Dr. Fraser- Point of View
December 7, 2007
Bush and Chavez

Our dear friend George Bush is really something else. What a man! He must have been specially made, for certainly he is no ordinary human being. Even after the National Intelligence Estimate Report concluded that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons programme four years ago, the President is still on the war path, still continuing with his bellicose approach that appears pointed to a war with Iran. After all, it was not long ago that he was speaking about a third world war. It is as if Iraq was not enough. It is as though he has not brought enormous problems to the world with his Iraq policy. It is as though he has not helped to create enough confusion around the world. He is on the same path again.{{more}}

The National Intelligence Estimate Report is based on a consensus of 16 American Intelligence Agencies. The Director General of the International Atomic Agency, in reacting to the report, has indicated that it reflected his agency’s own findings. But listen to Bush, “What’s to say (the Iranians) couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons’ programme.” U.S policy toward Iran, according to him, will remain unchanged. Come on, Mr. President, the report should suggest to you the need to rethink your approach. Remember, too, that with Iraq you went against the findings of the Arms Inspectors and followed your own puerile interpretation of the Intelligence reports, in the process forcing Colin Powell to make a fool of himself before the world.

Bush’s approach toward Iran was based on the belief that Iran was determined to develop and had been on the part of developing nuclear weapons. His own agencies have now told him that this was stopped four years ago. There are obviously other concerns, chief among them being Tehran’s pursuit of an uranium enrichment programme and its possible implications. But if he hopes to get others on his side, he has to change his approach, which we now know is based on misinformation. The world now knows that his policy toward Iraq was misinformed. It was too late to do anything about it then. Should we go down that part again?

Then he puts his foot in his mouth over Venezuela. The results of the Referendum represented a victory for democracy, sure, but not necessarily in the way he means. A Dictator organising a referendum to cement his dictatorship and then accepting the result that is opposed to what he stands for is a very unusual thing. It is really a contradiction. The ‘No Vote’ victory shows that democracy is indeed very much alive in Venezuela, although some might say, though not well. Chavez, of course, confounded his critics, in fact every one, by his reaction to the results of the referendum. He appeared humbled and conciliatory and accepted the results, urging the people to be calm. He obviously realised that he was pushing too far, too fast, or so it seems.

Although the Opinion polls showed that the ‘No Votes’ had a very good chance of success, not many, including the Opposition, expected the victory they had hoped for and got. Why did Chavez lose? This still calls for careful analysis, but there are certain things we can point to. The low turn-out to the polls in the vicinity of 55 percent of those eligible to vote suggested that many of his supporters did not turn out to vote. For some it was probably overconfidence based on the belief that victory was all but sure. For others, it was caution. They liked their President but had some doubts about the position in which he was heading and the haste with which he was doing so. One voter summed it up best for that group, “I want him to stay in Office, but on a leash.”

Interestingly, part of the Opposition was from the left, from persons and groups that were formerly associated with him, some of whom still support many of his policies. He has had a number of problems with many on the left. The position taken by General Raul Isaias Baduel, retired Commander of the Venezuelan Army, who was at one time a close ally, was revealing. He appeared to have had concerns about the establishment of a Socialist state which he considered contrary to the beliefs of Simon Bolivar and the Christian view of society. He also highlighted a number of social and economic problems. Others who voted ‘No’ would have done so for different reasons. What was at stake were a number of changes to the Constitution. There was a mixed bag of proposals that included, among others, a reduction in working hours, pensions for street vendors and housewives and allowing the President to run for life for as long as he wants. Voters had to vote for or against the whole package. They were not allowed to vote for individual amendments. For whatever reason, the Venezuelans have spoken.

Chavez’ response was clearly far removed from his attitude before, where he branded those prepared to vote ‘No’ to his proposals as traitors. In fact, he attached vicious labels to some of them, including the students who, along with the Church, spearheaded the opposition to the constitutional proposals. He surprised many with his initial reaction to the defeat. Would it remain that way? Let us see if it remains that way after he has had more time to reflect on it. But make no bones about it. He is still extremely popular with his social and economic programmes that have benefited the poor. But it was not all good news. This has come with high inflation, with shortages of basic goods and fear about the possible loss of basic freedoms, centred on the closing earlier in the year of a popular television station.

Did the referendum reflect a mature democracy and a people who can love and support their leader but who know when and where to draw the line on the sand? Hopefully, Chavez would reflect on the results of this rare defeat. It must have some meaning and it would be good to see his interpretation of what it means. It was claimed that a ‘Yes’ vote would have made him more authoritarian, but clearly he still has a lot of personal power; in fact, tremendous power, and his term of office goes up to 2013. With a lot of oil money and popularity still around, we wait to see his next move. He has vowed to continue with his Socialist programmes which have touched the lives of so many people.

The referendum does not reduce his power. It has, however, broken a sense of inevitability and shows that power still rests ultimately with the people. As with so many other leaders, there is in Chavez the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He is not a conventional politician and does not necessarily follow established rules and procedures. (Sorry, perhaps that makes him conventional).

But the issue remains, what message did the electorate send last Sunday or more precisely what is Chavez prepared to read into it? We should soon know.