Yesterday we exulted in the November 22 victory in the Argentinian presidential elections of opposition candidate Mauricio Macri, who, promising to roll back socialist excesses and pursue an approach respectful of individual liberties and the free market, took power on December 10. But that victory, as we noted, was only the first part of a thrilling double play by the champions of liberty in South America. Let’s move now to Venezuela, where, since 1999, under the demagogic Hugo Chávez and then Nicolás Maduro, a despicable gang of stooges have impoverished the people in the name of chavismo, all the while shamelessly enriching themselves. On December 6, the Venezuelan electorate showed it was finally fed up with the empty promises, empty grocery-store shelves, and empty socialist rhetoric, and handed the National Assembly over to the opposition.
“Coupled with last month’s defeat of the ruling Peronist movement in Argentina’s presidential election,” wrote Juan Forero and Anatoly Kurmanaev in the Wall Street Journal, “the outcome also signaled another important loss for leftist populism in South America.”
The Journal reporters quoted an opposition deputy, Julio Borges, as saying: “I feel as if we won the World Cup while playing with our two legs tied….This has been the most abusive campaign ever, but the important thing is that we were able to use democracy to beat a system that is deeply undemocratic.” Maduro, for his part, found a way (as always) to blame his party’s failure on the U.S. “We’ve lost a battle,” he said, “but the struggle to build socialism is only beginning.” He also insisted that the victory belonged not to “the opposition” but to “a counter-revolution.”
The opposition’s triumph at the polls, it was noted, will likely mean freedom for political prisoners such as Leopoldo López, the highly accomplished – and highly popular –former mayor of one of the constituent cities of Caracas. López has been behind bars since February 2014, for no other reason than that President Maduro recognized him as a palpable threat to his own power. The election results will also enable the new legislature, which takes power on January 5, to address the problems (including an inflation rate topping 200%) that make Venezuela’s economy the world’s worst-performing, according to the International Monetary Fund. It’ll make possible desperately needed judiciary and administrative reforms.
But it won’t be easy. To pull Venezuela out of its “death spiral,” wrote Forero and Kurmanaev, the new members of the legislature will need to make “a series of painful and unpopular adjustments, rolling back more than a decade of populist and statist policies” –notably an outrageously impractical system of social-welfare programs that the country simply can’t afford (especially given the constant flow of taxpayer cash into the chavista elite’s private offshore accounts).
There are other reasons for concern, too. As Srdja Popovic and William J. Dobson warned in Slate, the opposition’s struggle to undo chavismo “is nowhere near over. Maduro and the ruling party will attempt to marginalize this victory in the weeks and months ahead…. Expect the courts to issue rulings circumscribing the powers of the legislature. Expect new edicts and orders concentrating even more power into the executive. Look for government budgets and competencies to shift. Watch out for allegations of corruption and criminal offenses against key members of the opposition.”
In short, the new powers-that-be in Argentina and Venezuela alike have their work cut out for them. It won’t be easy to turn these tragically broken systems around. But the election results send a powerful and encouraging message: namely, that the people of both countries have seen through the lies of their socialist leaders and cast a vote for individual liberty and the free market. And that, in itself, is cause for celebration.