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Chavistas: Spinning Victory Out of Defeat

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

With the narrow defeat of his proposed package of constitutional reforms in a referendum this weekend, Hugo Chávez failed in his brash attempt to tighten his personal grip on power and skip a few stages of the dialectical process toward Bolivarian utopia.

For a revolution whose political momentum seems to depend heavily on the rhetorical bluster of its bombastic leader, Chávez has not missed the opportunity to attempt to spin victory out of defeat, and neither have his supporters.

That Chavez's quick concession proves he is a democrat, not a dictator, was a common talking point. Never mind that the referendum he was pushing would have gutted Venezuela's democracy. In the aftermath of defeat, Chavistas are suddenly unsurpassed in their respect for the will of the people.

"Yes, in Venezuela we have a President that governs for the majority of the Venezuelans. President Chavez accepted his defeat," wrote one Elio Cequea of the pro-Chavez propaganda Web site VHeadline.com, in a piece purporting to explain the "10 things that were demonstrated" by the electoral vote.

Much was also made of the speed with which Chávez recognized his defeat, twisting the mere adherence to law into a heroic virtue. On another English-language Chavista organ, VenezuelaAnalysis.com, for example, Carlos Martinez wrote:

While many in the progressive community have been trying to argue that democracy is in fact alive and well in Venezuela for so long now, it has been a difficult argument to maintain with Chavez always on the winning side. Certainly, Chavez's concession of the vote and his request that those in favor of the SI recognize the results serves to delegitimize those that continue to call Chavez an "aspiring tyrant" . . .

Another, perhaps more plausible, corollary to the proposition that the referendum result proved Chavez's democratic bona fides is that it also proved that Venezuela is a real democracy (if only for the moment). And where boasting about Venezuela's democracy could be found, usually a little anti-American demagoguery was not far behind.

Venezuela's Ambassador to the United States, Bernardo Alvarez, got into the game, saying that the United States should send "anapology" for its claims about Chavez's intentions and recognize "the transparency of the electoral system andthe dynamic of participatory democracy in Venezuela."

Looking beyond the spin, however, for clues to what the future holds, it's clear that Chavez remains committed to continue his push toward "21st century socialism" regardless of what voters think.

As the blog Caracas Chronicles noted, in his Sunday night concession speech Chavez adopted the pose of a weary democrat who was gracefully accepting the will of the people. Still, "his tone [was] conciliatory, but his message wasn't. He wasn't raving at the top of his lungs like he usually does, but what he had to say was no less aggressive for it.

"The essence of Chavez's concession speech was: sod the lot of you, I'm gonna do it anyway. If what he used to call 'the sovereign people' don't like his constitutional reforms, that's neither here nor there to him: sooner or later, one way or another, he'll get there."

When not adhering to the talking points about Chavez's democratic virtue, at least some Chavistas seemed to concur. In his breakdown of Chavez's speech, Gregory Wilpert, the editor of VenezuelaAnalysis.com, agreed that Chavez signaled that his bending to the will of the people would only be temporary.

[Chavez said he] would not withdraw "a single comma" from the proposal. The proposal "is still alive," said Chavez, because this "is not a defeat - this is another 'for now,'" he added, referring to his famous remark during his failed 1992 coup attempt, when he said that the military uprising he led had also failed "for now." "We know how to convert apparent defeats into moral victories."

Chavez closed by saying that one of the proposals in the reform project, the plan to create a social security fund for workers in the informal economy, would still be implemented as soon as possible.

In another post today, Caracas Chronicles noted that indeed Chavez quickly dispensed with his conciliatory posture:

This afternoon, Chávez turned up unannounced at the Military High Command's press conference and totally freaked out. Less than 72 hours after his "graceful" election night concession speech, the all too predictable Narcissistic Rage response began. He called the opposition's referendum win "a triumph made of shit," using the word "mierda" four times in two sentences on national TV. I mean, you know things have come to a head when Reuter's has to put the journalistic equivalent of a parental advisory at the start of its write up.

Don't expect Chávez to stand idly by respecting the will of the people for very long.