A Democratic Dictator?

How many legitimate elections must Hugo Chávez win before the international media accepts him as a democratic leader? The day after Venezuela went to the polls in what have subsequently been accepted as free and fairly fought elections, the Guardian published a survey asking the question ‘Do you approve of Hugo Chávez?’i with two possible answers:

1) ¡Viva la revolución chavista!
2) No, Chávez es un dictador

The implication of this question is that Chávez is a dictator whether you support him or not, a suggestion that is intellectually limited. Such reductionism is both inaccurate and unhelpful in analyzing Venezuela’s democratic process. Unfortunately, this cartoonist representation is by no means an exception in the international media’s coverage of Venezuelan politics.

Despite being meant at least partly in jest, the Guardian’s survey is reflective of the superficial nature of the general debate on Venezuela. Rarely is it acknowledged that there might in fact be myriad reasons for choosing to vote for or against Chávez. The extremely loyal and almost universal support for Chávez among Venezuela’s poor is commonly dismissed as a result of the bias of state media or the appeal of a populist leader. This patronizing intimation crucially ignores the significant social advances made by Venezuela’s poor under Chávez’s leadership.

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