Saturday, September 5, 2009
Venezuelans split over success, future of Hugo Chavez
Maybe the most encouraging thing about Saturday's mass demonstrations in Caracas was that a large portion of the citizenry were showing concern -- and rightly so -- about the expansion of power by the central government. Led by President Hugo Chavez, the leader whose socialist policies have made him a hero among the nation's poor by raising living standards with redistributed oil wealth, Venezuela has nationalized major industries and removed the constitutional limit on consecutive terms, according to the Reuters international news service. So the man who famously called former U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil" at the United Nations in 2006 could end up controlling Venezuela and its oil reserves for decades. The government in Caracas also has been cracking down on opposition media and threatening opposition protesters with arrests for "rebellion," raising the specter of dictatorship. In that light, then, perhaps the most troubling thing about the day of protest was the people wearing red "I love Chavez" T-shirts, as if the man were more important than the institutions and rights of the people he leads. That's the danger -- the cult of personality combined with the temptation of power -- in Chavez's movement. Venezuelans who want to keep their government democratic ought to be deeply concerned about that. Then again, Chavez has a right to be angry at the United States, which almost surely played some sort of role in the coup that briefly toppled Chavez's government in 2002.