Venezuela's Opposition Ignores the Constitution

Article excerpt

Those trying to end the rule of Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela are having a very difficult - and protracted - time of it.

Coup and strike notwithstanding, the opposition has had no success because it has been unable to convince the world that the unwillingness to abide by Venezuela's laws and Constitution represent a defense of, not an attack on, democracy.

The opposition claims that Mr. Chavez is a dictator aiming for totalitarian control. But this jars with the complete political and journalistic freedom enjoyed in the country. The Chavez regime does not take political prisoners (unless they break the law, such as those who tried to oust him in April) and the local press is openly and militantly antigovernment.

The opposition also asserts that the struggle against Chavez is purely political, devoid of social or racial overtones. This is difficult to reconcile because the president's strongest support is among poor and mixed-race Venezuelans and the opposition is largely white and middle-to-upper class.

The arguments put forward by the anti-Chavez militants and their professed commitment to freedom and democracy don't tally with their willingness to disregard their Constitution and forgo traditional elections. They claim that if Chavez remains in power until the elections, in 2006, he'll either irreparably damage the economy or somehow make his rule permanent.

But this professed inability to defend their interests and forward their views in the regular give-and-take of politics rings hollow. Chavez's popularity has indeed diminished substantially since his election; the most reliable Venezuelan pollster Alfredo Keller puts it now at 36 percent. As the president's popularity decreases, and as long as he keeps operating within the legal and democratic framework, an equally legal and democratic opposition representing the majority of the population should have no difficulty making its preferences felt through the existing electoral system.

The Venezuelan opposition is no political orphan. Businesses, the privately owned-media, organized labor, and the traditional political parties are all solidly in its ranks. Even without waiting for 2006, the opposition has a multitude of legal and political means to make its power felt. …