Miscalculations on Both Sides

David Smilde

Extending the period during which Hugo Chávez’s body will lie in state is understandable given the number of people who want to file past him. But in announcing yesterday that Chávez’s body would be embalmed and exhibited permanently like Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Min it seems like Nicolas Maduro overplayed his hand. Beyond the most radical government supporters very few Venezuelans admire the dictators of 20th C socialism. In fact for years the same polls that have shown Chavez with 55 to 60% approval show that the institutions of a pluralist, capitalist society are even more popular: the Catholic Church, private media companies, students and private industry. These polls also consistently show that Venezuelans choose liberal values over socialist values by a four to one margin. Core among the values of average Venezuelans is their ability to vote in elections and call their leaders to account.

The opposition once again took up a losing issue today when the announced they would boycott the special session of the National Assembly in which Nicolas Maduro will be sworn in. They are doing so in protest against the Supreme Justice Tribunal’s decision that Maduro could be named interim president and run for president. They suggest that constitutionally he is still vice president fulfilling presidential duties. He is not actually president, and therefore cannot go to elections from that position. That might be a reasonable legal argument. But the top court spoke on the matter and to average Venezuelans the ruling makes sense since Chávez ran for president while being president. Boycotting the special session on the same day as Chávez’s funeral makes them look like they are playing politics and out of synch with the population.