The Further Erosion of Venezuelan Democracy


With revenues from oil exports falling precipitously and a popular mandate allowing him to run for election indefinitely, Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez is ramping up attacks on his political opponents. Manuel Rosales, former governor of Zulia, Venezuela's richest and largest state, and current mayor of Maracaibo, ran against Chavez in the 2006 presidential elections. Now, the blustering Bolivarian is threatening to have Rosales arrested for "illegal enrichment."

In a rare show of unity, opposition leaders from different political parties joined the march and spoke out against the bid to detain Rosales, which they said was a case of political persecution by socialist President Hugo Chavez.

"What they want to do to Manuel Rosales is not a trial, it's a political lynching," Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma said at the march, where protesters waved photos of Rosales, the most public face of Venezuela's fractured opposition.

The public prosecutor on Thursday asked a court for a warrant to arrest Rosales, a former presidential candidate who is mayor of Maracaibo, the second-largest city in the OPEC nation. The prosecutor on Friday requested Rosales' case be moved from Zulia, where he has wide support.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Chavez will take "direct control over lucrative transportation hubs that were previously managed at the state level," a move that "deals a blow to Mr. Chávez's political opposition, as several of the key installations are in states controlled by opposition governors."

The clever economists of the revolution, fresh from enacting price controls that have denuded Venezuelan grocery stores of meat and dairy products, will raise the value added tax on goods and services from 9 percent to 12 percent and increase the minimum wage by 10 percent, moves that will enviably prolong the economic slowdown, real economists have predicted. 

And in other revolutionary news: Following the leads of Naomi Campbell, Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, and Danny Glover, Che star Benicio del Toro met with Chavez in Caracas last week, saying he had "a good time" with El Commandante.