Hugo Chávez was re-elected president of Venezuela, a position he has held for 13 years, on Oct. 7. His re-election not only has grand implications on Venezuela and South America but also on the United States. Nevertheless, this significant event has seen little attention by both the U.S. media and its citizens.
In a phone call aired on state-run television around mid-evening during voting day, Chávez said these elections “will be a triumph for democracy” and asked that there be no violence.
However, all those familiar with Chávez and Venezuela know that there was nothing democratic about these elections; instead, they were riddled with corruption.
“Half of Venezuela is speechless,” engineer Alejandro Colmenarez, 32, told USA Today of the re-election of Chávez to a fourth term as president. “We were looking for something better after 14 years.”
Although there is no concrete evidence that corruption took place, there are indicators of Chávez’s unfair advantage.
Chávez’s opponent, Henrique Capriles, spoke against the re-elected president’s use of the country’s oil money as bribes to gain supporters in the form of “vote-buying” through giveaway programs targeted at the poor.
“The use of state oil funds for this kind of electioneering is driving Venezuela’s budget deficit for the year to the astounding level of 20 percent of GDP, an incredible figure for an oil-exporting economy at a time of very high oil prices,” Capriles said.
Chávez and his regime also control and manipulate the mass media in Venezuela, specifically the television system. Broadcasters covered hours of Chávez’s campaign trail but devoted limited coverage to Capriles’ campaign and events.
The Venezuelan government under Chávez also relies on a constant atmosphere of threats. Under Chávez, there have been high crime rates, and the police often do not provide protection but instead aid criminals.
Venezuela sits on the largest oil reserves in the world and is a major petroleum exporter to the United States. Despite this, Chávez’s problems with the U.S. are plentiful. Chávez is not only a supporter and admirer of Fidel Castro but is also allied with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also often rails against the U.S. and its “imperialist allies.”
Other countries in South America are following his lead, promoting corruption, socialist democracy and an anti-U.S. sentiment. In September, thousands of Argentines protested against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner due to corruption scandals, violent crime and her ever-tightening controls over the economy. Many Argentines fear the female populist president will do away with term limits and extend her rule due to her control of Congress.
As Americans, we have to pay attention to the lack of democracy and increased corruption in South America. While our relationship with Venezuela is rocky, our economic ties with them are important. With other South American powers following in Chávez’s footsteps, we can see possible long-term problems economically and in regards to foreign policy.
While South America is no Middle East, it cannot be ignored. We may find that our interest in the region is too little, too late.
Julia Greenwald is a sophomore in the School of Communication.