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Oct 8, 2012 No Comments ›› Chuck Biscuits

Excerpted from The Wall Street Journal: By MARY ANASTASIA O’GRADY

Thanks to Hugo Chávez, the legacy of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet as the only Latin American military dictator in modern times to voluntarily give up power through the ballot box is preserved this morning. Pinochet looks like more of a hero than ever.

Mr. Chávez “won” the Venezuelan presidential election Sunday by collecting 54% of the vote to 45% for challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski. But he did it with control of all of Venezuela’s government institutions and, more important, near total ownership of the Venezuelan economy. This gave the Venezuelan state the power to directly manipulate voter rolls and ballots and an open checkbook to influence—some would say “buy”—the vote. Mr. Capriles was never engaged in a fair fight.

Over 14 years Mr. Chávez has turned Venezuela into a crime-ridden economic disaster, and the opposition’s internal polling had given it confidence that it had the votes to win. But that didn’t provide much comfort to anyone familiar with chavista fraud.

The Chávez-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) had refused to allow an independent audit of the voter registry, and the likelihood that the list is corrupted is high. How else to explain that there were 11 million registered voters in 1999 and there are almost 19 million voters today? The CNE’s website lists thousands of voters between the ages of 111 and 129.

A second red flag popped up when some political parties withdrew their support for Mr. Capriles after the ballots had been printed with his photo next to their boxes. Nevertheless the CNE ruled that any votes cast for those parties—with their accompanying photos of Mr. Capriles—would go to the party’s replacement candidates, not to Mr. Capriles. This likely caused confusion for some voters, especially because one of those parties had a name suspiciously similar to Mr. Capriles’s official party. Mr. Chávez had also closed the Venezuelan consulate in Miami earlier this year, leaving thousands of Venezuelans who live in the U.S. and likely favored Mr. Capriles disenfranchised.

Mr. Chávez’s wide margin is probably best explained by the government’s lavish spending funded with borrowing. One example: China is reported to have lent the dictator more than $40 billion since 2007 in exchange for future oil reserves. According to a Bloomberg news report in September, “at least $12 billion was promised in the past 15 months, when stagnant oil output and the highest borrowing costs among major emerging markets would’ve made raising capital more expensive.” Mr. Chávez also owns the airwaves and the job security of millions of state workers.

Pinochet enjoyed no such control in 1988. During 17 years in power he had allowed individuals to acquire their own wealth. Historians still argue about how much he knew about his intelligence agency’s human-rights violations in the 1980s, but no one can dispute his record as a leader who allowed economic liberty to flourish. Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega also permitted an election in 1990 but only under pressure from the U.S. Pinochet did it because an empowered Chilean society, which he fostered, demanded it.

Dictators don’t walk away from power. They hold it until they die. Pinochet was an exception. Mr. Chávez proves the rule.