Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The message for Latin America from the reelection of Chavez

This article was published by the Indian think tank " Gateway House" on 11 October 2012

Link http://www.gatewayhouse.in/voices/blog/gateway-house/message-venezuelan-elections

also by The Hindu newspaper on 12 October


The free, fair and peaceful Venezuelan elections on Sunday, with a clear and accepted outcome has restored the confidence of the world which had some doubts about the vulnerabilities of the Latin American democracies after the constitutional overthrow  of President Lugo of Paraguay in June this year and the unconstitutional removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009.  The immediate and graceful acceptance of the people's verdict by Capriles, the loser and his message of congratulations to Chavez augur well for the future of the Venezuelan democracy.  These are also good for the growing maturity of the young Latin American democracies many of which were restored from military dictatorships in the eighties. 

The reelection of Chavez for the third successive term is an undoubtable proof of the empowerment of the masses of the region. It is the poor and lower middle class who set the political and economic agenda of the region by their election of Leftist leaders. Conscious of this, even the centre- right governments of the region are strongly committed to Inclusive Growth. 

Despite the high stakes involved in the outcome of the Venezuelan elections for outside powers, there was absolutely no external interference. It was purely a Venezuelan decision for Venezuela. Yet another reassertion of the Latin Americans that they are capable and determined that they would decide their destinies themselves, based on their aspirations and perspectives.

On the negative side, there is apprehension that Chavez would use this mandate to intensify his policies of  weakening and abuse of democratic institutions and damage to the private sector business and industry.  Hopefully, he will tone down his radicalism and moderate his approach. It seems logical given his awareness of the clear message from the latest election that (a) his victory margin has come down (b) the uncertainty of his health from cancer  and ( c ) the emergence of Caprilles as a credible alternative to Chavez by securing 45% vote and his reaching out to Chavez's electorate ( unlike his predecessor candidates, who would not even pay lip service to the poor) by reassuring that he would continue the good parts of Chavez's pro-poor policies.  More importantly, Caprilles's promise to take Venezuela to the mainstream path of Latin America which is moving towards pragmatic centre with a balance of pro-poor and pro-market policies is appealing even to Chavistas who are tired of the the excessive radicalism, unnecessary confrontation and poor management of the resources and economy by Chavez.

The second negative score is the reelection of Chavez for an unprecedented third term and his continuous rule for twenty years from 1999 to 2019. This is not a good news for the region which has come out from the forgettable past regimes of Caudillos ( strong men). At present, he is the longest serving Latin American President. In all the other democracies of the region, Presidential term is limited to two or one. Even the Constituition framed by Chavez himself had limited the term to two but he got it amended later to remove the term limit.  This bad example might inspire others like President Correa of Ecuador, President Evo Morales of Bolivia and the Argentine President Cristina, who have dreams of unlimited terms and power. 

Some might fear that Chavez's victory based on his model of ideological polarization might spread further in the region giving rise to more Chavista Presidents. But his model has already reached its peak and is losing appeal steadily and irreversibly in the region. This was evident from the case of  Humala, fellow leftist leader from Peru. Chavez's support was kiss of death for Humala during the Peruvian elections in 2006. Besides asking Peruvians to vote for Humala, Chavez went further and openly attacked  Alan Garcia, the opponent of Humala, calling him as thief among other things. Humala, who was till then leading in the opinion polls, lost the elections unexpectedly since the Peruvian voters were provoked and scared by the aggressive interference of Chavez. In the 2011 elections, Humala got out from the label of Peruvian Chavez, remade himself as the Peruvian Lula, espoused pragmatism and won the 2011 elections. Similiarly when Mujica, the former guerrilla leader of Uruguay was contesting the elections in 2009, the opposition scared the voters calling him as a Uruguayan Chavez. But Mujica got over this defamation by assuring that he would be a Uruguayan Lula and got elected.  The defeat of the radical leftist candidate Obrador in the June 2012 Mexican elections is also a message to the Latin American Left that radicalism is not a ticket to power.  Even Ortega, the authentic Marxist President of Nicaragua has become business-friendly, moderate and pragmatic 

One of the long term achievements of Chavez for Venezuela is the diversification of the trade and economic partnership. Before him, Venezuela was dependent on US for over 80 percent of oil exports. Now China and India have become the second and third largest markets with 30% and 15% of the share.  Reliance has just signed a contract on 25 September for long term purchase of 300,000 – 400,000 bpd ( which is over ten percent of the total crude imports of India). Reliance has also expressed interest in exploration and production in Venezuela. ONGC is already investing in two oil fields there. This is good for the Indian strategy of diversification of oil imports and investment in these days of uncertainties caused Arab Spring and sanctions on Iran. 

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