Chávez's Certain Victory in Sunday's Election Could Cast Venezuela in a Different Light.
Unlike President Fujumori, who carefully insulated himself from his countrymen's verdict in Peru's stolen presidential
elections two months ago, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez went out of his way (and earlier than was necessary) to ensure that
the Venezuelan electorate would validate his presidency.
Disregarding some bizarre aspects of his personal style, his administration has been unquestionably and surprisingly one
of Latin America's most respectable examples of democratic behavior. Though there has been an over-emphasis on the role
of the military as a key player in the governing process, Venezuela is quite the opposite of Peru and scores of other
Latin American countries, as the military doesn't violate the basic civil guarantees and human rights of the nation's
Chávez's administration, in many respects, was a precursor to the message of the protesters in Seattle and Washington,
D.C. against the poverty-reduction efforts and development strategies championed by the U.S. Treasury Department and the
international and regional lending agencies: economic policies require more than just neoliberal reforms.
If Chávez is able to maintain his commitment to the basic principles of democratic behavior and strengthen the economy
by diversifying its productive sector with foreign investment, his government may be able to achieve what General
Pinochet prevented--President Salvador Allende's effort to blend an authentic democratic political system with a
quasi-socialist economic policy.
Such a plan could become a serious contender for the alternative economic model of this generation, and could bring an
extended period of political stability and economic prosperity to the nation. To succeed, President Chávez must
continue, as he has done recently, to resist the urge to use inflammatory prose that will only become a needless
incitement for the country's political opposition.
Larry Birns, Director The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-partisan and
tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the floor of the Senate as being "one of the
nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers."