[Marxism] Win would push Chavez closer to socialist dream (MH)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Nov 27 05:40:13 MST 2006

("This is a choice between two systems.")

Posted on Sun, Nov. 26, 2006	

Win would push Chávez closer to socialist dream
The Dec. 3 vote in Venezuela is a choice between two systems, 
and a test of the popularity of Hugo Chávez's `socialism for the 21st
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sdudley at MiamiHerald.com

In President Hugo Chávez's Venezuela, there are signs of a maturing
revolution: At a recent rally, young supporters who have spent a good
part of their youth with Chávez in power sang with the elder
Chavistas revolutionary favorites like Uh Ah, Chávez no se va -- the
''Chávez will not go'' jingle popularized during his defeat of a
recall referendum in 2004.

The festivities were a reminder of Chávez's incredible staying power
and cross-generational reach. He has been president since 1999, and
the latest poll announced Thursday showed him with a 59-27 lead in
his bid to win reelection on Dec. 3.

His vast margins in the polls have sharpened opposition concerns
about the direction in which an even more powerful Chávez will take
the country. But they have delighted his supporters.

Already, an entire generation of young followers have felt the effect
of his social programs and fiery anti-U.S. rhetoric and have become
accustomed to him exerting his will over all phases of the country's
government in order to further his quixotic ``socialism for the 21st

With Venezuela's withered domestic opposition movement and Chávez's
increasingly tight grip on power, some say the stakes in this
election could not be higher: A resounding Chávez victory could give
the president the six years he needs to turn Venezuela into something
that more closely resembles Cuba -- if not politically, then at least

''This isn't an election between two candidates,'' said Alberto
Garrido, the longtime Chávez watcher and author of several books on
the president.

``This is a choice between two systems.''

How Chávez intends to turn this longtime capitalist nation more
toward his vision of a state-centered government is not yet clear
because what has happened in Venezuela has been unprecedented.


A former army lieutenant colonel who took part in an attempted coup
in 1992 before winning the presidency in 1998, Chávez is arguably
causing the biggest political and economic upheaval in the western
hemisphere in the past 25 years.

His controversial policies and blistering rhetoric have divided this
nation of 26 million people and separated Venezuela from some of its
long-standing allies, most notably the United States, the top
importer of Venezuelan oil and a longtime military ally of this

Up until now, Chávez's revolution has been a strange blend of
socialism, cronyism and dogmatism fueled by oil revenue. Along the
way he has sought the advice of heads of state like Muammar
al-Gaddafi and Fidel Castro, insulted several major western leaders
and made more big-money promises than Donald Trump.

The Bush administration is Chávez's main punching bag. He frequently
refers to the U.S. president as the ''devil,'' supports U.S. enemies
such as Iran in its efforts to harness nuclear energy and attacks
U.S. allies like Israel.

He also says Washington supported the failed coup against him in 2002
and is planning an invasion. Chávez has used this argument to justify
his massive weapons purchases from Russia in recent months that
include 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, more than 30 helicopters and
several fighter planes. He has changed the country's military
doctrine to prepare for an invasion and is training civilians to
fight off the gringo soldiers.

Part of this paranoia -- or savvy political strategy to capitalize on
nationalist sentiments -- may come from Chávez's increasing ties to
Cuba. The impoverished island gets an estimated $2 billion in
subsidies per year in year in goods and services from Venezuela, only
a small part of which is repaid by Cuban medical personnel working in
poor neighborhoods here and eye surgeries that Venezuelans and others
receive in Cuba.

Cuba also is the home to Chávez's region-wide trade initiative with
countries that haven't yet signed free trade pacts with the United

In addition, he is giving away crude at discount prices in the
Caribbean and Central America, and heating oil in the United States;
financing refinery upgrades in Jamaica and Uruguay; and buying
government-issued bonds in Argentina and Ecuador.


Chávez's anti-U.S. position has given him some political currency
abroad. From Patagonia to Alaska, he is the most well-known Latin
American president since Castro and seems to be positioning himself
to take over Castro's leadership of anti-U.S. sentiment after the
80-year-old Cuban leader dies.

But his bravado and undiplomatic rhetoric does not always win him
friends. He appeared to overstep his bounds recently when he vilified
Bush in a U.N. speech suggesting that the podium smelled of sulfur
after the U.S. president's speech. The move provoked laughter and
applause, but may have cost his country a seat on the U.N. Security

Still, for all his histrionics abroad, Chávez's political foundation
remains his social programs at home.

Riding the wave of high oil prices, he has poured billions of dollars
toward health and education programs, as well as food subsidies. He's
started universities and high schools and refurbished military
schools that have a new generation singing his praises.

