Saturday, February 14, 2009

Referendum 2009

Tomorrow afternoon Venezuelans will once again step into the polling booth, this time to decide if the country should amend the 1999 Constitution to abolish the two term limit on all elected positions. This would affect mayors, governors, legislators, members of the National Assembly and of course, the presidential post. Until recently I long believed that having Chavez in the driver’s seat was indispensable for the continuity of the revolution and if he were taken out of the equation today I think you would see a panicked collapse from within, if not a subversive takeover from without. But a lot can happen in three years, only I don’t see the leadership question moving in the right direction. Chavez continues to become more of a focal point in the whole movement. Day by day it seems the story is more about one man’s triumph’s over the traditional power structure of hostile opposition forces and US interests that desperately want to see them back in control of the oil. Yes, these triumphs truly are amazing accomplishments, especially considering the war that is constantly being waged against him in the private media and at times within the very system itself. The past sabotage against the economy is no secret and even today many serious inefficiencies in the health care system are caused simply by an unwillingness among individuals from the opposition to cooperate with the system by maintaining effective and open channels of communication with the state. I guess there’s a little communist in everyone…at least in theory. In the effort to provoke a counter-revolution, many individuals have adopted the communist tendency to exploit inefficiencies or at best show a strong indifference in the face of problems that are easily within their power to change, all in the name of discrediting the state. In spite of sabotage, Chavez’ accomplishments, in particular the Missions, continue to have a tremendous impact on the lives of millions of people, for the first time bringing health and dental services, education and a stable diet into the homes of the previously excluded.

So where does the referendum fit into this movement? Is it a necessary step to preserve these gains in the face of powerful and hostile adversaries or is it a sign that momentum now depends entirely on one man? Certainly this drive is not about a defect or a lacking in the “new” constitution, but instead a move to prolong the leadership of one individual. And the whole thing seemed to spring out of nowhere, as if this move was plotted all along, to be executed when the political climate was ripe enough. But as history has shown, Chavistas have little reason to think they will lose any electoral contest and there’s a certain arrogance behind knowing that as long as all the party members and supporters turn out to vote, victory is pretty much secure. And so public funds are being used to rally supporters behind the dominant political party. Problematic? It certainly is in an ideal representative/participatory democracy, but they are never ideal and political theory in practice is always corrupted by greed somewhere down the line. Chavistas argue that given the hostility and influence of the private media and the subversive tactics of some opposition sectors, using state money to fund an electoral campaign is necessary to level out the playing field.

So when faced with the question of “How is Chavez really using his power?” one really has to take a step back and try not to look through the lens of history in this region and try not to feel a truth through a consideration of the alternatives being presented. Remove his actions from these contexts and it might seem like you’re left with nothing more than an autocrat who has found a loophole in the most progressive democracy in the world: the perfect scapegoat, a vicious enemy whose crimes have been far worse. But when standing amidst the crowd or swimming along the river of red down the main boulevard it makes me wonder how the press at home and abroad still gets away with calling him a dictator. Dictators don’t get people flocking to the streets with enthusiasm to celebrate the gains they’ve made together and to reinforce the visions they collectively hold. After the second hour of hearing Chavez speak many people from the back of the endless column of supporters begins to recede and head home. The slow exodus reveals the ground below, blanketed with discarded propaganda leaflets and empty beer cans, which makes me wonder: how deep does this Bolivarian Revolution, or Socialism for the 21st century, actually go?

1 comment:

monicavie said...

this is the question we all do