Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is running to add another six years to his 14-year rule against youthful rival Henrique Capriles. During a television interview, Chavez decided to turn to one of his favorite subjects: the United States of America. "I hope this doesn't harm Obama, but if I was from the United States, I'd vote for Obama," said the bombastic socialist strongman.
Chavez, whose list of best friends on the world stage is a Who's Who of Human Rights abusers including Fidel Castro, Libya's Moammar Gaddafi, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Syria's Bashar al-Assad, went on to predict that "if Obama was from Barlovento or some Caracas neighborhood, he'd vote for Chavez." Barlovento is a poor, costal town in Venezuela whose residents are mostly descended from African slaves. He has made previous statements judging President Obama by his race, calling him a "shame" to all black people.
Due to the vitriol he spits out at America and its leaders and the friends that Chavez keeps (some of whom the Obama Administration has tried to overthrow), it is safe to say that Barack Obama would probably not cast a vote for Hugo Chavez. Despite the tight election, it is not likely that Chavez would need the extra support anyways. His opponent, center-right populist Henrique Capriles, is facing an uphill battle to unseat the long-time ruler.
Over the course of his controversial tenure, Chavez has dismantled Venezuela's private industry and undone most constitutional limits to his power. His state-run media has accused Capriles, a practicing Roman Catholic and the grandson of Jewish Holocaust survivors, of being a homosexual, a Nazi, a drug addict, and a puppet of Zionist imperialism. Chavez, who controls Venezuela's oil-fueled public finances, has threatened to nationalize banks and other private companies that support his political opponents and allegedly forbade military personnel from viewing any advertisements that feature the opposition.
Governor Capriles himself might have more in common with President Obama and Americans in general than Chavez does. The 40-year-old law graduate with an interesting background is viewed as a "rock star" by his supporters, giving uplifting speeches throughout his energetic grassroots campaign. Promising to pursue neoliberal policies while keeping some of Chavez's more popular social programs, the self-described "progressive" looks to Brazil as a model to follow. This stands in stark contrast to Chavez, who frequently cites Castro's Cuba as his ideal model for governance.
When Venezuelans go to the polls on October 7, they will have a choice between two futures: one that looks like Castro's Cuba, and one that looks like rising power Brazil. When Americans head to the polls a month later, let us be glad that our electoral system, despite its problems, is still not as corrupted and dangerous as that of Venezuela. Let us also be glad that our candidates, despite their defects, are not as reprehensible as Hugo Chavez.