Gabriela Perdomo – A saying in Spanish goes "he who doesn’t want soup will get two bowls." It looks like Venezuelans just got two bowls full of Hugo Chávez’s self-branded 21st century socialism.
Last week, Chávez approved 26 laws curiously similar to those rejected by a majority of voters in a referendum on constitutional reform in December. The new directives were approved by decree, thanks to a special power granted to the president by the National assembly—where Chávez-friendly legislators occupy more than two-thirds of the seats— 18 months ago.
The laws include a clause allowing for the creation of popular militias that will guard the nation—it is not precise in which cases—reforms that will allow the state to grab unproductive land from owners, and provisions that will give the government much greater control over economic policy.
Most laws in the batch are related to the economy and the military. And they all open the door for greater government control—i.e. presidential—over all state agencies. The enactment of the new laws is perhaps the president’s most spectacular victory since taking office in 1999. Chávez has repeatedly explained his Bolivarian dream of turning Venezuela—and hopefully the countries around it as well—into an example of prosperous socialism. He has managed to introduce some reforms, but the aggressive transformation he has long coveted had not been possible until now. The new laws give him what he wants. As many analysts have been quick to point, Venezuela just became a new country.
Many Venezuelans are still in disbelief. The president’s opponents thought he would not want to force the reforms rejected in a national ballot seven months ago down people’s throats, especially ahead of local elections in November. Some even thought Chávez understood the message from the people— including many of his supporters—urging him to scale down his implementation of full-out socialism.
Clearly, they were wrong. Chávez has consolidated his mandate and secured his future grip on the future of the Andean nation. At the same time, he has dramatically reduced the opposition’s chances to challenge his power. The president now has full control over government agencies, electoral authorities, the media, a crucial part of the judicial branch, and the military—with accompanying militias.
When it comes to the local elections, opposition politicians will find it even harder to participate in ballots inevitably marred by vote-rigging and voter intimidation; journalists will fear a more oppressive and controlling state; voters will silence their dissidence to protect their own safety and their family’s. This is already happening. A government-friendly court has banned a long list of opposition politicians from contesting the upcoming ballot, alleging that people investigated by corruption are not fit for public office—even if none of the accusations has been proven in court.
The world and, most immediately, Venezuela’s neighbours, should take note. The Venezuela of Chávez has quickly embodied his opponent’s worst fears. The flamboyant colonel that many have failed to take seriously is in charge of a powerful, controlling, self-obsessed state swimming in petro-dollars. In a troubling sign, Chávez has evidently demonstrated that his Bolivarian dream will live on with or without the people’s support.
In many ways, the objection of voters to the president’s proposed constitutional reforms last December was seen as the beginning of the end of the Chávez era. Many in the opposition celebrated that even hard core chavistas were uncomfortable with the leader’s radical version of modern-time socialism. Others expected the president’s popularity to wane in the face of food shortages, rising inflation, and a visible hike in urban crime. All of these factors were affecting the president’s stand.
In the face of uncertainty, Chávez managed to launch a pre-emptive strike. With his newly-acquired super-powers, he has made it abundantly clear that not even his base will stop him from realizing his vision for the country. Sadly, the future of Venezuela looks grim.