change is coming," promise the blue posters with López's smiling face that are up around Caracas. Only maybe it isn't. Two weeks ago, Venezuela's national electoral council, dominated by Chávez's followers, moved to ban López and 371 other candidates from the November state and local elections, which are shaping up as the most important since Chávez was first elected nine years ago. This broad exclusion was based entirely on the finding of another Chávez appointee, who ruled that each of the candidates was guilty of an administrative or legal offense, though none has been judged in court.
Such dirty tactics are par for the course with Chavez. López sounds like quite a promising prospect to unseat Chavez, if the corrupt attempts to keep him out of elections do not succeed. Both AT chief political correspondent Richard Baehr and I are also Kenyon graduates, so we take a special interest in his prospects.
Hat tip: Ed Lasky