Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez likes being president so much he’s arranging to stay in charge indefinitely, much in the manner of his hero and mentor, Fidel Castro. While this may be good for Chavez’s boundless ego, it’s bad for Venezuela.
Chavez has presented another rewrite of the country’s constitution — he rewrote it earlier after first being elected in 1998 — to the tame National Assembly. This latest version would abolish the current two-term limit and extend a presidential term from six to seven years.
It would also greatly diminish possible challenges to his authority by curbing the powers of elected governors and mayors in favor of local “communal councils” that will be dependent on Chavez for funding.
And to secure that funding he is proposing to end the autonomy of the Venezuelan Central Bank, giving him access to the bank’s billions. That shortsighted move is bound to weaken the country’s currency and isolate it from international financial institutions.
Chavez has already scared off needed foreign investment in Venezuela and especially its aging oil-industry infrastructure. Already overly dependent on oil revenues, Venezuela under Chavez has become solely dependent on them.
He has nationalized the oil, electric-power and telecommunications industries, and the new constitution would give him still greater powers to appropriate private property.
It is all part of his avowed plan to eradicate capitalism in Venezuela in favor of “21st-Century Socialism,” which looks very much like 20th-century socialism with its proven record of failure.
Meanwhile, mindful of the fate that has befallen other repressive socialist regimes, he is making extensive purchases of Russian weapons to arm his supporters, ostensibly against a U.S. invasion he says is imminent but more likely as a check on the regular armed forces.
Clearly, Chavez plans to stay in office, preferably by a rigged vote — he’s up for re-election in December — but by other means if necessary.