Monday, December 3, 2007

A Close Call for Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez lost ... barely. Venezuelans voted yesterday on a constitutional referendum, which included 69 proposals, of which the most controversial was giving Chávez unlimited terms and the ability to basically overhaul the country into his desired socialist state with many similarities to Cuba and his close friend Fidel Castro.

I am happy for the Venezuelans, especially for a friend of mine who is getting married in Mérida in three weeks. I believe a Chávez win would have ignited a civil war and the international ramifications would have been awful. I think his views are too extreme and his style too crass. I have been to Cuba and seen how socialism destroys people’s dreams and causes apathy. With that said, there are many great things about socialism, housing and healthcare and education for all. But what is education, a house, and good health without freedom of speech and the ability to live one’s dream? To me, the ends don’t justify the means. Nevertheless, I have to commend Chávez for using his oil wealth – the greatest in Latin America – to help the poor at home and in other Latin American countries. I also admired how he was a gracious loser.

However, he still has tremendous power until the elections in 2012. Though he lost, yesterday’s vote was basically a tie. That means a significant percentage of Venezuelans want socialism. I’m sure Chávez will continue to redistribute the wealth by discouraging private investment and increasing communal property. Though there was a large student movement against Chávez in Caracas, I wouldn’t be surprised if Venezuelans elect another far left-wing president in four years. For now, though, Venezuelans can still openly express their freedom of speech and hold onto their dreams.


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