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A Last, Best Hope For Venezuela

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez calls him a pig, a Nazi and other names that don’t pass our strict, family-friendly editorial policies here at Via Meadia, but in spite of all that, and in spite of Chávez’ shameless and blatant use of state resources and media power, challenger Henrique Capriles is making a surprisingly strong run in the Venezuelan presidential race that ends with an election on October 7.

The FT reports that the President and the challenger are neck and neck in the polls, and that momentum appears to lie with Capriles who wants Venezuela to follow Brazil’s example rather than Cuba’s.

This is all very heartening and we wish Mr. Capriles every success. But as nobody knows better than the candidate and his staff, they are facing a totally ruthless and unscrupulous opponent determined to hang onto power at all costs, and backed by a fierce (and fiercely corrupt) political machine that will stop at nothing to win.

I remember I once asked Robert Strauss, then US ambassador to Russia, whether Boris Yeltsin would be able to catch up with his opponent in a re-election campaign where Yeltsin started out a considerable distance behind. “Well,” said the ambassador in his strong Texan accent, “I know ol’ Boris pretty well, and all he has to do is to get within what we in Texas call ‘stealing distance.’ And I think Boris can do that.”

Hugo Chávez also looks to be well within stealing distance, and he is at least as determined as Boris Yeltsin was to win. If he and his machine actually allow an honest count and an honest election and give up power peacefully if they lose, we will be both pleased and surprised. As it is, we admire Mr. Capriles and salute his courage and we hope that Venezuela somehow manages to draw back from the abyss into which Chávez hopes to drag it. But if Capriles ever hopes to wear the presidential sash, he knows he must win convincingly at the polls—and even then, his chances of a peaceful and uncontested inauguration are slim.

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