August 16, 2004

Defenders of Jackboots

Good riddance, buddy.

The Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, looked to be losing his grip on power last night as exit polls showed him to be trailing the opposition by almost a million votes.

The figures were early indications that, for the first time in the country's history, the President may have his term in office cut short by a referendum.

The mid-morning results showed that the opposition, already boasting an enormous 1,758,000 votes to Chavez's 798,000, is well on its way to reaching the target of 3.76 million votes it needs to oust the authoritarian, left-wing President.

This is what happens when you’re elected by an overwhelming majority and you think that means you can grab as much power as you can fit in your fist and use it to smash people. Guess what, boss. The people hit back. So now you’re out on your ass, and it looks like you’ll have to pull off a successful military coup to get your old job back.

Two days ago I wrote about how for a while there (until the facts came in) I thought Hugo Chavez was the right guy for Venezuela. Sure enough, someone in the comments section had to come along and prove John Derbyshire’s point.

Wherever there is a jackboot stepping on a human face, there will be a well-heeled Western liberal there to assure us that the face enjoys free health care and a high degree of literacy.
It’s embarrassing to watch it, and I’d like to think it’s even more embarrassing to be the one doing it. Sadly, no, apparently that is not the case.

I’m slightly annoyed that I have to quote John Derbyshire here. (I suppose I could quote someone else, but he nailed it best.) The reason I wish someone else said this is because even though Mr. Derbyshire is absolutely correct, he makes the same mistake in a different way. Grant McEntire in the comments wasted no time adding McEntire’s Corollary, also correct:

Whenever there's a right-wing authoritarian jackboot stepping on a human face, there will be a well-heeled American conservative there to assure us that the face enjoys a high level of stability and order and that it's in our national interests.
That pretty much covers the bases. All I have left to say is good riddance to another wannabe jackbooted bastard. I say “wannabe” because Hugo Chavez never had what it takes to join the big leagues, though it never did stop him from trying. That, or Venezuela was just a little more resilient and a little harder to break than he bargained for.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 01:23 AM
Comments

I'll praise a high degree of literacy when it comes with a high degree of press freedoms.

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson at August 16, 2004 01:40 AM

I hope I'm wrong, but I have a bad feeling that this post is going to be right up there with "Dewey Beats Truman".

Posted by: Mork at August 16, 2004 01:53 AM

So Michael, any comment on the coup attempt in 2002 and the Bush administration's preference for the two day government over a democratically elected president? The Venezuelan people spoke then, and frankly I think it was a far more important result than this recall.

That said, I'll retract my earlier wish for a Chavez victory, as it basically came from a wish to spite everyone here who seemed to completely gloss over the putsch. I just hope if he loses, he goes.

Posted by: Anon at August 16, 2004 02:53 AM

Mr. Totten,

Last night I blogged the following:

"As I am heading to bed, exit polls show Chavez getting his clock cleaned. I fear that by morning, the official vote count will have him winning, or he will have announced that he will not honor the vote.

Let’s hope I am wrong."

Time and again when a radical leftist gains power, he entrenches himself and relies on fraud and intimidation to remain in office.

Electing radical leftists is never, ever a good idea.

Venezuela will only get rid of Chavez via a coup. And I would not hold my breath waiting for a successful one of those.

Posted by: Gerry at August 16, 2004 04:09 AM

Gads, how awful. Mork and Gerry (two people not known to agree on much) were absolutely right. The "official" count gives Chavez 58% of the vote in a stunning victory. The opposition is charging fraud, of course.

So now what? Perhaps Gerry was right. The only way to get rid of entrenched left-wing dictators is a coup. But no, that CAN'T be true: look at Nicaragua and the Sandinistas.

Anyway, a gloomy day.

Posted by: Jeff B. at August 16, 2004 05:33 AM

Oh, and your link to the Independent is 404FileNotFound now. I read the article too last night, so it's clear they pulled it in embarrassment. Ugh, how ghastly.

Posted by: Jeff B. at August 16, 2004 05:36 AM

Bad luck, Michael. Hubris before a fall. All that shallow "analysis". No mention of what went on before Chavez, no mention of the unsavoury nature of the opposition. No mention of Chavez's programmes to help the poor, some of which even the opposition are reluctant to scrap.

Anyway, your post is wrong. The more fool you for relying on an innacurate speculative article before the result was announced. Basic journalistic erro.

Chavez has won the referendum.

It was that the exit polls that were fraudulent not the result:

"Outside one of the Altamira voting centers, Súmate volunteers conduct exit polls and provide support for those still in line. Súmate, a self-described civil association, is an arm of the opposition umbrella group the Democratic Coordinator. According to Súmate, there are forty-five thousand of these volunteers all over the country-at least one at every single voting station, and at those voting stations deemed more important, there are as many as twenty.
Altamira, apparently, is one such location. Twenty conscripts stand around outside the voting center, clipboard in hand waiting for unsuspecting citizens to emerge, fresh from having voted. “Good afternoon,” they purr, “would you mind telling us if you voted ‘Yes’ or ‘No’?” and “Yes, yes, yes,” is the most common response.
“How many ‘No’ votes have you received?” I asked, playing the naïve reporter.
“Let’s see,” she offered, tapping her tennis shoes, “there are no ‘Nos’ on this page, and one on this page. I have one ‘No’.”
“Just one?” I persisted.
“Well, I don’t know about the others, but I have just one,” she answered, then, spotting some emerging voters in the distance, she scampered of to collect more “Yeses.”

According to co-director Maria Corina Machado, Súmate is an objective non-partisan civil association. When asked why Súmate has worked exclusively with the Venezuelan opposition since its inception in 2002, Machado said that their overtures to the government were regularly rebuffed. Machado neglected to mention that one of the reasons the government may have been hesitant to work with her group is because she was a participant in the 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chávez-she signed the infamous decree of dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona. She is currently being investigated for treason, for having received funds from a foreign government (the U.S.) earmarked for ousting the Chavez government.

Due to Súmate’s infamy as an arm of Venezuela’s opposition umbrella group the Democratic Coordinador, Machado noted that volunteers stationed in Chavista neighborhoods would not reveal their identities. Since campaigning ended on Thursday, and political groups are not permitted to solicit votes at voting centers on Sunday, Súmate has instructed its volunteers to pose as ‘good samaritans’.

The role of the volunteers, according Machado, is to help citizens to resolve any problems they may encounter during the voting process. For example, “if someone comes to a voting center to vote and their name’s not on the list…that will happen.”

According to one of Súmate’s Altamira volunteers, “we are here to provide food for the people in line, to provide them with water, to help them in any way we can to facilitate the voting process. And to do exit polls, to see if they voted ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.”
“And you have volunteers providing food in all the lines all over the country?”
“Yes, absolutely. Everywhere,” responded another white-clad Súmate pollster.
“But I was just in Petare, a very Chavista neighbourhood, and I didn’t notice anyone from Súmate handing out food or water,” I said coyly.
“That’s because the people in those neighbourhoods don’t like the Coordinadora, not because the Coordinadora doesn’t want to help them,” she exclaimed, visibly perturbed.
“So if you can’t get into Chavista neighborhoods, you can’t do exit polls there, right?” I asked.
“No…” she hesitated, “I’m sure they are doing exit polls everywhere.” End of interview.
In light of Democratic Coordinator leader Enrique Mendoza’s pronouncement last week that he would be releasing his exit poll results this afternoon, Súmate’s less than representative polling may be cause for concern.
At this point, the opposition seems to be more or less aware of the likelihood that they will lose today’s vote. And with the optimistic attitudes of both the Carter Center and the Organization of American States regarding the transparency of the voting process, it would appear that a Chávez victory will have to be grudgingly accepted by at least those sectors of the opposition nominally committed to the democratic process."

Venezuelanalysis.com

Posted by: Jon at August 16, 2004 05:53 AM

boasting an enormous 1,758,000 votes to Chavez's 798,000, is well on its way to reaching the target of 3.76 million votes"

Those were exit polls dude! Exit polls collected by organisations tied to the opposition. Jeepers, do some basic research, at least.

This blog is described as "smart" and "thoughtful". Mmmmm.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 06:12 AM

Whoopsie.

Posted by: Eric Blair at August 16, 2004 06:36 AM

By the way, the referendum result represesents the eighth democratic election victory by Chavez and his party in the last six years. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that is quite a record for a "dictator". The recall itself was enacted under the Constitution that Chavez helped frame, that allows elected officials, including the President, to be recalled. Does such a wide ranging democratic facility exist in the USA? No.

Furthermore:

"More than 400 international observers, including several ex-presidents, journalists, intellectuals, Human Rights advocates, and a mission from the OAS, came to Venezuela to observe the recall referendum process... OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria announced on Sunday that the referendum results will be trustworthy."

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 07:00 AM

Jeff B.,

"So now what? Perhaps Gerry was right. The only way to get rid of entrenched left-wing dictators is a coup. But no, that CAN'T be true: look at Nicaragua and the Sandinistas."

Yes, that would be a counter example that would make mine more of a rule of thumb than an absolute rule. However, if not for the Contras it is likely that the Sandanistas would have been able to stack the decks to ensure that they could never be voted out.

Posted by: Gerry at August 16, 2004 07:01 AM

Not surprising, Oliver's readers are leading the charge in defense of Chavez.

Posted by: Court at August 16, 2004 07:39 AM

Now will this be a "green light" for Chavez to start going after the people who signed the petitions? I have a bad feeling bad things are in the works. We now have a thug with a bigger grudge.

Posted by: Bill at August 16, 2004 08:01 AM

Truman defeats Dewey again.

Posted by: Allah at August 16, 2004 08:23 AM

Mork,

Dewey beats Truman is right. Sorry Michael.

