Since Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was announced the victor Sunday night in his closely-watched bid for reelection, conservatives and libertarians across America have, predictably, sneered. They disdain Chavez for a range of reasons — his inclination toward state control of the economy, his blusterous style, and so forth. Certainly, Chavez should not be immune to criticism. He has suppressed dissent within his borders, interfered with press freedoms, and I’d wager that spending 18 years in high office — the length of time he’ll have served after the new term concludes — will inevitably breed governmental corruption and resentment among the populace, especially for younger people who may come to view him as a stubborn old autocrat clinging to power, not South America’s savior.
But as usual with the American Right, their criticisms seem largely in bad faith. Dissent is constantly suppressed in our own country, for instance — often by militarized police under the direction of federal authorities, as is the case with the Occupy movement. Here, when high-ranking agents of the state assault nonviolent citizens, they are not punished. Instead, Americans’ ostensible First Amendment right to assemble peaceably is withdrawn at the pleasure of municipal authorities, without regard for the rule of law. The New York City police department has abused, harassed, and arbitrarily arrested dozens of journalists attempting to cover Occupy-related activity in just the past year. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the police officers under his command have so subverted legal norms that human rights lawyers issued a study this summer calling on the United Nations to intervene.
That’s not all. The high-ball estimate of voter turnout for the U.S. presidential election in 2008 was 63% — meaning 63% of eligible voters cast ballots. In Venezuela yesterday, an estimated 81% of voters turned out. And yet right-wing Americans, who have endeavored to diminish voter turnout domestically by advocating officious (and in practice, racially-disparate) Voter I.D. laws throughout the country have the gall to lecture and scoff at Venezuela about what constitutes healthy democracy? Especially when, as the National Journal reported last week, most U.S. voters “now just want Washington to hurt them less than usual”?
Chavez defeated his rival by ten percentage points — a quite resounding victory. Despite the many problems that plague Venezuela, he is clearly revered by much of the citizenry. The Terra news service quoted an elated woman:
“I’m celebrating with a big heart,” said Mary Reina, a 62-year-old Chavez supporter who lives in the hillside slum where the president cast his vote.
“Chavez is the hope of the people and of Latin America.”
Rather than try to empathize with or understand this emotion, the American right-wing opts to just sling mud. Tim Miller, Deputy Communications Director at the Republican National Committee and former spokesman for presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, asserted the following on Twitter: “Obama supporter Hugo Chavez has won his reelection.”