1998 That election saw Chávez beating his nearest rival by 16 percentage points, 56 percent to 40 percent, in a vote that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter called “a remarkable demonstration of democracy in its purest form.”
In 2000, in a re-election required by the new Venezuelan constitution, Chávez increased his winning margin, 60 percent to 38 percent.
A 1999 referendum backed by Chávez, which called for the convening of a constituent assembly to draft a new Venezuelan constitution, passed with 72 percent of the vote,
A legislative election in December 2005 ended with a twist when four opposition parties decided to withdraw their candidates, allowing Chávez allies to win virtually all the seats.
A few years later, in April 2002, following Chávez’s re-election by an even greater margin, Times editors cheered a coup against Chávez by Venezuelan elites (Extra! Update, 6/02), declaring in Orwellian fashion that ...thanks to the overthrow of the elected president, “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.”
For Pedro Carmona—the man who took power in Chávez’s brief absence, declaring an actual dictatorship by dismissing the Venezuelan legislature, Supreme Court and other democratic institutions—Times editors had much nicer language, calling the former head of Venezuela’s chamber of commerce “a respected business leader.
Following Chávez’s return to office a few days later, Times editors issued a grudging reappraisal of their coup endorsement (Extra! Update!, 6/02). Still insisting that Chávez was “a divisive and demagogic leader,” the editors averred that the forcible removal of a democratically elected leader “is never something to cheer.”
Even putative liberal commentators
- Juan Williams said of Venezuela, “What you’re seeing there is really communism.”
- Begala told host Brian Lehrer that Chávez was “an autocrat, not a democrat,” and said he had “a terrible human rights record.”
- Carville told Lehrer, “I’ve worked in Venezuela and I would be very reluctant to call Chávez a democrat.”
- What Carville didn’t say was that he worked in Venezuela as an advisor to Venezuelan opposition groups leading an economically devastating strike by managers of the national oil company in an effort to destabilize the government (Washington Post, 1/20/03).
Despite the U.S. bankrolling some of the opposition groups organizing the recall through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the secretive Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), Chávez retained his office with 58 percent of the vote (Christian Science Monitor, 2/6/06).*
Though the OAS and Carter Center certified the recall referendum as fair, some opposition groups, like the anti-Chávez, NED-funded Sumate, charged (and continue to charge) a fraudulent vote tally.
Sumate is not an “election-monitoring group,” but a prominent political opposition group that spearheaded the recall. The group’s co-founder, María Corina Machado, was a coup supporter who signed the 2002 Carmona Decree that suspended Venezuela’s democracy. No actual election monitoring group challenged the referendum’s official results (Miami Herald, 7/8/05).