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The news that Hugo Chávez is being treated for cancer presents Venezuela’s democratic opposition with a unique opportunity. Chávez has ruled for more than a decade in part by presenting himself as all but invincible. Now, as he is waylaid in the Cuban health system, his aura of invincibility is crumbling. And as it crumbles, the opposition has a chance to break through the fear Chávez has used to repress the desire of his people to be free. Venezuela’s democrats have spent years preparing for this moment. They’ve organized against Chávez, worked hard to perform well in last September’s parliamentary elections, and (after years of disunity) are starting to unite behind common goals. The opposition also boasts a number of popular figures, including Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles, Caracas city mayor Antonio Ledezma, former Chacao district mayor Leopoldo López, and Táchira state governor César Pérez Vivas as well as National Assembly member María Corina Machado. Any one of these individuals – or someone else -- could emerge as a strong candidate against Chávez (or a Chávez stand-in) in next year’s presidential vote. The opportunity here is to pull Venezuela back from the brink of economic ruin by creating an open democracy. Chávez has, as Condoleezza Rice said at a Bush Institute conference in Dallas earlier this year, “wrecked his country.” Venezuelans suffer double-digit inflation, food and housing shortages and electricity rationing even though their country is rich in oil at a time when oil has been booming. They also face an explosion in drug trafficking, frightening levels of violent crime, and widespread corruption. And they suffer a regime that has shown it can organize forces that can control the outcome of elections, unleash violence on opponents, and oppress millions of people. News reports indicate that Chávez had a cancerous tumor removed, has undergone at least two surgeries, and is remaining in Cuba indefinitely to receive treatment. All of which suggests he has a very aggressive form of cancer. He could yet make a dramatic return to Caracas, rally his supporters, and remain in the presidential palace. But gone is a sense of inevitability, which ushers in an idea that would be dangerous to any tyrant: It’s now possible to imagine a not too distant time without Hugo Chávez in power. Versión española »
Amanda Schnetzer is Director of Global Initiatives at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. In this role, she is responsible for developing innovative research, programmatic, and policy efforts to advance societies rooted in political and economic freedom and to empower women to lead in their communities and countries. Previously she served as the Bush Institute’s founding director of the Human Freedom Initiative.
Amanda has twenty years of experience in the international arena and a background in public policy research and analysis, public affairs, and management of diverse, high-level stakeholders. As senior fellow and director of studies at Freedom House in New York, Amanda guided research for the organization’s definitive studies of freedom. She began her career at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, supporting research on U.S. foreign policy and international politics. Amanda is a published writer and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and Southern Methodist University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
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