Venezuela Must Look Forward, Not Back

Nicolás Maduro has been elected to succeed Hugo Chávez as President of Venezuela. While the defeated opposition candidate Henrique Capriles contested the result and demanded a recount, one of Chávez's most important legacies is an electoral system that is unassailable, described by Jimmy Carter as "the best in the world." Nor was the margin of victory as narrow as some are suggesting: at latest count, Maduro has won by nearly 300,000 votes, which when proportionally understood is the equivalent of millions of votes in the United States.

The problem is not that the Chavistas have been too radical, but that they have not been radical enough.

— George Ciccariello-Maher

The Venezuelan opposition put forth a surprisingly strong showing, and Capriles would be well-advised to accept it as that and move forward with the task of building on his achievement. Any effort at drawing out the election, or worse, disrupting the democratic process with demonstrations in the street, will only arouse suspicions that the anti-Chavistas have not left their anti-democratic "golpismo," or coup-mongering, in the past.

Similar advice applies to the Obama administration, which has before it the opportunity for a thaw in relations. All Obama needs to do is to promptly and unreservedly recognize the electoral result, thereby making it clear that the Venezuelans have every right to choose their own leaders. If the administration hesitates, however, and if it continues the Bush-era policy of taking sides and interfering in Venezuelan politics, any hope for reconciliation will be in vain.

Like the opposition and the Obama administration, the Chavistas and Nicolás Maduro must also set their sights squarely on the future. Not only is it the case that many Chavista voters did not go to the polls on Sunday, but it also seems as though a sizable chunk even switched allegiances, casting their vote for Capriles. In the coming weeks and months, there will be those among the Chavista ranks who argue that moderation is the order of the day, and that revolutionaries should therefore mute their aspirations and tack toward the middle.

This is both a misdiagnosis of the situation and a recipe for disaster. The problem is not that the Chavistas have been too radical, but that they have not been radical enough. Despite identifying with the aspirations of the revolution, many at the grassroots level have seen too little, rather than too much, change. The task for the future, therefore, is not to show how much like the opposition the Chavistas can behave, but demonstrating in the everyday lives of the population what sets the Bolivarian Revolution apart.