An optimistic Chávez visited Raúl Castro this weekend and shouted “¡Viva Cuba!, ¡Viva Fidel! y ¡Viva Raúl!” at La Habana airport. They met for a “visit of work” after a referendum gave the “Sí” to the possibility of an infinite reelection to the president of Venezuela. Though the “Yes” won, nobody of the happy Chávez supporters have underlined that “No” was also a meaningful number with 45.63 percent and an absence of 32.95 percent. If we sum that, it is 78.58 percent.
The 1999 Venezuelan Constitution gave the possibility to a president for a second reelection. With this 2009 referendum, the Venezuelan president can be reelected as much as he wants, without a limit.
The “Yes” to the reform got 56.36 percent that means 6 million 3 thousand 594 votes. That new constitutional formula is actually odd in the history of all the American nations – with the exception of Cuba and its particular communist democracy in the West Hemisphere. Surely, it will be imitated soon by those countries with an open alliance to Caracas like Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua and, maybe, like countries that have contrast policies with Venezuela like Colombia.
Proving long term presidents
It is also a proof that politics have changed in Latin American in the last decades and are tending to the strength of the figure of the president. The experiment is at its beginning and results will take time to be evaluated. However, it is possible to see that the centralization of the figure of a president is more linked to the development of a more long-term political project, something that was lacking in the past.
In the case of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe two-terms were rooted in the so call “Democratic Security”. Out of ideological considerations and many critics to that political scheme, the project has won spaces in the troublesome nation in the last eight years like the empowerment of the Colombian institutions and the evident weaken of armed illegal groups.
In the case of Ecuador and Bolivia, Rafael Corréa and Evo Morales could stabilize politics after a long time of uncertainties and lack of unity. The popularity of Correa in his country is a proof of the capacity of the president to command a national project. As for Morales, the strong opposition has been the test of his ideals.
That model only in Africa
But a system based in the figure of a strong president is not fully sympathetic. For the Venezuelan politic analyst Luis de León the referendum that allowed an unlimited presidential election has comparison only to some African nations like Chad, Gabon and Cameron, while France, a country that has been mentioned by Chávez as an example of unlimited elections, actually has only two possibilities, according to de León.
“Politically is demonstrated that it is a high risk the weaken of the presidential authority at the end of the second term. At the same time, the limitation in the number of presidential terms has the intention to favor the renovation of persons and political ideals. The risk of the fatigue of action after two periods in the presidency – Chávez would be 14 years as a president in 2013, only bring to the growing of distance between the first national leader and the rhythm of the society.” (Luis de León: “La reelección indefinida en el nuevo siglo XXI”, Analítica Premium, Jan 31st 2009)
Long-term presidents will become the new political experiment of Latin America. But the experiment could be costly if it is not based in a project thought to strengthen democracy, something that lost necessary the enough air in a political atmosphere dominated for a single leader.
The answer should be the equilibrium brought by an active opposition. In the case of Venezuela, Chávez has played a socialist demagogy trying to demerit opposition when showing it as bourgeoisie and accusing it in key moments – like the one of the referendum, of coup attempts. As an ironic similitude, president Uribe of Colombia has done something similar: any opposition is showed – at the other side of Venezuela, as Farc sympaties. That, of course, comes to be normal when a president reaches the line of populism and is presented like the “superman” of the history.
What is more important than the unlimited election of a president, is the unlimited election of a real democratic project.