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It's all a matter of interpretation: Is President Chavez to impose himself as "dictator for life" on Venezuela?

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It's not unusual, but I'm caught like 'piggy-in-the-middle' between two extremes in the contentious political debate that seems to have Venezuelans more than usually at loggerheads in the run-up to Christmas. On the one side, we have diehard 'Chavistas' claiming that VHeadline has jumped aboard the 'escualido' bandwagon as if we were giving our full support to anti-government movements to overthrow the duly-elected President of Venezuela and what he stands for. On the other side, we have the diehard opposition extremists claiming that VHeadline is allegedly "showing its true colors" by giving full support to "un-constitutional and illegal" moves by President Chavez to impose himself as "dictator for life" on Venezuela.

The debacle follow on, of course, from the November 23 elections in which the President's new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won a majority of States and municipalities across the country. The democratic opposition made serious gains in a series of five key States and municipalities as well!

It's all a matter of interpretation: Since it was the first time that PSUV had engaged in ANY local and/or regional elections, it's clear that ANY electoral win could be seen as a gain from a starting point of zero; implying, of course, that the collection of other left-orientated parties that had previously held these States and municipalities had lost, inasmuch as they were basically back to zero...


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez Frias
While everything focused on the local and regional elections as, somehow, being a plebiscite on President Hugo Chavez' popularity and performance as Head of State, the fact remains that he wasn't even up for election, although his campaigning across the country ahead of the election would have had you believe that he was on a copycat Obama/McCain election trail for the presidency not just of Venezuela but South America as a whole.

On the Democratic Opposition side, it was clear that the forces that had conspired to overthrow Chavez in April 2002 and in the December 2002/January 2003 oil sector lockout had regrouped, mollified their stance and finally conceded precedence to the democratic process over the economic and political sabotage that has keynoted their mode of conduct over a majority of the last ten years. Perhaps it is because the 'elder statesmen' of the Punto Fijo conspiracy are dying off in droves; being replaced by young bucks who have a perspective of many more years ahead of them in Venezuelan politics than years behind them to reflect upon?

Whatever! Purely from the aspect of democracy; the November 23 elections were a platform on which to build.

The run-up to the elections was, however, filled with a plethora of abuses on both sides that were/are unworthy of Venezuela's new-found democracy. While overplayed exuberance is to be expected from candidates convinced of their own overwhelming electability, the process by which their campaigns were conducted should require serious introspection...

If democracy is to achieve its fullest expression, elements of outright hatred and violence should have been eliminated as the disgrace they are to that process. Scenes of would-be voters being rounded up by motorcycle gangs and herded onto buses to polling stations were unseemly as well as the penchant in some parts for transport to be denied to those of another political persuasion...

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The question of how long the polling stations should remain open was another bone of contention, with opposition radicals claiming they should have been closed "on time" while hundreds of would-be voters remained in the queues outside.

Surely, if democracy is to be served and to have its fullest expression, as many voters as possible should be allowed to cast their votes even if it means spreading the ballot over several days (as has been done in other countries) to contain the sheer numbers of people registered to make their mark in one direction or the other. Why not? The overwhelming gain is democracy, so what's wrong with that! Would the opposition have complained with equal vigor if they had seen similar scenes outside polling stations in predominantly opposition-held constituencies? I don't think so!

On the other hand, electioneering rhetoric and practice -- unfortunately -- showed little maturity. President Hugo Chavez' raucous involvement in what was essentially a provincial exercise of Venezuelan democracy was certainly unbefitting the role of a National Executive although, perhaps, excused by the fact that the PSUV is basically his "baby" ... but to throw the baby (that is democracy) out with the bath-water was illuminating to foreign eyes.

Quo Vadis? When a Head of State assumes the role of the judiciary to pronounce sentence on an opponent, claiming him to be a criminal and that he will see him in jail?

It is insulting to any sense of presidential propriety that President Chavez should use such rhetorical descriptives of those who oppose him, no matter how bitterly they are opposed to his governance, no matter how much he may suspect that they are in league with "dark forces" to overthrow/assassinate him. Certainly he can allege, lay claim to intelligence gathering that shows ... but is it the proper role of a President to act as Judge and Jury to sentence his bitterest opponents (even rhetorically) to jail without due trial? I don't think so! Meanwhile on the other side of the fence, not-so democratic elements in the opposition explode in rhetoric of their own over President Hugo Chavez' declaration of intent to continue his Bolivarian Revolution for as long as a willing electorate pleases. Headlines scream that Chavez wants to impose "a dictatorship for life" ... but, step away from the hatred-filled debate for just a moment, and you'll see that what has happened in reality is that, enthused with PSUV's advances (see above) in the most recent elections, Chavez is emboldened enough to return to the debacle over Constitutional reforms which were badly presented to the electorate in a National Referendum a year ago when his 2007 proposals were flatly rejected by a democratic majority!

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To revisit the issue requires another ploy ... and this time, Chavez wants to focus on indefinite re-election to the presidency.

Currently, the Constitution deems two presidential mandate periods in succession to be enough! WHY? Because power-sharing cliques in previous presidencies had wishes to take alternative turns at the wheel of State, but (according to Chavez and his supporters' way of thinking) why deprive the nation of his presidential capacities when (according to Chavez and his supporters' way of thinking) the job's only half done!

Of course the democratic opposition has the opposite way of thinking and wants to preserve the status quo to allow them to have a fair crack at the whip when the Presidency next comes up for election, 2012! Democratically, they have every right to campaign to preserve the 1999 Constitution as it is, without change ... but, ultimately, it is the people of Venezuela who will decide. And that is as it should be! The opposition can come up will all the proposals and counter proposals it wishes, within any limitations that are constitutionally imposed on either side ... and equally so, the pro-government side can do exactly the same!

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Roy S. Carson is veteran foreign correspondent (45+ years in the business) currently editor & publisher of VHeadline Venezuela reporting on news & views from and about Venezuela in South America -- available for interviews -- call Houston (more...)
 

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