Chavez triumphs in Venezuela
Since there was no significant opposition, the victory of the Chavista "Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement" candidates for Congress last Sunday was anti-climactic. Not many people will take his victory very seriously, however. As A.M. Mora y Leon, one of the pro-democracy bloggers at publiuspundit.com put it, "WHAT IF THEY GAVE AN ELECTION AND NOBODY CAME?" He witnessed the abysmally low turnout in Caracas, and provided background on the controversy surrounding the government's intended use of fingerprint identification devices. Since there are many documented cases of government opponents facing harrassment and violence, voters had good reason to suspect how such new technology might be used to track them down. In his post-election follow-up report, he relayed the fear and depressed sentiments of many Venezuelan people, now that Chavez has established himself as a virtual dictator. According to observers from the EU, however, the election was fair and square: "For us, there was transparency in the electoral process,' said [Jose] Silva [of Portugal], who oversaw about 160 observers." See CNN.com. Well, there's no reason to cheat if there is no competition, right?
Now that the center-right opposition parties have given up on what remained of the democratic process in Venezuela, the possibilities for an eventual accommodation have narrowed even further. After trying and failing to oust Chavez via a general strike (December 2003-January 2004) and then in a referendum (August 2004), they have basically shut themselves out of the nation's political life. There is an analysis of the opposition movement's future prospects at BBC.com. According to political scientist Margarita Lopez-Maya, "The opposition in Venezuela has committed suicide by boycotting the elections."
In another troubling incident, the government blamed the opposition for an election day explosion that damaged a pipeline that provides more than a third of the oil to the giant Paraguana refining complex.
Election eve in Chile
The presumptive victor in tomorrow's presidential election in Chile, Michelle Bachelet, stands poised to shake her country's traditions to its very roots. She would be the first woman elected president in South America, and is a single mother, in fact. (Isabela Peron succeeded to the top office after her husband Juan died, and a woman briefly held that office in Ecuador a few years ago.) She is an avowed socialist, becoming active in politics under the regime of Salvador Allende, and is an agnostic in a country that has long been culturally conservative. That does not mean she is without faith, however: She declared "I believe in the state." Yikes. See Washington Post. Ricardo Lagos and other left-leaning presidents in recent years have pursued relatively moderate economic policies, being smart enough not to ruin the incredible accomplishments that were brought about under the authoritarian tutelage of dictator Augusto Pinochet. Whether Ms. Bachelet maintains that record is an open question. It will also be interesting to see how she handles the recent martime jurisdiction dispute with Peru.
Talks with rebels in Colombia
President Uribe says his government will begin negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN). They are the lesser-known guerrilla movement in Colombia, reputedly less vicious than FARC, and apparently not so deeply enmeshed in the narcotics trade. Their willingness to negotiate may be related to being short on funds. President Uribe ordered the ELN leader Francisco Galan released from prison in September as an olive branch gesture. At least Uribe has stronger credentials than his predecessor Andres Pastrana did, and therefore is more likely to get something in exchange for such concessions. See CNN.com.