David Frum

10.02.12

Here's How a Real Socialist Holds Power

Facing a vote on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will probably do whatever it takes to win election to another six-year term. From the Wall Street Journal:

A tour of Yuleima Peñaloza's apartment in a Caracas-area slum helps explain the strategy. A stainless-steel refrigerator, which normally costs more than five years' worth of Ms Peñaloza's rent, fills the cramped kitchen. In her bedroom, a large flat-screen television sits on a worn bureau.

Both purchases would have been impossible for the 42-year-old public employee without a social program launched by Mr. Chávez that offers subsidized, if not free, home appliances and furnishings.

With a weak economy and rampant crime, many voters are reconsidering their support for Mr. Chávez after nearly 14 years in charge, and leaning toward his rival, 40-year-old state Gov. Henrique Capriles. Yet, thanks to big government spending, Mr. Chávez is a slim favorite to win another six-year term in the Oct. 7 vote.

"I think that's been his formula," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank. "Whether that works for him this time around is another question."

The program used by Ms. Peñaloza, called "My Well-Furnished Home," is among dozens of social programs started by the leftist leader over the last decade to provide Venezuela's poor with everything from loans to free housing and health care.

Venezuela's oil potentate can't leave office quickly enough, but it might be a while. (The whole Cuban secret police thing probably won't speed up the process.)