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Demagogic Cloud in Venezuela

Faced with the prospect of an unsuccessful but unrepentant coup leader winning Sunday’s presidential election, the two dominant Venezuelan political parties have abandoned their choices and rallied behind Henrique Salas, the only democratic candidate who stands a chance.

With the endorsement of the powerful center-left Democratic Action Party and the equally powerful center-right Christian Democrats, Salas, a Yale-educated economist and former governor, has united Venezuela’s progressive forces in the fight against Hugo Chavez, a populist and dangerous demagogue who holds a substantial lead in the polls.

In 1992, Chavez, then a 44-year-old paratroop colonel, led a failed but bloody coup d’etat against President Carlos Andres Perez and spent time in prison for the attempt. The same scorn for democratic process is evident in his campaign: Chavez has threatened to exact revenge against his political enemies and rewrite the constitution to give the president greater power. His campaign is a stew of populism, demagoguery and machismo. Chavez is barred for life from entering the United States because the State Department considers him a terrorist. What kind of leader is this?

The economic and political crisis in Venezuela calls for vision, wisdom and character, qualities absent in the outgoing president, 82-year-old Rafael Caldera, who sought to revive Venezuela’s standard of living by eliminating corruption in the administration of state-owned petroleum reserves. That goal collapsed with plunging world oil prices.

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Caldera also committed a phenomenal political blunder when he freed the participants of the 1992 coup attempt, including the resurgent Chavez. Neither of these political figures has served his country faithfully or well.

Salas, the compromise candidate, has demonstrated during his two terms as governor of Carabobo state that he is an able administrator and a sensible politician. He is Venezuela’s best hope for democracy rather than demagoguery.


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