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Miguel Perez
Miguel Perez
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Tidal Shift in Venezuela

Comment

It took them five years to recover from the grave mistake they made in 2005, but members of the Venezuelan opposition finally began to turn the tide against socialist President Hugo Chavez in national congressional elections Sunday.

Hallelujah!

Five years ago, when opposition candidates claimed these elections had been rigged and did not participate, they unwisely gave Chavez supporters almost absolute control of the congress, creating a rubber stamp for Chavez to turn Venezuela into a socialist dictatorship.

But a funny thing happened on the way to consolidating Chavez's dictatorship Sunday: The voters took away his rubber stamp!

By winning back 61 seats — out of 165 in the Venezuelan congress — a united plank of opposition candidates, the Democratic Unity Table coalition, took away Chavez's power to pass new laws at will. The runaway train that has been Venezuela recently, on its way down to totalitarian socialism, has been equipped with new brakes — 61 of them!

Although Chavez still will control at least 95 seats, he has lost the two-thirds majority that allowed him to pass sweeping legislation in the past and may have allowed him to complete the task of turning Venezuela into another Cuban-style dictatorship.

If the opposition won more than 50 percent of the popular vote — as projected in some published reports — we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the red-beret-wearing demagogue who has been driving Venezuela into the ground for the past 11 years. If the opposition already is the majority, there is hope that Chavez's bid for re-election will be thwarted in 2012.

After all, it was Chavez who predicted that his allies in congress would surpass the two-thirds threshold and that his "Operation Demolition" campaign would "demolish" his opponents. But his followers fell 15 seats short of the 110 they needed to enjoy the power of a supermajority.

Instead, what Chavez showed is that he is vulnerable, especially if the opposition candidates band together, as they did while campaigning for Sunday's election.

If Venezuelans manage to ban together behind a solid opposition candidate in 2012, Chavez still could be defeated and the Venezuelan people still could pull their country back from the gates of communist hell.

But let's not expect Chavez to take this sitting down. Although the election surely will change the political dynamics of Venezuela, many fear that Chavez will seek a way to stay in power, even by force if necessary. And though unity may have been achieved in the congressional elections — in which many seats were available — agreeing on a single opposition candidate to run for president against Chavez may be much more difficult.

Because the new congress won't be seated until January, some Venezuelans already fear that Chavez and the outgoing legislators will try to jam through a few bills that would be much more difficult to pass once the 61 opposition legislators are seated in 2011. Others fear that Chavez will try to bypass congress and rule by decree and that defeating him in elections will only drive him to become a military dictator — out of the mold of his mentors, Fidel and Raul Castro.

Nevertheless, there will be voices of dissent in the Venezuelan congress again. And for all who believe in democracy, that has to be considered a major victory, especially because Chavez-manipulated redistricting last year made the playing field much more favorable to the candidates he supported.

Aside from the widespread fear that Chavez will turn Venezuela into another Cuba — where human and civil liberties are nonexistent — Venezuelans also have been growing tired of the huge problems Chavez has been unable to solve: scary crime and inflation rates, electric power outages and blackouts, food shortages, water service cutoffs, etc.

The opposition Democratic Unity Table coalition was able to tap into the growing discontent with Chavez, and the tide finally has turned in Venezuela. Now the majority is clearly with the opposition.

But here's the problem: Is Hugo Chavez capable of peacefully walking away from power?

If opposition leaders manage to remain united, if they can agree on a dynamic new leader to challenge Chavez in 2012, there will be either a true democracy again in Venezuela or a military dictatorship imposed at gunpoint.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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