A Chilean view of Venezuela

Andres Velasco, who was finance minister during Michelle Bachelet’s government (2006-2010), is sometimes mentioned as a possible presidential candidate. Now a visiting professor at Columbia University, he recently published an opinion piece on Project Syndicate comparing the presidential campaign of Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles to the “no” campaign against General Augusto Pinochet’s one man presidential plebiscite in 1988.

Some background:  many Chileans who fled the country during the Pinochet regime received political asylum in Venezuela. Back then Venezuela was one of the few countries in the region with free elections and civilian-led governments, while Chile and most of its South American neighbors were ruled by military dictators. The center-left Concertacion coalition which governed Chile for two decades after Pinochet left the presidency had good relations with Hugo Chavez, and even Sebastian Piñera’s conservative administration manages to do the same.

Bachelet, one diplomat told me, had “a soft spot for Chavez.”  According to some accounts, her government was leaning toward supporting Venezuela’s 2006 bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, but ultimately opted to abstain.  The following year the Iberoamerican Summit was held in Santiago, where Chavez repeatedly tried to interrupt the Spanish prime minister’s speech, prompting King Juan Carlos’s famous utterance, “why don’t you shut up!”  This and other incidents over the past few years served to erode Chilean views of the Venezuelan leader and Velasco’s judgement is one of the harshest yet.  He writes

The campaign headquarters of opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles feels and looks a lot like the headquarters of the “No” campaign against Chile’s military dictator of a quarter-century ago, Augusto Pinochet.

Back then, very few people outside Chile thought that a ruthless dictator could be removed through the ballot box.

But the democratic opposition prevailed in the 1988 plebiscite, and Pinochet had to go.

Today, many in the global chattering classes are similarly sceptical that Venezuela’s political opposition can unseat the demagogic populist Hugo Chavez in the country’s presidential election on October 7. After all, Mr Chavez, who has governed Venezuela since 1999 and is in his third presidential term, maintains an iron grip over much of the country’s media and keeps an open wallet to pay for popular support.

To read Velasco’s article: