Hugo Chavez Acts True to Form

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 15, 2012

There is a presidential campaign going on in Venezuela, and despite the Chavez regime’s authoritarian control over the media, and over political institutions in the country, Chavez feels threatened by his main rival.

So in response, Chavez does precisely what longtime Chavez watchers expect him to do. He slimes and smears:

Allies of Hugo Chávez have begun a smear campaign against the opposition’s candidate for the Venezuelan presidency – while a row over voter lists has heightened fears that supporters of Henrique Capriles could face reprisals in their employment and personal lives.

Chávez’s supporters have been casting doubt on the legitimacy of the vote to select Capriles, questioning his sexuality and disparaging his Jewish roots after his landslide win at the Democratic Unity coalition’s primary on Sunday.

Senior officials and state media have led the attack, denouncing Capriles – a 39-year-old state governor who wants to be Venezuela’s youngest leader – as “bourgeois” and “fascist”.

“Now we know who is the candidate of imperialism, of capitalism and the right wing,” said congress leader Diosdado Cabello, a former military comrade and longtime staunch supporter of the socialist president. “The anti-patriotic candidate has a face. He won’t have an easy election campaign.”

Capriles is the grandson of Jews who survived the second world war Holocaust in Poland. He defines himself as a centre-left progressive favouring free-market economics with a strong social conscience.

The most furious accusations have come from state media commentator Mario Silva, who often targets Chávez’s foes on his late night TV show The Razorblade. Silva insulted opposition leaders and then read out a purported police document reporting Capriles was caught in a car having sex with another man in 2000.

Capriles denied the allegation and said the document was falsified. Police have not commented.

Another state radio commentator, Adal Hernandez, wrote a vitriolic profile of Capriles, highlighting his Jewish family background and titled The Enemy Is Zionism. Capriles, a practising Catholic, has not responded to the profile.

I trust no further commentary is needed to detail just how disgusting this is, though I am sure that certain stupid and ignorant fans of Chavez will actually need to have it explained to them why attacking Henrique Capriles for his alleged sexual orientation, and his Jewish roots is a bad thing.

UPDATE: More signs that the Chavez campaign plans on intimidating those who vote against it:

A furor has erupted in Venezuela over voter secrecy in an opposition primary election held on Sunday to choose a candidate to run against President Hugo Chávez, with political leaders expressing fear that the government might seek reprisals against voters if their names are publicized.

The nation’s highest court on Tuesday ordered the opposition coalition that organized the primary to turn over to the government records containing the names of the more than three million people who participated.

The voters overwhelmingly selected Henrique Capriles Radonski, a 39-year-old state governor, to take on Mr. Chávez in a general election scheduled for Oct. 7.

But the organizers of the primary said they would resist the court order and had already burned almost all of the books that voters used to sign in at polling places, as they had publicly pledged to do to safeguard the voters’ anonymity.

“We are protecting the identity of all the voters,” said Teresa Albanes, who was in charge of the primary operation for the opposition coalition, Democratic Unity.

Speaking to reporters outside the Supreme Court building, she called the court’s order excessive, adding that the group’s intention to destroy the voter names was made public months earlier and was not opposed by the government electoral commission.

There is no legitimate reason whatsoever why the names are needed. If they were needed, then why did the electoral commission not protest from the outset when the opposition announced its intention to destroy the lists of voter names? Not that such protests would serve to prove that the names were needed, but at the very least, there would be a hint of plausibility to the Chavez camp’s claims that the names are needed if a protest had been issued at the time the opposition made its announcement.

As the New York Times story goes on to indicate, this is not the first time this kind of controversy has reared its head:

The confrontation has its roots in a 2004 referendum in which the opposition unsuccessfully sought to remove Mr. Chávez from office. To get the referendum on the ballot, the opposition submitted to the election authorities more than three million signatures. A pro-Chávez legislator, Luis Tascón, posted the names online.

The opposition says it became a blacklist used to identify Mr. Chávez’s opponents. Many people said they lost their jobs with government agencies or were cut off from assistance programs because their names appeared on the Tascón list, as it is known.

Oh, and there is more. As Juan Carlos Hidalgo notes, voting in Venezuela is not done by secret ballot, which means that anti-Chavez voters are further subject to persecution for casting ballots against Chavez. Recipients of government handouts are threatened with the cancellation of benefits in the event that they dissent against Chavez. And there is the following as well:

. . . Chávez also controls Venezuela’s National Electoral Council. Due to the inability of the opposition to monitor every voting station in the country, the stated results of the vote may not be accurate. The Electoral Council usually takes longer than is necessary to tabulate voting results from electronic systems, which has raised concerns of fraudulent activity.

A main concern is the electoral registry, as documented by Gustavo Coronel in a Cato studyback in 2006. Coronel wrote that an independent analysis of the electoral registry found many irregularities:

such as the existence of 39,000 voters over one hundred years old. This is a number equal to that of the same age group in the United States, where the population is 10 times greater. Of these 39,000 people, 17,000 were born in the 19th century, and one is 175 years old and still working! Nineteen thousand voters were born the same day and year in the state of Zulia. There are thousands of people sharing the same address.

So on top of the support of his followers (some enthusiastic, others intimidated), which fluctuates around 45 percent of the population, Chávez can also rely on a margin of error due to electoral fraud if he doesn’t get enough votes for his reelection. I’ve talked to some Venezuelans who say this margin can be as high as eight percentage points. That is, if the election is decided by less than that (very likely the case), Chávez can doctor the results in his favor.

Why anyone would support a tyrant with this kind of record of crushing democratic dissent is beyond me. But eternal shame and disgrace ought to be the fate of those who do.

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