Commentary Magazine


Topic: Venezuelan presidential election

Chavez’s Latest Tool for Voter Intimidation

With two months to go before Venezuela’s election on October 7, the regime of Hugo Chavez is exploring ways more foul than fair to secure a fourth term in office for the Comandante.

For the first time this year, the fingerprint scanners used in the past to verify voter ID will be connected to the electronic voting machines themselves. Because voters will have to press down a thumb in order to activate the ballot system, there are justified fears of an electronic record of every individual vote. For tyrants who occasionally allow the public a trip to the polling station, knowing who the dissidents are is both a nasty weapon and a powerful one; in the early 1980s, Chavez’s close friend Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, punished the rebellious voters of Matabeleland with a campaign of violence, public executions and enforced famine.

If the Chavistas are trying to sow fear in the hearts of Venezuelans tempted to vote for his arrival, the moderate leftist Henrique Capriles, they appear to be succeeding:

“If the thumbprint makes the machine work, how do you know it doesn’t end up being recorded who you voted for?” asked Jacqueline Rivas, a 46-year-old housewife.

Experts say there is no evidence the system has ever been used to reveal voters’ preferences, and most opposition leaders, who stand to suffer if supporters don’t vote, have been eager to assure that the system is safe.

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With two months to go before Venezuela’s election on October 7, the regime of Hugo Chavez is exploring ways more foul than fair to secure a fourth term in office for the Comandante.

For the first time this year, the fingerprint scanners used in the past to verify voter ID will be connected to the electronic voting machines themselves. Because voters will have to press down a thumb in order to activate the ballot system, there are justified fears of an electronic record of every individual vote. For tyrants who occasionally allow the public a trip to the polling station, knowing who the dissidents are is both a nasty weapon and a powerful one; in the early 1980s, Chavez’s close friend Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, punished the rebellious voters of Matabeleland with a campaign of violence, public executions and enforced famine.

If the Chavistas are trying to sow fear in the hearts of Venezuelans tempted to vote for his arrival, the moderate leftist Henrique Capriles, they appear to be succeeding:

“If the thumbprint makes the machine work, how do you know it doesn’t end up being recorded who you voted for?” asked Jacqueline Rivas, a 46-year-old housewife.

Experts say there is no evidence the system has ever been used to reveal voters’ preferences, and most opposition leaders, who stand to suffer if supporters don’t vote, have been eager to assure that the system is safe.

But worries have persisted. Many government opponents say they see a pro-Chavez bias in the National Electoral Council and remember a previous scandal in which the names of Venezuelans who petitioned to recall Chavez in 2004 were publicly leaked. Hundreds of people alleged they were fired or suffered discrimination after their names turned up on the “Tascon List,” named after a pro-Chavez lawmaker who released it.

The thumbprint method may be a more efficient method of continuing the strategy that Chavez implemented in 2006, when he defeated Manuel Rosales in that year’s presidential election. As a State Department report noted, there were “concerns over abuse of government resources used to support the Chavez campaign, voter intimidation tactics, and manipulation of the electoral registry.” Thanks to his 2006 election victory, Chavez was able, the following year, to pass an enabling act that permitted him to rule by decree for the next 18  months. During that time, he nationalized the telecommunications and electricity sectors, and gained far greater control over the country’s petroleum industry, allowing him to sell oil to his communist allies in Cuba at a 40 percent discount.

The National Electoral Council, which is supervising the installation of the voting machines, is packed with Chavez supporters. Jorge Rodrigues, the former head of the council, is now Chavez’s campaign manager. It’s hard to imagine a team more qualified to engage in — for the moment — subtle voter intimidation, particularly at a time when the Capriles campaign is claiming a lead in the polls.

Capriles, meanwhile, has embarked on an energetic house to house tour of the country pressing his case. Given how the electoral process is stacked against him, and the domination which Chavez exercises over the Venezuelan media, he has few other alternatives. In undertaking this marathon, Capriles isn’t exactly short of campaign messages to deliver on the doorstep: he can tell voters that his plan to end preferential oil deals will save the country $6.7 billion per year, and he can ask them to consider what the bizarre, disturbing anticsat the Venezuelan embassy in Kenya, in which the acting ambassador was found murdered following a battle for his job, says about the cronies who surround Chavez. He might even promise them they will never be subjected to Sean Penn’s idiocies again.

Most of all, Capriles can argue that Chavez has yet to give a convincing explanation of his health woes, which look suspiciously like advanced stage cancer. If that’s the case, Venezuelans may decide they will no longer live with Chavismo after Chavez departs this world.

