The mask comes off

The Economist reports that Hugo Chavez is done pretending:

Hugo Chávez worries ever less about maintaining a semblance of democracy

OPPONENTS of Hugo Chávez have often bewailed his knack of cloaking authoritarianism in outwardly democratic forms. So perhaps they should be grateful that the Venezuelan president is increasingly abandoning the pretence. On January 23rd—a date on which the country commemorates the 1958 uprising that ousted its last military dictator—cable-television operators were told to stop carrying RCTV, a pro-opposition channel. It was the latest in a series of recent moves that have placed Mr Chávez’s elected regime within a hair’s breadth of dictatorship.

Three years ago RCTV’s broadcasting licence was not renewed, confining it to cable. Now the government has ruled that, despite being a cable channel, it (and many other channels) must obey a broadcasting law that requires it, among other things, to transmit the president’s lengthy speeches live, whenever he feels like it. The urge came over him almost immediately, at a political rally. When RCTV declined to oblige him, its fate was sealed. . .

If the September elections were run according to the constitution, which mandates proportional representation, Mr Chávez would surely lose his strong parliamentary majority. But a new electoral law allows the largest single group to sweep the board. The government-dominated electoral authority redrew constituency boundaries this month, with the effect of minimising potential opposition gains. The closure of RCTV, one of the main outlets for anti-Chávez voices, seems to follow the same logic.

In his annual address to Parliament, earlier this month, the president announced (to no one’s surprise) that he was now a Marxist. He no longer pays lip-service to the separation of powers, which in practice disappeared some time ago. The head of the Supreme Court, Luisa Estella Morales, said last month that such niceties merely “weaken the state”. A leading member of the ruling United Socialist Party, Aristóbulo Istúriz, called for the dismantling of local government, which Mr Chávez wants to replace with communes.

The 1999 constitution guarantees property rights and the existence of private enterprise. But the president now says that private profit is the root of all evil. Callers to the government’s consumer-protection body, Indepabis, find its hold-music is a jingle about evil capitalists. Insisting that his recent currency devaluation was no excuse for price rises, Mr Chávez had Indepabis close down hundreds of stores for “speculation”. He told Parliament to change the law on expropriations and seized a French-controlled supermarket chain to add to the government’s new retail conglomerate, Comerso.

I thought that Chavez was doing a perfectly lousy job pretending already, but I’m glad (in a way) that it’s beyond dispute now.

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