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Wednesday, January 10

Bye-bye Venezuela: Shall we blame this on Negroponte or sunspots?

(If you missed yesterday's post, it's because I didn't publish it until after 3:00 EST.Technical glitches.)

"Mr Chavez also announced he would nationalise key businesses, declared himself a Trotskyist and cited the ideas of Marx and Lenin.[...] problems facing key Chavez allies - Bolivia, Ecuador's president-elect and Iran - may make him want to establish this phase of the [socialist] revolution before the 2014 deadline he has set.

Hugo Chavez denies that he wants to follow the Cuban model of government; I think he's telling the truth. It's early days, but it looks to Pundita as if he's working toward the Libyan model. That wouldn't exactly make Chavez a communist. It would make him a king. As long as the price of oil stays high, he might just get away with his revolution.

I am telling you with a straight face that some observers claim that Hugo Chavez's leap to the extreme left happened when he learned that John Negroponte was taking the number two job at the US Department of State -- such is his hatred of Negroponte, so the gossip goes.

Mr Chavez needed no encouragement to show his true colors once he was reelected. And, sad to say, Negroponte will not have the Latin American account when he arrives at State. He'll be responsible for Iraq and Northeast Asia -- including China and North Korea, freeing up Condoleezza Rice to concentrate on the Israel-Palestine issue and Iran. But one can assume that Negroponte's vast experience with commies such as Chavez will be useful to State's initiative in the Latin American region, if State can locate Latin America on a map.
Chavez accelerates on path to socialism
By Nathalie Malinarich
BBC News
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had always said that with his new term in office, beginning on 10 January, the socialist revolution would start in earnest. And, after his resounding victory on 3 December, he has wasted no time.

Before even being sworn in for the third time, Mr Chavez has said that he wants to merge all his coalition partners into a single party, warned he will not renew an opposition TV channel's licence and announced he will nationalise key businesses. He has also called on the National Assembly to give him the power to rule by decree and replaced his Vice-President, Jose Vicente Rangel, seen as a key figure in his previous administration. While some of the announcements themselves have not come as a complete surprise, for many, the intensity and pace of the change has.

'Surprises'
Exactly what the so-called deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution - named in honour of the 19th Century independence hero - would entail was not made clear during the presidential campaign.

Whatever its shape, the notion of the socialist days to come fills Mr Chavez's supporters with hope and his opponents with dread. With each speech, Mr Chavez gives more details of what he plans to do. Swearing in his cabinet two days before his own inauguration, Mr Chavez explained that the new era would be backed by "five engines", which would:

> allow him to rule by decree
> lead to socialist constitutional reforms
> reinforce popular education
> change the geometry of power (a point which he has yet to explain)
lead to the "explosion of communal councils"

In the same address, Mr Chavez also announced he would nationalise key businesses, declared himself a Trotskyist and cited the ideas of Marx and Lenin. Chavez backers, or Chavistas, say the revolution will lead to social equality - his critics argue it will turn him into a Castro-like autocrat.

Political analyst Alberto Garrido says Venezuelans are likely to hear many more radical policy announcements in the coming days, months and years. "In this 'permanent revolution' we are in for endless surprises," he says.

Mr Garrido says the revolution that is being established in Venezuela is unique and does not follow the Cuban model, as many of the government's critics say. One of the innovations announced by Mr Chavez is his Cabinet, he adds. Its members are now "ministers of popular power" - they have a direct link to the people and are expected to operate more like a team than a classical Cabinet. The ministers - who are mostly younger than their predecessors - will be expected to spread the revolution from the streets.

Battles ahead
Another sign of the changing times, observers say, is Mr Chavez's decision to replace Mr Rangel as vice-president.

Mr Rangel was an important figure in the "transition period" that ended with the December elections - he was seen as someone who could reach out to other groups. His replacement, Jorge Rodriguez, is described as a radical who does not tolerate dissent. But Mr Chavez is not carrying out his revolution in isolation. Mr Garrido says international affairs may be playing a part in what he says is Mr Chavez's decision to go faster down the path of his "21st Century socialism". He says that problems facing key Chavez allies - Bolivia, Ecuador's president-elect and Iran - may make him want to establish this phase of the revolution before the 2014 deadline he has set.

Another possible factor behind Mr Chavez's recent announcements may have been the nomination to the US state department of John Negroponte - known to be very critical of the Venezuelan president - Mr Garrido says.

On the international front, Mr Chavez will also be keen to continue spreading his own brand of socialism abroad, which once again will set him on a collision course with the US and other Western nations. That will not be the only battle on his hands. Mr Chavez's recent announcement that he will not renew the licence of the country's most viewed terrestrial channel, RCTV - which he accuses of having backed a failed coup against him in 2002 - is likely to lead to a wider confrontation with the media.

Whatever happens, it looks likely that the world will be hearing a lot more about President Chavez's revolution.

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