Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may yet salvage a victory from the defeat he just suffered. He won't be able to overturn the results of the referendum on his constitutional reforms. And that's as it should be. A majority of Venezuelan voters told him to change course.
But contrary to the heated rhetoric of the campaign, the aftermath of the referendum seems to be bringing both sides closer together.
Chavez promptly congratulated the opposition for its victory and acknowledged that low voter turnout may have been the ultimate cause of the constitutional reform defeat.
For their part, opposition leaders acknowledged the fairness of the process and offered to meet with the president to "initiate the process of reconciliation." They are even suggesting that they will now work with the president to implement some of his proposals, such as extending social security benefits to workers in the informal sector, or the reduction of the workday to six hours.
Except for a few die-hards, the new opposition leaders are not using their victory to push for the unconstitutional removal of Chavez from office, as the previous opposition leadership did for seven long years.
In accepting defeat, Chavez has also burnished his democratic credentials. He has proven that he can win nine consecutive elections, but he can also lose one. Chavez's previous electoral victories, although internationally recognized as clean and fair, were nevertheless rejected by the opposition under various pretexts. Sunday's defeat creates a sense of democratic normalcy that will make it much harder for the extremist opposition to find any traction with their claims of Chavez's authoritarian bias.
The defeat provides Chavez and his supporters with an opportunity to redirect their efforts to bread-and-butter issues that affect the majority of Venezuelans, instead of the more arcane and theoretical realm of creating the "socialism of the XXI Century."
Since his resounding victory last year, Chavez has increasingly moved his focus away from the kind of policies that gained him the support of a vast majority of Venezuelans, such as the massive creation of housing, the eradication of illiteracy or the implementation of a Cuban-modeled health care system.
Although Chavez has an impressive economic record that combines fast growth with the deepest reduction of poverty rates in South America, Venezuelans had come to resent the fact that he seemed to be more interested in building international alliances to counterbalance American power than he was in dealing with domestic corruption and crime.
Perhaps the only true loser of the election is the Bush administration, which until the very last minute continued to meddle in the internal affairs of Venezuela by working with the extremist wing of the opposition to reject the results of the election if Chavez won and to help plan a series of actions meant to destabilize the country.
The surprising result of this referendum has lessons for all the parties involved.
For Chavez, it is an opportunity to adjust course and regain the full support of the Venezuelan people.
For the opposition, it proved that Chavez can be defeated by constitutional means.
For the White House, it shows that the best way of protecting democracy in Venezuela is to allow Venezuelans to choose on their own how and by whom to be governed.
Prada, Juan Blanco. Chavez can turn defeat into victory. Courant.com. 10-Dec-2007.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Chavez can turn defeat into victory
Excellent op-ed piece: