It’s that time of year again: ballots have been cast and the people have spoken and we have our new president. If you think I’m crazy and about a month early for elections, then you’re only half right. Hugo Chávez Frías of the Partido Nacionalista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) was elected this week as the president of Venezuela.
This will serve as Chávez’s fourth six-year term, and he is a self-declared democratic-socialist, which — for many Americans — means all that is evil in the world.
In fact, I have met Chávez. While in El Salvador over the summer I had the opportunity to meet and shake the hand of current Vice President and presidential candidate of El Salvador, Salvador Sanchez Cerén. According to the U.S. media, these two drastically different men with often opposing ideologies are the same person.
When I came home and relayed the happy news to my family, they were none too happy. In a media piece broadcasted while I was abroad, Cerén was compared to Chávez in an attempt to elicit fear.
Chávez is not ideal. He has too much control over the Venezuelan Supreme Court, he supports censorship in the media (which I could not be more vehemently against) and he does seem to be following a dangerous path.
That being said, I still think that he is the better of the two candidates. The country’s poverty rate has gone down by 50 percent since he took office and extreme poverty has decreased by 70 percent. He supports a socialist system of free college tuition and free health care for all, which I absolutely support.
According to an article published by The New York Times, “the leftist leaders have seen Venezuela as part of a team that has brought more democracy, national sovereignty and economic and social progress to the region.” He has delivered on his promises to the Venezuelan people, and I absolutely understand the chavistas.
The faults he does have are not because of socialism. This is not the system. This is not Cerén. It is as simple as an abuse of power and frequently biased reporting by the media.
It was a close election, with Chávez securing 54.66 percent to Capriles’ 44.73 percent. What makes this election particularly monumental is voter turnout which stands out 80.94 percent according to an article by the BBC.
Our own state is famous for the mantra “vote early and often” so dirty politics are always considered a factor. Votes in any nation can be fraudulent, sold, or voters can be deterred or excluded from the voting process.
However, the narrow victory indicates relative fair play. According to a Commentary article, “That margin of victory helps Chávez insofar as it staves off charges of electoral manipulation. At the same time, it confirms that Venezuela is seriously divided…” Had Chávez won the election by a landslide, we would have more ground to be suspicious. As it now stands, it does appear that the people have spoken, and they genuinely want Chávez.
Though elections in Venezuela have been denounced by a number of Western leaders, Capriles himself has recognized the validity of the election. A few weeks back, Jimmy Carter spoke to the point of dirty politics in Venezuela.
“As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world,” he said.
Chávez has been vilified by Western media, compared to Fidel Castro and called a rogue dictator. According to the op-ed cited above in the NYT, “Almost all of the news we hear about him is bad.”
An op-ed in the Huffington Post revealed the same sentiment. Venezuela “is probably the most lied-about country in the world — that a journalist can say almost anything about Chávez or his government and it is unlikely to be challenged, so long as it is negative.” Too frequently we accept what we are told to accept; we fail to challenge the truth as it is presented to us and we renounce valid systems simply because they are not producing the results we desire.
So to Venezuela, I say congratulations. I am not Venezuelan, so if I think that Chávez is a monster or if I view him as my own personal hero, it makes no difference (though I take neither stance). The people have spoken, and we need to acknowledge and respect that voice. I respect that they live someplace where 80.94 percent will vote come election day. I wish the same could be said for the States.