Caracas Lurches Left and Rejects Markets

Michael Pearlman pearl1 at
Sat Aug 7 10:23:52 MDT 1999

<P>Jay Moore wrote:
7, 1999</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>HUGO CHAVEZ, the hugely popular President of Venezuela,
has vowed to lead his country away from the market economy and urged the
new Constitutional Assembly to extend his potential term of office from
five to 12 years. Mr Chavez, who took office six months ago on a left-leaning,
nationalist ticket, claims he has won a revolution without firing a shot.</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>In the new assembly he addressed for the first time on
Thursday, 121 out of 131 members are fervent loyalists. "We are fighting
against neo- liberalism and searching for equality, employment and justice
to cover the needs of the people," Mr Chavez thundered. "Venezuela is rising
out of its ashes." He lambasted the neoliberal economic model as a "dogma
of individualism" that had led the world to "fighting like savages against
each other".</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>Last week Mr Chavez took the sword of the 19th century
liberator Simon Bolivar from the national vault, paraded it through the
streets of Caracas, and unsheathed the golden blade from its diamond-studded
scabbard to hold it aloft over the cheering crowd.</FONT>
<BR><FONT SIZE=-1>An estimated 80 per cent of Venezuela's population is
mired in poverty, and they view Chavez as a hero, though most of the nation's
elite scorn him.</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>"I do not have absolute power nor do I wish to have it,"
Mr Chavez says, but not everyone believes him. Soon after Mr Chavez changed
the country's name to the "Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" Congress suspended
its sessions before serious conflicts could arise.</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>Since Mr Chavez declared a national emergency which requires
the dismantling of all corrupt institutions, the Supreme Court is increasingly
wary. The president says his popular mandate, with an approval rating of
75 per cent, means his assembly holds sway over the judiciary and legislative
branches of the government before a new constitution is ratified in six
months. And the assembly can steamroll any opposition.</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>All Latin America is watching as the charismatic ex-paratrooper,
jailed for two years after leading a failed military coup in 1992, manoeuvers
his military backers with the flair of a demagogue. Since Mr Chavez was
elected last December, he has appointed 173 officers to oversee the running
of most state institutions and holds council in his Miraflores Palace with
20 military advisers. Fifty thousand soldiers are on the streets, directing
his "theatres of social operation" and deciding which roads to repair and
where to construct hospitals and schools.</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>Foreign aid workers, accustomed to watching 80 per cent
of their project money trickle away in Venezuelan "administrative costs",
are watching the pragmatic results of the changes with a sense of wonder.</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>Venezuela is the world's No3 oil exporter and Mr Chavez
plans to revive Cuban oil refineries to process Venezuelan petroleum as
part of an idealistic economic scheme, which sets aside a quarter of the
country's bank loans for agricultural projects. Inflation is pegged at
30 per cent, but soon expected to drop to 20 per cent because many Venezuelans
no longer have cash to buy much.</FONT>
<BR><FONT SIZE=-1>Political opponents mince no words. "The constituent
assembly is nothing more than a camouflage to make the world think that
the coming dictatorship is the product of a democratic process," said Jorge
Olavarria, an opposition figure who lost the assembly election.</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>Alfredo Pena, a former investigative reporter elected
to the assembly, sits amid a motley group of Chavez hangers-on that range
from Mr Chavez's brother and his wife, Marisabel, to grizzled guerrillas,
retired military brass, a folksinger and a racetrack announcer.</FONT>

<P><FONT SIZE=-1>"With the power Chavez has now, he could ignore democracy,"
says Mr Pena. "But there is democracy here because he wants it."</FONT></BLOCKQUOTE>

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email: pearlman at
<BR>J.R. Masterman
pearl1 at
<BR>17th and Spring Garden Sts.       
fax:   (215) 299-3581
<BR>Philadelphia  PA 
phone: (215) 299-3583
<BR>(215) 299-3583/299-4661
<BR>Money for Schools, not Prisons!    Hasta la victoria

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