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Venezuelans' choice
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The day after Hugo Chavez’s power grab was defeated at the polls, the Man Who Won’t Shut Up called the state-owned television network and blamed voters for not being “mature.”
He ended his diatribe by shouting the cheesy slogan he so loves, which he copied in part from Che Guevara, in part from Fidel Castro: “Until victory forever! Fatherland, socialism or death! We shall triumph!”
Uhm ... OK, sure, Hugo.
Got to give the clown prince of Caracas credit, though, for putting up to a vote the monumental change in Venezuelan life that he sought. Credit for holding the election in the first place; credit for accepting defeat.
Chavez’s concession has at least two precedents in Latin America. One strongman who surprised his nation by accepting defeat at the polls was Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader who was voted out of office in 1990 and lost bids to return in 1996 and 2001 before returning to power last year with just 38 percent of the vote.
The other is Augusto Pinochet, who also stepped down in 1990 after losing a plebiscite that would have let the Chilean dictator stay in power, lending his regime a painted-by-the-numbers democratic veneer.
Chavez would reject the comparison to the right-wing Pinochet. Yet both tried to do the same thing: extend their rule and give themselves more authority. The Venezuelan referendum would have let Chavez be re-elected indefinitely, with unprecedented power to expropriate property by decree and to unilaterally declare a state of emergency under which the media could be censored and citizens detained without charges.
Passage of the referendum would have institutionalized Chavez’s vision of “21st century socialism” by defining the state and its goals as “anti-imperialist,” “anti-colonialist” and other ridiculousness from the verbiage of the far left. The purpose of elections would have been defined constitutionally as “the building of socialism.”
And you know where that goes: Any election that does not build somebody’s idea of socialism can be declared illegal.
But the contest in Venezuela was not between pro-American capitalism and the kind of “socialism” we see in Western Europe and Latin American countries like Brazil.
Chavez sought to portray the plebiscite as a struggle between a supposed Venezuelan oligarchy that has misruled the nation for decades and The Downtrodden Peoples of Venezuela, who are rising up under (what else) the leadership of Hugo Chavez to strike a mighty blow against the forces of imperialism, colonialism and for the right to a six-hour workday.
Yes, that was part of the constitutional reform: only six hours, instead of eight, for workers to be exploited by greedy capitalist oligarchs — then home to PAR-TY!
A majority of Venezuelans saw right through it.
Notwithstanding what their president said about them, Venezuelans (albeit by a small margin) showed the political maturity to realize that the real choice facing their nation was between democracy — socialist democracy even — and a Havana-style Marxist-Leninist dictatorship.

Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
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