That man of the people, Hugo Chavez, is up to his old/new tricks in Venezuela: using the democratic process to subvert the safeguards built into it (see this for my discussion of the perils involved). An upcoming referendum will let Venezuelan voters decide just how far they’ll allow Chavez to go in his so-far successful bid to assume long-lasting dictatorial powers.
Chavez is the darling of the Left, partly because he is one of the few ascendant Leftists of the old school, whose rhetoric of “let’s-nationalize-everything-and-make-the-poor-richer-and-the-rich-
just-trust-me-I-have-your-best-interests-at-heart” rings true with those who are soggy with nostalgia for the days when Castro and Che seemed to be the wave of the future.
Some admirers such as recent Sanity Squad interviewee Fatima Bhutto are reluctant to give up on Chavez just yet; “the jury’s still out,” they say. No, it’s not; he’s established his bona fides quite nicely, and if a person fails to recognize the pattern at this point I’m afraid it’s just a question of outright denial.
Many revious supporters in Venezuela have finally decided enough is enough, however. I hope it’s not a case of trying to lock the barn door after the horse has escaped.
Here’s what’s going on:
Venezuelans will vote Sunday in a referendum that would remove all limits on presidential re-election, grant Chávez direct control over foreign currency reserves, allow him to censor the media under a state of emergency declarable at his discretion, expand his powers to expropriate private property and create the second formally socialist nation in the Americas alongside Fidel’s.
“The measures amount to a constitutional coup,” said Teodoro Petkoff, who edits an opposition newspaper.
In Venezuela it’s the students who are organizing protests. This particular referendum seems to have struck a deep nerve, generating a more organized opposition. According to a roundup at Fausta’s:
This new anti-Chavez movement has been brought about by one man. He is the former Chavez Defense Secretary; General Rafael Baduel. Baduel has publicly opposed the constitutional reforms in Venezuela calling them an attempt at a “coup d’etat. As a result he has become the new de-facto leader millions of Venezuelans were waiting for. Until recently, Baduel could be blamed for allowing Chavez to co-opt the military in Venezuela and use it to strengthen his regime and for loyalty to a man who spoke about installing a socialist, revolutionary regime backed by the military. Yet, it is the same Baduel that now begins to rebel.
Whatever Baduel’s reasons were, there is no doubt that the former Defense Secretary and Chief of staff has generated a new momentum and opportunity which will be foolish for those who oppose Hugo Chavez to miss.
In the last couple of weeks students have gone to the streets demanding a halt to the constitutional reforms and protests were organized across the country….he student movement in Venezuela is today the Latin version of the Prague spring of 1968. Whereas the political opposition has become flaccid, legalistic and virtually shut down by the intimidating nature of the Chavez regime, it is the non-political students who are fighting.
The Prague Spring was short-lived because the Soviets intervened to stop it, but ultimately the Soviets came into their own Long Winter.
The students of Venezuela may not be able to buck the tide in Venezuela, especially if the election is rigged. It is my sincere hope that they do, though, or Venezuela may end up like Cuba, waiting patiently for their ancient Dictator for Life to finally kick the bucket.
One of the best bloggers on the subject is Daniel in Venezuela, who attempts the perilous task of predicting the referendum results. Please read.