Venezuela’s free, fair and peaceful presidential election — won again by Hugo Chávez — has restored the confidence of the world in Latin American democracy after the constitutional overthrow of President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay in June this year and the unconstitutional removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. The immediate and graceful acceptance of the people's verdict by Henrique Capriles, the loser, and his message of congratulations to Chávez, augur well for the future of the Venezuelan democracy.
The reelection of Chávez for a third successive term is indubitable proof of the empowerment of the masses of the region. It is the poor and the lower middle class who are setting the political and economic agenda of Latin America by electing Leftist leaders. Conscious of this, even centre-right governments in the continent are strongly committed to inclusive growth.
Though some are apprehensive that Chávez might use his new mandate to further damage the private sector, chances are he will tone down his radicalism and moderate his approach. Why? Because of the reduction in his victory margin, the uncertainty of his health, and the emergence of Caprilles as a credible alternative who won 45 per cent of the vote by reassuring the electorate that he would continue the good parts of Chavez's pro-poor policies.
More importantly, Caprilles's promise to bring Venezuela to the mainstream of Latin America which is moving towards a pragmatic centre with a balance of pro-poor and pro-market policies is appealing even to Chávistas who are tired of his excessive radicalism, unnecessary confrontation and poor management of the resources and economy. It was heartening to see Chávez extend a hand of reconciliation by inviting Capriles to the presidential palace.
Some fear that Chávez's victory based on his model of ideological polarisation might give rise to more Chávista presidents. But his model has already reached its peak and has been losing appeal steadily in the region. This was evident from the case of Ollanta Humala, fellow leftist leader from Peru. Chavez's support was the kiss of death for Humala during the 2006 Peruvian elections. Besides asking Peruvians to vote for Humala, Chávez went further and openly attacked his opponent Alan Garcia. Humala, who was till then leading in the opinion polls, lost the elections unexpectedly since Peruvian voters resented the aggressive interference of Chávez. In the 2011 elections, Humala shunned the patronage of Chávez, remade himself as the Peruvian Lula, espoused pragmatism and won the elections. Similarly, when José Mujica, the former guerrilla leader of Uruguay, ran for president in 2009, the Opposition scared voters by calling him as a Uruguayan Chávez. But Mujica got over this hurdle by promising to be a Uruguayan Lula and got elected. The defeat of the radical leftist candidate Manuel López Obrador in the June 2012 Mexican elections is also a message to the Latin American Left that radicalism is not a ticket to power. Even Daniel Ortega, the authentic Marxist President of Nicaragua, has become business-friendly, moderate and pragmatic.
Indian, Chinese markets
One of the long-term achievements of Chávez is the diversification of his country’s trade and economic partnerships. Before him, Venezuela was dependent on the U.S. for over 80 per cent of its oil exports. Now, China and India have become the second and third largest markets with 30 per cent and 15 per cent of the share. Reliance has just signed a contract on September 25 for long-term purchase of 300,000-400,000 barrels per day (which is over 10 per cent of India’s total crude imports). Reliance has also expressed interest in exploration and production in Venezuela. The Oil And Natural Gas Corporation Limited is already investing in two oil fields there. This is good for the Indian strategy of diversification of oil imports and investment in these days of uncertainties caused by the Arab Spring and sanctions on Iran.
(R. Viswanathan, who was India’s Ambassador to Venezuela in 2000-2003, hosts a website www.businesswithlatinamerica.com and blogs, tweets and gives talks on Latin America.)