Could Hugo Chavez Finally Lose?

I’m not any sort of expert on Latin American politics, much less the complicated landscape of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. But with elections on tap there Sunday, I was fascinated to read a backgrounder at TNR by Francisco Toro that suggest Chavez is in real danger of losing despite all his enormous (most of them state-provided) advantages. And the main reason, he argues, is that the opposition in Venezuela is finally being led not by a counter-revolutionary, but by a pol, Henrique Cabriles, who can credibly present himself as a logical successor to Chavez willing to clean up the messy excesses and corruption of his regime:

The 40-year old state governor has run a nearly flawless campaign: sidelining the opposition’s reactionary wing in favor of a much more moderate Social Democratic stance. Young, nimble and energetic, Capriles has spoken to working class Venezuelans in less urban parts of the country in their own language—certainly much more so than the more conservative leaders who led the opposition before him. Running on a record of achievement in his home state of Miranda, Capriles has capitalized on people’s growing day-to-day frustration with the dysfunctional chavista state, promising to keep its popular social programs while radically cracking down on the runaway waste, corruption and political sectarianism that hobble every chavista initiative.

It’s been a brilliantly executed campaign against a government that, for all its oil billions, has made one blunder after another on the trail. Chávez legendary common touch has been nowhere in sight. Instead he’s been campaigning on a platform top-heavy with distant abstractions about “building Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century in Venezuela as an alternative to destructive and savage capitalism,” “achieving equilibrium in the universe and guaranteeing planetary peace” and “preserving life on the planet and saving the human species.”

The wild-card in the election, it seems, could be Chavez’ obvious and admitted battle with cancer, which makes thoughts about a more competent successor unavoidable.

It will be worth watching over the weekend, along with the reaction of the regime if it seems to be losing.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.