''I've seen radical changes,'' Rafael Villegas, a 19-year old cadet
at a naval academy, said during the political rally. ``He's
transformed our lives.''

Simultaneously, Chávez has won supporters with his attacks on the
private sector. His administration has taken over what it deems as
idle lands and property to distribute them to everyone from landless
peasants to taxi drivers. It has passed legislation for higher
royalties and taxes from multinational oil and mining companies. From
ExxonMobil to Polar, Venezuela's largest food and beverage company,
no one seems safe.

Unless, of course, you're a Chavista. Then, opportunities abound.

>From powdered milk and flour producers who sell to the subsidized
supermarkets to the large shipping companies building tankers for the
state oil company, PDVSA, a new rich class has emerged under Chávez.
And they are purchasing as fast as they are making money: 300,000
cars sold last year, skyrocketing sales of high-class jewelry,
18-year-old whiskey and expensive art.

Chávez's opponent in this election for a six-year term, Manuel
Rosales, has risen steadily in the polls and begun to draw massive
anti-Chávez crowds by highlighting the corruption at home and the
government's lavish spending abroad.


Despite Chávez's billions toward social programs, poverty,
joblessness and problems with the healthcare system continue to dog
Venezuela. Drug trafficking is on the rise, and graft has almost
turned into a sport. Transparency International, a European watchdog
group, said this month that Venezuela is the second most-corrupt
nation in this hemisphere, behind Haiti. Crime is consistently ranked
as one of Venezuelans' top concerns.

It's also not clear whether Chávez's social programs will lead to any
long-term transformation of Venezuela. Infrastructure, for instance,
has not improved with the oil windfall -- a bridge connecting the
country's main airport and the capital collapsed recently. Production
at PDVSA is falling, and its refineries are having multiple problems.

Still, most polls show Chávez leading Rosales by a healthy margin.
And the Chávez campaign does not seem too concerned by its opponent's
recent surge: It remains centered on Chávez's vow to win 10 million
of 14 million registered voters -- enough to justify whatever comes
next in this revolution.

''It's not about winning, it's about how we win,'' Chávez told the
young crowd gathered on the outskirts of Caracas.

``We're going to grind them into dust.''

If that happens, Chávez appears poised to take even more steps to
strengthen his already tight grip on power. What that would mean
remains unclear, however. He already controls the courts, the
attorney general's office and the National Electoral Council. Last
year, the opposition boycotted the legislative elections because of
complaints of a stacked deck, giving Chávez allies all 167 seats.

Chávez says he will use this mandate to change the constitution so
that he can govern until at least 2021 (the calculation he uses to
arrive at this date is not clear). His next steps, analysts say,
could be to create a single governing party, eliminating the 10 or so
others that currently work closely with his so-called Bolivarian

''They are creating the conditions for the Sovietization of the
revolution,'' said Douglas Bravo, a former leftist guerrilla who
worked with Chávez in the early days before breaking off relations.
``There will be only one voice.''

Bravo says a cleansing process inside the Chavista ranks already has
begun. He points to a recent video, released to the media by the
opposition campaign earlier this month that shows the president of
PDVSA and minister of oil, Rafael Ramírez, chastising his employees
for their lack of revolutionary fervor.

''It bothers me, and I'm sure it bothers you as well, when we find
people who are neither this nor that . . . people who say that here
we're in a process, that we need to open this thing up,'' Ramírez
tells the audience. ``No, sir. Here, no one can forget that we're in
the middle of a revolution.''

''The position of Chávez is clear: Those who aren't with him are
gone,'' said Américo Martín, a political analyst who consults with
the opposition.

Analysts also expect Chávez to strengthen laws squelching opposition
media outlets and making it harder for nongovernmental groups to
criticize the government. They say Chávez likely also will expand
education projects that include the creation of more high schools and
universities he says will sing his revolution's praises.

But most of the changes they expect will be in the economic realm:
more state control over natural resources; stronger bonds with
countries like Iran; and a harder push to consolidate his Cuba-based
regional trade bloc.


Still, it's not clear how far Chávez will be able to push his
revolution forward, no matter how many votes he obtains on Dec. 3.

Venezuela, as many analysts point out, is not Cuba. The opposition
has regained its footing in this election. Chávez's neighbors also
seem increasingly wary of his antics on the world stage, publicly
distancing themselves from the unpredictable leader.

And then there's a question of just how militant Chávez's own
followers are. Their festive chants apparently can only hold them so

At the rally with the young Chavistas, the president spent much of
his 2 ½ hour speech talking about ideological conviction.

But by the end, more than half of the audience had left the stadium.

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