Hugo Chavez Victory in Venezuela: Democracy Wins, But Proves the Middle Class is As Oppressed as Ever


“The people are a third class, consisting of those who work with their own hands; they are not politicians, and have not much to live upon. This, when assembled, is the largest and most powerful class in a democracy. (…) Do not their leaders deprive the rich of their estates and distribute them among the people; at the same time taking care to reserve the larger part for themselves? (…) The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness.” Plato, Republic VIII.

Almost two weeks have passed since Hugo Chávez's successful re-election as president of Venezuela. He has been holding that office for 14 years now. Finally, I feel cool headed and willing to make some remarks about the last electoral process. It must be obvious to many that, for we who oppose Chavez’ regime, it has been a devastating and demoralizing defeat. A defeat that shows Venezuela’s true face. 

Chávez's challenger, Henrique Capriles, offered a sincere program to shift the country toward economic progress and pluralist democracy, without dismantling Chávez social achievements. Nonetheless, a clear majority of 55.15%, with more than a 10 point of lead in the polls, demonstrates the idea that most of the voters have of Venezuela. The people spoke, and Chávez is what they wanted. It is the verdict of democracy. Let me explain better what I mean by this, and avoid being blamed for inconsistency.

1) Contrary to a common belief outside the country, Venezuelan elections are not fraudulent. The system is built with a series of checks and balances that make it practically impossible to cheat, as long as there are opposition witnesses in every single voting center. This means that Chávez really won. He is not a dictator.

2) However, the rules of the game are not fair. For example: 22,000 voters living in Miami (vastly opposition voters) were forced to travel to New Orleans to vote there because the Venezuelan consulship inMiami was arbitrarily closed. Also the government uses public funds to finance their campaigns, putting the country’s oil revenues in their favor to overwhelm the opposition with official propaganda. Also they force television broadcasts to transmit hours of Chávez speeches that instead of being used for official governmental messages to the country, are used as open propaganda. All of this breaks the law. However, the competent electoral arbiter, the CNE (in Spanish: National Electoral Council), never penalizes the government, because their directors are pointed by the government. This is not equal to fraud, because the votes cast are not artificially changed, but it demonstrates that the democratic environment of fair elections is severely obstructed.

3) Capriles led an aggressive campaign that took him to the farthest, more isolated corners of the country. It was an attempt to counter the overwhelming force of official propaganda. We thought that, given the precarious state of the Venezuelan economy (the country has the highest inflation in the Western Hemisphere) and the breakdown of security forces, making it the fifth most violent country in the world (the rate of violent murders per 100,000 deaths is around 50), would turn the majority vote in his favor, especially because he was delivering a moderate socialist message. It turned out the socialists-leaning already had their candidate.

After a long reflection regarding the final result, I am convinced that Venezuela faces two different notions of its identity. 

On one hand, we have a struggling middle class fond of Western values of freedom, pluralism, rule of law and individual autonomy, represented by the opposition; on the other hand we have a mass population of poor, previously disenfranchised people that now feels they are being heard by Chávez. The problem is that his government curtails civil liberties, corrupts all political institutions, destroys checks and balance, and wields a discourse of hatred, contempt and aggression against the middle class. The rich always cut a deal with the powerful, so they are not the ones struggling, but they are extracting profit from Chávez regime. Contrariwise, the middle class is crushed, defeated, humiliated, abandoned by its own government, which leads me to my conclusion.

Chávez has a majoritarian democracy, enemy of pluralism and dissent. Many justify the oppression of a few so that the many may receive benefits. But think about it. Would you give up your civil liberties to a tyrant that offends you daily so that the poor might get some benefit from his regime? Aren’t you entitled to the same rights as your fellow citizens whether poor or rich? Why would you be pushed out of your own country, as if you were an enemy, so that others might receive governmental benefits? Why would you be excluded from the pie? Is it fair?

A reasonable person would say no, it is not fair. However, a majority of the people voted for that option, knowing what it meant for their other fellow citizens. After Capriles attempt to offer the middle class’ hand to the poor in a program to unify the county under the same banner, the people turned their backs on us, and we are left abandoned. In sooth, we are a disenfranchised minority. We are an oppressed minority. The Venezuelan people know this. Still, they turned their backs on us. Unfortunately, I’m not so blindly liberal as to deny that this procedure is democratic. This is what democracy really looks like. The democracy Plato rejected so harshly: The tyranny of the majority (in 19th century liberal discourse), of the barbarous mob, over the educated and intellectually autonomous few.