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December 5, 2007

Venezuela: A New Player in the Mix

The Venezuelan government lost its constitutional amendment referendum in a national vote Dec. 2, emboldening the opposition and dealing President Hugo Chavez his first electoral defeat since he took office a decade ago. This is hardly the end of the line for Chavez, but something new is taking shape in the country: a competent and capable opposition.


Contrary to Venezuelan government predictions, a constitutional referendum that would have consolidated President Hugo Chavez’s power has failed by a slim margin, reports indicate. This is the first electoral defeat for Chavez since he became president in 1997; he has survived not only elections but also recall referendums and even a coup. What makes this vote different, however, is not that Chavez lost, but how he lost.


Chavez’s inability to stamp out the embers of opposition has raised hope among his detractors — many of whom call him “the world’s worst dictator” — that he will one day make one mistake too many and be swept aside.


Stratfor does not agree with this assessment. Although he is personally unpredictable and many aspects of his rule are erratic, as a political operator, Chavez is among the savviest we have ever seen. His use of oil revenues to solidify his power base and export his ideology has proven remarkably successful, and the arming of his Chavistas with automatic weapons has hugely mitigated the chance that any “People Power” revolution can displace him. (Do not confuse these comments with an endorsement; being a competent power broker is not the same as being a competent leader.)

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