La venezuela de chávez

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July 2008

A Watershed Moment in Venezuela
Teodoro Petkoff December 2, 2007
Conceding Defeat A review of the conditions in Venezuela has to begin with an examination of the events of December 2, 2007, the day a narrow 51 percent majority rejected President Hugo Chávez’s proposed constitutional reform package. Through nine years and numerous elections and referenda, it was the first timeChávez was defeated at the polls. Late that night, as tension edged closer to the breaking point, the president surprised both supporters and adversaries by conceding defeat. True to his style, he downplayed the opposition win and reiterated his famous but somewhat trite “por ahora” (for now) declaration. Just as in 1992, after he realized that his coup attempt had failed, “por ahora” meant that he sawthe setback as temporary and that he would fight to achieve his original goal eventually. Two days later, his temper got the better of him. Incensed at a news report claiming that the decision to concede defeat had been forced on him by military leaders, Chávez burst into a news conference called by the defense minister to refute the rumor and proceeded to unleash a barrage of vulgar abuse againstthe opposition and the author of the news story. His ego wounded, Chávez thus undid his initial moderate statement. Conceding defeat had paid political dividends both at home and abroad, portraying him as an even-handed democratic leader, but his venting undid much of the impact of his initial reaction. The question raised in the press is relevant. Did the military actually force him to acceptdefeat? I, for one, do not think so. There is no one in the current high command with the independence—or courage, for that matter—to encourage Chávez to concede defeat. Military pressure, if any, is more likely to have pushed in the opposite direction. In my view, the decision was his and his alone, because, among other reasons, his style of leadership has made him a solitary ruler who surroundshimself mostly with timid and subservient advisors. Once again, Chávez showed himself a wily politician with formidable tactical instincts. His cost-benefit analysis of the circumstances led him to the only politically sensible conclusion: concede defeat to avoid civil strife. Vote counts had been leaked to the press, and large segments of the opposition and general population stood ready to take tothe streets if Chávez had announced victory. He could not be sure how soldiers would react. Nor could he accurately gauge the effect of the public admonition made to the armed forces by his former defense minister and retired general, Raúl Baduel: defend the institutions and the will of the people.
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Andean
Working Paper

Table of Contents
December 2, 2007. . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 The Opposition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Local and Regional Elections. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Nationalizations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 The “Bolivarian Curriculum” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The International Stage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . “It’s the Economy, Stupid” . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 12 14 16

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A Watershed Moment in Venezuela

Foreword

The Inter-American Dialogue is delighted to publish this paper by Teodoro Petkoff, editor of the Venezuelan daily TalCual, former minister of economic planning, and one of the region’s leading public intellectuals. Petkoffdissects the causes and explores the political implications of the Venezuelan voters’ rejection of Hugo Chávez’s constitutional reform referendum in December of 2007. He also sets the stage for local and regional elections in November and previews Chávez’s agenda for the rest of his second term. This working paper is the seventeenth in a special series focused on the Andean countries of South...
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