Monday, December 3, 2007

Will Chavez Be Strong or Weak?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez does not get entirely fair press in the US. His work to really benefit the poorer classes of Venezuela is discounted, his narcissism and obstreperousness are distracting, and his Fidelismo and anti-Americanism that once seemed clownish is now at least a little bit threatening. His own ability to alienate people is the main thing holding him back on the international scene, not the opposition of Washington (He has closely studied Castro's art of using the US as a Great Satan, and like Castro he relies on hostility from Washington for political fuel).
There is a basic question, though, that we might ask of any charismatic leader: is he committed to the rule of law and democracy in a constitutional republic, or is he committed to the rule of himself? People on the right and people on the left all tell themselves that their project of social transformation, and the power of their evil enemies, justifies suborning the democratic process. Castro, Pinochet, Guzman (Sendero Guzman I mean), Franco. I fail to see the difference. And anyway, if Fidel Castro is not smart enough to be the executive of The Just State, then Hugo Chavez sure as hell isn't. So will Chavez go down in history as a democrat or a despot?
This is the question on the occasion of the narrow (51% vs. 49%) defeat of his measure to centralize power more tightly on himself, and eliminate any limit to his time in "office" (dictators don't really have offices, in the formal sense. They just have buildings). He acquiesced, saying in effect, "We didn't make it this time, we'll do it eventually." So he respected the democratic process, and that's good, and that shows the rest of the world that Venezuela is not too far gone down the fascist path that they could not recover themselves politically (and neither is Iran, by the way). But Mr. Chavez doesn't help much with his manner that he respects the democratic process but just barely. The final verdict on what kind of political leader he really is lies in the future.

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