Hugo Chavez is not a democrat. After failing to seize power by military coup 1992, he has seized power within the political system. Alas, the framers of Venezuela’s constitution lacked the foresight of a James Madison, and provided a means for Chavez to become a dictator within the system. History shows that such clauses usually get used eventually.
But Chavez cannot work within the system indefinitely. His economic program is essentially communist: he nationalizes industries, imposes price controls, and levies confiscatory taxes. Naturally, the Venezuelan economy has gone into an awful death spiral. (Without oil revenues, Venezuela would have cratered long ago, but the oil industry is now crumbling.)
At the same time, crime in Venezuela has skyrocketed. At 233 murders per 100k inhabitants, Caracas’s murder rate is the worst in the world, only slightly below Baghdad at the height of Iraq’s sectarian violence. (Chavez responded by barring the media from reporting crime.)
Consequently, Chavez’s popularity has plummeted. In legislative elections, the opposition won a popular majority, but due to the way that Chavez has rigged the electoral system, they barely earned a third of the seats. Still, a third is enough to block Chavez from ruling by decree, and with Chavez’s approval ratings in the cellar, his re-election looks iffy (in a fair election).
So it looks like this is the time for Chavez to hop off the democratic wagon. The new Venezuelan legislature doesn’t take office until January, and the lame duck legislature has given Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months. (The pretext for the move had something to do with a flood.) That will put Chavez in absolute control of the government until shortly before the next presidential election is scheduled.
Chavez gloated over the irrelevance of the incoming opposition:
“They will not be able to create even one law, the little Yankees,” said Chavez, who brands his opponents as stooges of an imperialist U.S. government. “Let’s see how they are going to make laws now.”
- Media and Telecommunications. The modification of the Media Responsibility Law and the Telecommunications Law place severe restrictions on the Internet, centralizing access under the control of a government server. They re-categorize the airwaves as a “public good” and set in place harsh penalties for arcane and obtuse violations of the law. The laws require TV stations to re-apply for their licenses and for the owners to be in the country (a clear reference to Globovision, whose owner, Dr. Guillermo Zuloaga, is in political exile in the United States).
- Electoral Reform. The reform of the Political Party Law establishes the crime of electoral fraud. Fraud would be committed if a politician changed parties, voted against legislation that was “ideologically represented” by their “electoral offer” (on file when they registered their candidacy with the National Electoral Council), or if they make common cause with ideas or people who are not ideologically akin to their electoral offer. Sanctions are the expulsion from parliament and inability to run for public office for up to eight years. This law is meant to protect against individuals or political parties turning against Chavez, as happened with the opposition parties of PODEMOS (We Can) and PPT (Fatherland for All).
- Economy and Governance. Chavez is pushing through a block of five laws: Popular Power, Planning and Popular Power, Communes, Social Control, and the law of Development and Support of the Communal Economy. These laws establish the commune as the lowest level of Venezuelan economy and government. They set in place the Popular Power, which is responsible to the Revolutionary leadership (Chavez) for all governing (eliminating the municipalities and regional government’s constitutional mandate). To facilitate the creation of this new governance model, the Assembly is approving the Law of the System for Transferring the Responsibilities of the States and Municipalities to the Popular Power.
ASIDE: The “electoral reform” that criminalizes legislators voting incorrectly is a marvelous idea. I expect we will see it adopted by tyrants everywhere.
In addition, Chavez is taking control of the banks and universities. In short, Chavez is taking complete control of Venezuela from top to bottom. The next time he seeks to institute a police state, he won’t have to backtrack. The next election will be a farce. Nothing short of a revolution will evict him from office now.