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Message: Things could get uglier in Venezuelan as time moves on...

Venezuelan President Chavez' Teflon popularity fraying at the edges

By Daniel Duquenal, Montreal Gazette December 22, 2010

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan heads are spinning in disbelief at President Hugo Chavez' latest antics.

Since the last parliamentary elections, held on Sept. 26, Chavez and the current, lame-duck National Assembly have cancelled any role that the newly-elected assembly would expect to be playing in the next term, which is scheduled to start on January 5. Along the way and for all practical purpose, he has also annulled the 1999 Bolivarian constitution.

First, remember that the Sept. 26 parliamentary elections have been tainted with hints as to its legitimacy, which is becoming more and more apparent as the current National Assembly has launched a series of stunning legislative measures, including the prohibition of representatives to vote according to their conscience and switch sides, a new law to regulate communications that will include control over the Internet, making it easier for the regime to close down any media it dislikes, a declaration that banks are now a public service, allowing the government to intervene in any bank under any pretext and, most important of all, the fourth enabling law since Chavez has become president in 1999.

This new enabling law, which will last 18 months, allows the regime to legislate by decree on almost any matter of importance, from raising new taxes to reviewing "security" matters.

Second, there has been a renewed wave of nationalizations, mostly in the agricultural sector, which is sure to increase Venezuela's dependency on imported food (estimated around 60 per cent.)

Third, the current National Assembly has renewed nine judges of the country's high court, all of whom are Chavez cronies. Included among them is his personal lawyer of his failed 1992 coup and two sitting representatives of the ruling party.

The recent national floods in Venezuela are being used as the political excuse for these actions. However, the Chavez regime already had all the necessary tools it needed to deal with the situation.

The result is that the next National Assembly, which will include two opposition seats for every three ruling party seats, will only be able to approve ambassadors and to vote for new floral holidays.

It can be argued that the new enabling law should not concern Venezuelans during a time of national crisis as it is targeted to deal only with specific items of that crisis. However, its enactment infringes unconstitutionally on the powers of the incoming parliament for 18 months. It also is taking place under a political climate in which executive control and personal legal security are under attack. Finally, under the enabling law there is the possibility that there will be no free media with which to air any side but the governments. In other words, Venezuelans' will be living under a dictatorship.

Why is all this happening?

The reasons are actually quite simple: the Chavez regime is based on abusive populism and high oil prices and that piñata is at an end. The extraordinaire corruption within the regime, coupled with its implied inefficiency, has caused a drop in oil production at the same time as consumers have increased expectations. Venezuela has become a country even more dependent than ever on oil as its single export product, and with Venezuelan oil quality languishing below US$80 per barrel, the regime simply cannot fulfill its promises anymore. (Of course, the regime has never fulfilled any of its promises before, but at least there was enough money floating around to hide the fact).

Venezuela has now been in recession for two years. This year, it will be the only country in South America to still be in recession.

Because of this, Chavez' famous Teflon popularity is fraying at the edges, which is confirmed by the referendum loss of 2007, the regional elections of 2008 and now the legislative elections of September 2010. Chavez's share of the popular vote has fallen below 50 per cent, in spite of major electoral cheating that included everything from vote buying to gerrymandering.

It is clear that these unfavourable conditions will be dogging Chavez in the future and that, if the opposition presents a single presidential candidate in 2012, it is almost certain to win.

The road to a peaceful transition in government in Venezuela, however, is not in the cards. The regime has been in power for too long, is too incompetent and too corrupt. It will use any means at its disposal to remain in power at any cost, even becoming a "legal" dictatorship, whatever the consequences.

Due to the situation in Venezuela, Daniel Duquenal is a pseudonym. A former scientist now living in the Venezuelan countryside managing his small family business, Daniel edits a very popular blog called. Venezuela News and Views.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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