‘On the future of the Bolivarian Revolution’

Jesus Vasquez

Credit: Varonin
Credit: Varonin

Recently, 11 out of 17 million eligible voters flocked to the polls in Venezuela, in what international observers have called ‘free and fair’ elections. The vote that occurred most recently was a great victory for Hugo Chavez, as his referendum to lift limits on presidential terms passed with ease.

Chavez has claimed, of course, that his desire to lift the limit on terms was due to the overwhelming support he had of his people, and not of his own desire for power. He maintains a populist image, which is largely due to his massive public spending on social programs –– his own governmental figures suppose that these programs have reduced poverty in the nation by about half.

And so, indeed, he does have massive support among the lower classes, the masses which Chavez purports to serve through his ‘Bolivarian Revolution.’ Yet, there is much work left to do, as evidenced by his decision to seek more terms in office; despite this supposed slash in poverty, his critics point to the fact that there is rampant inflation (30% in the past year), and abysmally high crime rates. Furthermore, many are concerned that power will gradually begin to flow more and more into Chavez’s hands.

Another concern is that Chavez will be unable to sustain his massive public spending (which propels his popularity), due to the economic crisis, which have pushed vital oil revenues down.

How then can Chavez maintain his hold on power?

He is, of course, one for grand theatrics that rouse his supporters. Who could forget when, in 2006, he famously referred to Bush as the devil at the UN? Likewise, he is a man of photo-ops, wildly decrying “Yankee imperialists” in massive rallies, while pouring his heart out to his political/spiritual father Fidel, and still improving his sibling-like relationships with various leaders in South America such as Morales of Bolivia, Kirchner of Argentina or Lula of Brazil.

Furthermore, Chavez has a great hold on the media in his own country. If not familiar, I encourage the reader to search the Internet for ‘Alo Presidente,’ Chavez’s personal television show. It’s like The Colbert Report, but without satire, and much longer. The program is a showcase for the president to muse about any and every subject, including such light topics as war (indeed, in March of last year, Chavez made a decision to send troops to the Colombian border live on the show).

My opinion of Chavez has long been ambiguous. It often seems the Western media all too often paints him harshly, though, conversely, his media rarely is allowed such an opportunity. His government is accused of both inefficiency and given credit for bettering the nation, of both strengthening and restricting freedoms. He curses capitalist Western nations while not hesitating to sell them oil, which funds his socialist domestic agenda. As all other humans, he’s a person riddled with contradictions.

As such, I think that if anything, the Bolivarian Revolution is in jeopardy. With a hard economic crisis, chances are that Chavez could become much more totalitarian if he cannot win the hearts and minds of his people due to the failure of his programs.

I suppose all we have is the audacity of hope that freedom will survive in Venezuela.