Venezuela No. 484
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez easily won re-election in the December 3, 2006. On January 31, Chavez gained power to rule by decree for 18 months, and officially launched his "socialist project" -trademarks of which now include the nationalization of the Orinoco Belt oilfields, with nationalization of the banking sector to follow, seizures of numerous farms, and the failure to renew the broadcast license of opposition television station Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), and then forcing its closure. In May, 2007, Chavez threatened to withdraw from OAS in response to possible sanctions related to the suppression of RCTV.
The record of the Bush Administration in opposition to President Chavez and in support of opposition leaders of a 2002 coup against democratically-elected President Chavez strongly suggests that U.S. oil interests play a significant role in the Bush Administration's overt and covert approach to Venezuela. Some 15 percent of the U.S. oil imports come from Venezuela, and the Bush Administration and its big U.S. oil company friends have an interest in the privatization of Venezuela's government-owned-and-operated oil industry.
President Chavez has strong populist appeal to poor and working-class people. To these hitherto neglected "have-nots" and "have littles" he has brought more health care, literacy and education. Since 1998, he has won four elections and three referendums. He can reasonably claim a democratic mandate from his most recent election.
This said, however, President Chavez is hardly a model democrat. His critics- who seem to include private press and TV media, major business leaders, and upper-and middle-class Venezuelans - see him as a populist dictatorial demagogue and friend to Fidel Castro. According to The Guardian, in May 2007, the reports from RCTV boiled down to the viewpoint that, "President Hugo Chavez is leading the country to ruin and if he is not stopped Venezuela will become a Cuba-style dictatorship." The threat of restrictions on free speech and the media has come to fruition with the forced closure of RCTV; the freedom of expression previously enjoyed in the country is now in jeopardy.
Analysts see Chavez moving towards autocracy and fear a strong trend away from democratic principles. This trend, in conjunction with the militarization of the government, threatens the country's stability. Furthermore, according to the International Crisis group, if the Venezuelan economy were to falter because of a change in the oil market, the country could face sever internal conflict.
Americans for Democratic Action opposes any action by the United States to destabilize or overthrow the democratically-elected government of Venezuela. However, the trend away from democratic values and towards autocracy is worrisome, especially in light of the fact that by the end of Chavez's current term, he will have been in power for 14 years, making entry into the political process by outsiders even more difficult and unlikely. Given the fact, we urge the people of Venezuela and the government of Venezuela to maintain the institutions and procedures of democracy and the rule of law.
# # #
Foreign and Military Policy Commission