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Hugo Chavez: “Let Them Drink Juice”

New York City isn’t the only place in the world where preventing the consumption of sugary sodas has become a political imperative. In his televised broadcast yesterday, Venezuela’s Comandante, Hugo Chavez, urged his viewers to safeguard their waistlines by ditching Coca-Cola and Pepsi in favor of a locally-produced fruit juice.

Reports the Associated Press:

Chavez says consumers should buy “Uvita,” a grape juice made by state-run Corpozulia as a means of increasing the consumption of Venezuelan-made products instead of buying sugary sodas made by foreign companies.

Venezuela’s socialist leader often dispenses advice to supporters during his marathon televised speeches, calling on them to eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol.

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New York City isn’t the only place in the world where preventing the consumption of sugary sodas has become a political imperative. In his televised broadcast yesterday, Venezuela’s Comandante, Hugo Chavez, urged his viewers to safeguard their waistlines by ditching Coca-Cola and Pepsi in favor of a locally-produced fruit juice.

Reports the Associated Press:

Chavez says consumers should buy “Uvita,” a grape juice made by state-run Corpozulia as a means of increasing the consumption of Venezuelan-made products instead of buying sugary sodas made by foreign companies.

Venezuela’s socialist leader often dispenses advice to supporters during his marathon televised speeches, calling on them to eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol.

In common with other forms of dictatorship, Chavismo is based on the idea that there is nothing more important than the relationship between the leader and his people — hence, Chavez believes it is his duty as well as his right to tell Venezuelans what to consume. No matter, then, that Chavez has yet to prove that the contents of “Uvita,” whose manufacturer’s mission is to “promote the socialist development of western Venezuela,” are in fact healthier than the imperialist soft drinks he bemoans. Such detail is doubtless a bourgeois trifle.

Still, many Venezuelans will be wondering why their leader is lecturing them about their own health when he hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about his own. When campaigning for October’s presidential election began in earnest last month, Chavez was dogged by speculation about his imminent death from cancer, further fueled by his continuous absences in Cuba for medical treatment. For his main opponent, the 40-year-old Henrique Capriles, the opportunity to contrast his own sculpted physique with that of the ailing, portly Chavez has been too good to pass up.

The strong impression that Capriles, a moderate social democrat, is eminently electable explains, at least in part, the air of desperation around the Chavez camp. In what may well be a sneak peek of the October election’s aftermath, everything is being rather hastily rigged or fixed to boost Chavez’s fortunes. The story of Chavez’s cancer has been fixed; he now claims to have banished the disease, although the infrequent and carefully-planned nature of his public appearances, along with his reluctance to divulge any actual details about his cancer, suggests otherwise.

Access to the airwaves has been rigged; despite a ruling from the toothless National Electoral Commission prohibiting TV and radio messages longer than three minutes, Chavez has contemptuously refused to stop his cadenas, the marathon broadcasts that last for hours, insisting at the same time that “The major part of the radios, television channels and newspapers are in the hands of the bourgeoisie.” The campaign messaging has been fixed; Chavez has compared Capriles with Mitt Romney — and also offered Barack Obama the dubious gift of an endorsement — by asserting that the lavish social spending programs he instituted will be wiped out in the event of a defeat. Because Venezuelans are already living with spiraling inflation, rising unemployment, and a crime epidemic that threatens to turn their country into a Latin American equivalent of Zimbabwe, they can be forgiven for thinking that outcome had already been reached.

The polls, too, are being fixed. While one poll shows that Chavez and Capriles are neck and neck, the others all predict a landslide for the Comandante. In a poll conducted in the northern state of Anzoátegui by IVAD, the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis, Chavez comes out an astonishing 30 points ahead. Writes Venezuela’s most perceptive dissident blogger, Daniel Duquenal:

Few states have been has battered as Anzoategui has been under Chavez. It holds the dubious distinction to be the state with the most blackouts, the worst roads, etc….  The fact of the matter is that in 2010 legislative election, the opposition made a grand slam in Anzoategui, surprising most pundits, some even did not expect the opposition to win there. And yet the latest IVAD gives Chavez ahead — which I can still buy, why not — but ahead by 30 points!!!!!!

Capriles should start making plans for a rigged election. As Duquenal points out, foreign election monitors from the European Union and the Organization of American States — denounced by Chavez as a tool of the U.S. — have already decided not to risk their reputations by being asked to endorse a crooked vote. Only former President Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center remains in the frame, and on this one Duquenal doesn’t pull any punches:

We know very well that the Carter Center et al. are basically useless, and quite often make things worse, because paradoxically in Venezuela veiled criticism has become indirect approval, such is the state of immorality and cynicism that the regime has reached.

Let’s hope someone in Atlanta is paying attention.

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