Hugo's Next Move: Kill the Media
That was the message that went out Sunday night to all members of the Anti-Chavez group on Facebook. As if it needs any translation: "We win."
Sunday's victory for the myriad opponents of Hugo Chavez's totalitarian grab in Venezuela is undoubtedly sweet, but the win for freedom and liberty at the ballot box will likely be short-lived - as the blow is felt hardest by a megalomaniac who's not used to defeat.
Chavez's way of dealing with disappointment is unbalanced at best and psychotic at worst. One short rebuke from King Juan Carlos, and Chavez nearly declares war on Spain. Three weeks after the king barked the now-legendary "Por que no te callas?" at a blabbering Chavez, the Venezuelan leader was vowing to seize Spanish financial institutions at a Friday rally in Caracas. After all, his socialist vision is that much better if he can settle the score in personal vendettas along the way.
Even though wire reports state that Chavistas were driving through streets with bullhorns trying to round up voters like sheep and were trying to scare opposition poll watchers away from voting stations, Chavez will claim that the 56 percent voter turnout is the reason he lost. He'll claim that those other 44 percent of Venezuelans, if indeed that number is correct, were really on his side yet were intimidated by opposition forces such as Roman Catholic clergy.
At that Friday rally, Chavez even set up the conspiracy theory behind the defeat he likely feared: It's all the fault of the U.S. No need to give any details; just that "the empire" had written plans to destabilize the Chavez machine before and after the referendum. But if Chavez plays up those conspiracy theories to the hilt, he could begin the week as he promised he would - by halting oil shipments - if it was perceived in his increasingly paranoid mind that the U.S. meddled in the referendum.
Chavez is a man more hell-bent on trying to toy with the U.S. - be it through his alliance with Iran or throwing a hissy fit at American ally Colombia - than bringing any true benefit to the Venezuelan people. "I swear to God and to my mother that if I have to take up an assault rifle to defend my country, I will again," Chavez told the rally crowd. "Our victory this Sunday is a defeat to our enemy, the North American empire."
After he spends time pondering his referendum defeat - and, of course, all of the conspiracies that led to it, considering he's more obsessed with "the empire" than a "Star Wars" groupie - Chavez will slowly, surely, take what he originally wanted by force. He will justify this by calling his 2006 re-election a mandate for his "Bolivarian revolution," referendum or no referendum.
"We should be alert to the possibility that these changes will be imposed through a different route than the constitution," former Chavez ally and ex-Defense Minister Raul Isaias Baduel said on Globovision after the results were announced.
Who will be the first victim of Chavez's tighter, crushing grip on the nation? The entity that, in his mind, orchestrated Sunday's defeat: the independent media.
In an ominous sign of things to come, Chavez swore Friday that he would shut down Globovision - the last independent TV station in Venezuela since Chavez shuttered Radio Caracas TV earlier this year, and the station that has been in his crosshairs ever since - and kick foreign journalists out of the country if they "break rules" in covering the referendum. This is Hugo-speak for any coverage that may not have presented Chavez's slate of 69 "reforms" in anything less than a rosy red, socialism-loving light.
"If any international channel comes here to take part in an operation from the imperialist against Venezuela, your reporters will be thrown out of the country, they will not be able to work here," Chavez said Friday. "People at CNN, listen carefully: This is just a warning."
Since the beginning of the year, according to Reporters Without Borders, Chavez has funded or promoted the launch of approximately 60 community newspapers. He'd be more than happy to let these propaganda rags and mouthpieces such as Tves, which he put on the air to replace RCTV, be the source of Bolivarian-sanitized information for Venezuelans.
Ganamos, for today. But tomorrow, those who cherish democracy, freedom and human rights have to be ready for the next fight. And hopefully, this victory will galvanize the opposition to be even stronger the next time around.
"I ask all of you to go home, know how to handle your victory," Chavez said Sunday night. "You won it. I wouldn't have wanted that Pyrrhic victory."
The Hugo-speak translation? You may have won, but you'd better watch out.
Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.