Rebuilding Venezuelan Democracy

SANTIAGO – Excitement, anxious young faces, the sense of a nation’s best and brightest coming together for a noble cause: the scene was an office building in Caracas, Venezuela, in July 2012. But, to a Chilean like me, it could have been Santiago in October 1988. The campaign headquarters of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles feels and looks a lot like the headquarters of the “No” campaign against Chile’s military dictator of a quarter-century ago, Augusto Pinochet.

Back then, very few people outside Chile thought that a ruthless dictator could be removed through the ballot box. But the democratic opposition prevailed in the 1988 plebiscite, and Pinochet had to go.

Today, many in the global chattering classes are similarly skeptical that Venezuela’s political opposition can unseat the demagogic populist Hugo Chávez in the country’s presidential election on October 7. After all, Chávez, who has governed Venezuela since 1999 and is in his third presidential term, maintains an iron grip over much of the country´s media and keeps an open wallet to pay for popular support.

But the buzz in Caracas suggests otherwise. Capriles has mounted an impressive campaign. He still trails Chávez in most polls, but the distance seems to be narrowing.