Posted by: David at August 16, 2004 08:52 AM

egg on face. Where are you Michael?

LOL

Posted by: David at August 16, 2004 09:05 AM

Don't feel sorry for Mr. Totten. He is safe and living in the best country there is.

Feel sorry for the people of Venezuela, who are having their freedoms slowly peeled away and their economy wrecked.

Posted by: Gerry at August 16, 2004 09:06 AM
Feel sorry for the people of Venezuela, who are having their freedoms slowly peeled away and their economy wrecked.

It was their own decision and they'll have to bear the consequences themselves.

I feel just as sorry for the people of Venezuela as I do for the people of the USA or Germany, ie. not at all.

Posted by: jcfeddern at August 16, 2004 09:25 AM

buhhhhhhhhhhhhhh byyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeee...........

free health care, literacy and complete dependence on the state with no ownership.....
an even better formula because then the people are completely dependent on the mommy state with no ownership of their own...........

Posted by: Mike at August 16, 2004 09:28 AM

I don't feel sorry for the people of Venezuela. Under a mommy state they'll have pros and cons, just like we do in the U.S. No big deal, it's their decision.

Now, if the CIA tries any Cold War style shennanigans because of this, I'll be PISSED.

Posted by: David at August 16, 2004 09:47 AM

Benjamin: Jeepers, do some basic research, at least.

Well, I did. My problem is this is a blog which is expected to be updated Sunday night and I jumped on what research there was too quickly. I went with the best information available at the time. Then I ran an instant correction. So sue me.

Heck, you're the guy who came in here and proved John Derbyshire's point about the well-heeled liberals defending tyrants, so I wouldn't get all uppity if I were you.

Sure, he won his referendum. Pinochet won his first referendum, as well, so I will not buy it if you try to pass off Chavez as anything else if you won't give Pinochet the same amount of credit. They were both thugs, and I don't care if they won any popular vote. I just hope that, like Pinochet, Chavez will allow another one later.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 09:51 AM

Speaking of thugs, notice how they only allow "referendums", not elections. At least the Sandinistas had regular elections. Kudos to them.

Posted by: David at August 16, 2004 09:54 AM

One little comment. You really "should" care that Chavez won the popular vote. If you don't care if a leader wins the vote, then what would be your criteria for who leads? Thug or not, do you recognize Chavez as the legitimately elected leader of Venezuela? Which is a lot more than can be said for a lot of US's so-called allies.

I fully accept your points - but it is important to:

1. Recognize that a referendum was held. It didn't have to be...
2. Recognize that Chavez won this, and as such, should be recognized as the legitimately elected leader (pending the election watchers blessing).

Posted by: JC at August 16, 2004 10:19 AM

David - a regular election for the Presidency is scheduled in two years. If that's cancelled, then your post has some meaning, and Chavez should be removed. Until then, it's just more whining because the democratic process didn't turn out the way you'd have liked.

Posted by: Anon at August 16, 2004 10:23 AM
1. Recognize that a referendum was held. It didn't have to be...

My understanding is that this was not so much a referendum as a recall attempt, and as such had to be held after the opposition came up with enough signatures.

Posted by: Anon at August 16, 2004 10:26 AM

JC: If you don't care if a leader wins the vote, then what would be your criteria for who leads? Thug or not, do you recognize Chavez as the legitimately elected leader of Venezuela?

Yes, he's the legimate leader. What I meant when I said I didn't care that he won a referendum, I meant that such a detail will not stop me from calling him what he is. Pinochet won a referendum, too, but that doesn't mean I'm going to call him a democrat.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 10:27 AM
This quote from Henry Kissinger in the seventies seems appropriate to this discussion for some reason:
I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 16, 2004 10:30 AM

DPU,

Did I say we ought to install a right-wing military dictator in Venezuela for the next 20 years? Nope. But that's what Kissinger did after he said those words.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 10:32 AM

DPU --

If that's not a straw man argument, I don't know what is. A right wing dictator is not the only possible replacement for a left wing dictator.

Posted by: Ben at August 16, 2004 11:24 AM

Whoa, people. I wasn't saying that this was what MJT was saying, nor was I presenting it as a strawman argument. There was an earlier comment about a coup being the only way to replace Chavez, and the Kissinger quote popped to mind. I should have quoted the original comment before posting the quote, sorry about that.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 16, 2004 12:17 PM

DPU

That Kissinger quote is a classic of all time.

Must get it framed sometime.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 12:21 PM

DPU,

Okay. I thought you might have been just putting that out there, but I couldn't quite tell. People make all sorts of funny assumptions about me (like Benjamin, for instance) because I write mean things about authoritarian rulers.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2004 12:39 PM

Michael

No, no. Go ahead. I hope its the Chinese next.

Posted by: Benjamin at August 16, 2004 12:46 PM

People make all sorts of funny assumptions about me (like Benjamin, for instance) because I write mean things about authoritarian rulers.

You really get it from both sides, doncha? :-)

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at August 16, 2004 12:47 PM
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