Op­po­si­tion gains strength in Venezuela de­spite Chavez win

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Kelly Hearn

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — Op­po­si­tion lead­ers on Dec. 4 took com­fort in new­found unity and po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity de­spite a crush­ing de­feat at the hands of Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez, who has pledged to use his man­date to push Venezuela even fur­ther to the left.

Sev­eral in­de­pen­dent an­a­lysts agreed that the op­po­si­tion’s re­spectable run and grace­ful con­ces­sion sig­naled that it has be­come a force to be reck­oned with, es­pe­cially if Mr. Chavez over­plays his hand.

With 85 per­cent of the bal­lots counted, Mr. Chavez had won more than 6 mil­lion votes, or 61 per­cent, com­pared with his con­ser­va­tive ri­val, Manuel Ros­ales, who gar­nered nearly 4 mil­lion, or 38 per­cent. Some 25 per­cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers stayed home.

“That means that some 40 per­cent of Venezue­lans, plus the nonvoters, have said they do not iden­tify with the rad­i­cal [agenda],” said Mi­los Al­calay, who served as Venezue­lan am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions un­der Mr. Chavez from 2001 to 2004.

Mr. Al­calay, who also served as an am­bas­sador in other Venezue­lan gov­ern­ments over three decades, was con­cerned by the fiery speech that Mr. Chavez gave sup­port­ers at the pres­i­den­tial palace on Dec. 3.

“If the mes­sage he gave is to be fol­lowed, it is very, very wor­ri­some,” Mr. Al­calay said. “In the rest of Latin Amer­ica, the can­di­dates who have won elec­tions have called for na­tional unity. But he called for the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of the revo­lu­tion.”

In his speech to throngs of ju­bi­lant, rain-soaked sup­port­ers, Mr. Chavez ig­nored class fric­tions and promised to deepen the so­cial­ist revo­lu­tion he be­gan nine years ago.

“Long live the so­cial­ist revo­lu­tion, des­tiny has been writ­ten,” he said, adding later that “no one should fear so­cial­ism; so­cial­ism is hu­man, so­cial­ism is love.”

He ded­i­cated the elec­tion vic­tory to Cuba and Fidel Cas­tro, his ide­o­log­i­cal men­tor, and cast the elec­tion vic­tory as a de­feat for Pres­i­dent Bush, whom he again re­ferred to as “the devil.”

Cristina Mar­cano, au­thor of the Chavez bi­og­ra­phy “Chavez Out of Uni­form” pointed out that the pres­i­dent re­ceived fewer votes than he had an­tic­i­pated.

“He ex­pected 10 mil­lion [votes], and he didn’t get it,” she said. “He wanted [his vic­tory] to be more pro­found so he could pro­ceed with­out re­sis­tance. What this says is that if he does things too rad­i­cally, there could be prob­lems, that 40 per­cent could rise up.”

Miss Mar­cano said the strong state­ments dur­ing the vic­tory ad­dress could be mere “rhetor­i­cal games,” not­ing that he of­ten makes bold state­ments only to roll them back later.

Left­ist politi­cians from Brazil to Ar­gentina and Uruguay have come to power at­tack­ing U.S.-backed eco­nomic poli­cies in re­cent years. But they have none­the­less main­tained strong trade ties with Wash­ing­ton.

Mr. Chavez is no ex­cep­tion, many here say. De­spite his ra­bid at­tacks on Mr. Bush, Venezuela main­tains strong trade links with the United States, its most im­por­tant eco­nomic part­ner.

David R. Sands in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

As­so­ci­ated Press

A boy bathes in the Niger River in Ba­mako, Mali on Dec. 6 as the BCEAO bank build­ing is seen in the back­ground. Bird flu ex­perts from across the globe gath­ered in the West African na­tion last week to drum up an es­ti­mated $1.5 bil­lion the World Bank says will be needed to fight the dis­ease world­wide over the next sev­eral years.

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