A Leader is Born in Venezuela

CARACAS – The election that just gave Hugo Chávez his fourth term as president was about more than who would lead Venezuela. It was also a confrontation between two worldviews – one that aspires to control society and impose a single way of thinking upon it, and another that is committed to democracy, social justice, and liberty. The former is inspired by the example of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the latter by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Chávez’s latest triumph appears to consolidate the authoritarian and populist model of government that he has brought to Venezuela. Even though he won decisively, gaining 54.4% of the popular vote, his margin of victory over his challenger, Henrique Capriles, was much less than in 2006, when Chávez took 63% of the vote. After that election, perhaps heady with the magnitude of his support, he proposed deepening his revolution with new laws on the organization of society and the economy.

These laws, already approved but not fully implemented, should be the catalyst for a new institutional arrangement within the country, one supposedly premised on a direct relationship between leader and people and a progressive hollowing out of democratic institutions. Meanwhile, all bodies of public power – all of them – now obey Chávez.

Given this history, it is noteworthy that, in his speech the day after his victory, Chávez called for coexistence, dialogue, debate, and for everyone to work together for the good of Venezuela. He emphasized that the people had voted for Chávez and socialism. But he congratulated the opposition for having accepted the results, and he committed himself to being a better president than he had been previously and to insisting on greater efficiency from his officials.