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Hugo Chavez Can't Kill Hope in Venezuela

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With Sunday's election results, it is clear that President Hugo Chavez has been dealt a significant blow by the people of Venezuela.

Gone is his super majority in parliament with its rubber-stamp willingness to enact Chavez's program. Also gone, perhaps, is the idea of the conquering revolutionary, remaking Venezuela in his own image.

Now Chavez is looking at 2012, his next re-election challenge, through the prism of this loss. While the AP reports that Chavez remains the most popular politician in the country, the opposition's victory in these elections is sure to shift the political stage.

A unity candidate is likely to emerge from the opposition ranks - giving Venezuelans a real possibility of change in the presidential election of 2012.

This Sunday's election confirmed that after 10 years of increasing authoritarianism, rampant violence, and an economy on the verge, Venezuelans are desperately seeking real democracy, a working economy and liberty from the capricious rule of the Comandante.

This election is important not just as a sign of the wavering power of Chavez, but also of the changes to the political realities in the country. While Chavez has consolidated much government control in his hands, including unleashing a campaign to intimidate the judiciary and the media, his power-grab has come at a high cost.

As if the tragic state of the Venezuelan economy, with the lowest growth rate in and highest inflation rate in Latin America, was not enough of a hit to the impoverished citizenry, the country is also awash in violence. According to Reuters:

With one of the world's highest homicide rates, violent crime is the top concern of Venezuelans, polls show.

The government has not published official murder figures for several years. Nongovernmental organizations, citing leaked police statistics and media reports, say that between 13,000 and 16,000 people were killed last year.

Chavez denied on Thursday that Venezuela was high on the list of most dangerous countries, but did not give statistics.

While the irony of a major oil exporting nation, reaping billions of dollars a year in profits, falling into economic chaos is lost on no one, the deep economic and personal insecurity felt by many people is a reputation-crushing example of Chavez' basic inability to govern the country.

Chavez's economic policies have mired Venezuela in recession and misery. Corruption of his officials is legend. And the mounting evidence of Chavez's involvement in Colombia's narco-fueled civil war begs the question: why does he not pay more attention to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans?

A self-proclaimed big player on the world stage, Chavez can't even generate enough electricity to keep the lights on. Rolling blackouts impact the whole country, from the modest homes of the poor to the country's Presidential Palace (which suffered a blackout in the middle of one of Chavez's multi-hour tirades on national television).

It's no wonder, therefore, that the historically divided Venezuelan opposition is finally united in trying to democratically topple Chavez and his "socialist revolution."

In a desperate act a few months ago, as Chavez and his government saw the opinion polls that would culminate in yesterday's opposition victory, he pathetically tried to change the subject by desecrating Simon Bolivar's tomb. Chavez wants to investigate, he says, how the icon of Latin American Independence was killed - was he poisoned while in exile in Colombia in the 19th century?

For most people living in Venezuela trying to survive another day, avoiding gunshots in Caracas, looking for basic foodstuffs, stretching meager paychecks that are mercilessly consumed by inflation, the death of Bolivar is totally irrelevant.

It would seem that after 10 years of the Chavez show, Venezuelans are no longer entertained. People are looking for a real solution to the country's myriad social-economic-political problems.

Perhaps by 2012, Venezuelans will complete this search by sending Hugo Chavez and his band of corrupt incompetents home.