August 11, 2004
On Aug. 15, more than 14 million Venezuelans will be going to the polls to decide whether they want president Hugo Chavez (accent over the a) to finish his six-year term.
Chavez's opposition, led by the Democratic Coordination, supported a brief coup in April of 2002, but it failed to seize power because hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to demand the restoration of constitutional rule.
For several months, the opposition group also led a political strike to demand Chavez's resignation. The attempt failed, and it soon left the country's economy badly damaged.
Only after these unconstitutional and undemocratic actions did the opposition finally settle for the legal option that had been available since day one: get the voters to recall Chavez.
After a signature-gathering period riddled with fraud and irregularities, including the American financial support of a number of anti-Chavez groups through the National Endowment for Democracy, the opposition managed to get enough signatures to force a recall vote.
Despite the fact that Chavez's administration underwent political turmoil and economic troubles, the leftist president has a comfortable lead in the polls. Some recent American pollsters show him winning the recall vote with 55 percent to 60 percent of the votes.
In the unlikely event of his loss, someone from his own party would possibly replace Chavez since the opposition lacks a coherent agenda beyond the "get rid of Chavez" theme.
The same recent polls show Chavez's party, the Fifth Republic Movement, leading with 35 percent of likely voters. The conservative Justice First comes in a distant second with 11 percent. The two parties that ruled Venezuela in the pre-Chavez era each have the support of less than 5 percent of voters.
Some opposition leaders are anticipating a crushing defeat at the polls and are already advocating for other ways to oust Chavez -- from another attempt of a military coup to the use of paramilitaries to destabilize the country to a request for direct U.S. intervention.
The fact that the United States has intervened in the domestic affairs of virtually every Latin American nation makes such intervention a distinct possibility.
Both President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry have described Chavez as authoritarian and anti-democratic, despite the fact that throughout this process, it is the opposition that has failed to accept the democratic process and the rules established in the Venezuelan constitution.
While Bush should use his significant clout with the Venezuelan opposition to ensure that they will accept the result of the recall vote, Kerry must clearly affirm his support for the democratic process in Venezuela, regardless of who wins.
Anything else would reinforce the perception that, when applied to Latin America, democracy and the rule of law are empty, meaningless words unless they benefit American economic and strategic interests.
Juan Blanco Prada is a Latin American writer and activist living in California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.