Chávez is becoming so desperate he has even broached the taboo subject of lessening the gasoline subsidies.
Emboldened by his referendum win and fresh off his nationalizations of Smurfit Kappa and Cargill, Hugo Chávez is becoming ever more radical in centralizing his power, trying to regain what he lost to the opposition in last November’s elections, a defeat from which he is clearly still smarting.
He has ordered his military to wrest control from local government of the ports of Maracaibo (from which most of the oil is exported), Puerto Cabello (a major industrial and agricultural port) and the seaport and airport of Margarita Island, a major port for Caribbean cruise ships.
All of these states fell to the opposition in last November’s referendum, and Chávez has threatened to jail governors who oppose the move. “Go ask the gringo [derogatory for American] Fourth Fleet for help to defend your port,” he taunted, referring to the US Navy’s Fourth Fleet that was reactivated in the Caribbean last year, after a six-decade hiatus.
Chávez claims he is taking over the seaports to bolster security after reports of cocaine trafficking on ships docking in Venezuelan ports.
Ironic that he should worry about this now, since Chávez’s administration has effectively made Venezuela a major transit point for Colombian cocaine, with FARC rebels and renowned drug traffickers finding immunity and protection under his wing, much to the chagrin of the US and Colombia’s Pres. Alvaro Uribe. A fear of losing power and a greatly slowing economy are more likely explanations.
Chávez is becoming so desperate for more money, he has even broached the taboo subject of lessening the gasoline subsidies that make Venezuela’s gasoline some of the cheapest in the world: 6 cents a gallon (about 1 p a litre).
This is, for Chávez, the ultimate irony, for the reduction in gasoline subsidies was one of the IMF-imposed neoliberal economic policies instituted by former Pres. Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1989. When bus drivers passed on the increased cost to commuters one Monday morning, the buses were overturned and set alight, leading the citywide riots known as the Caracazo that had to be quelled by the military, killing hundreds of civilians, most of them poor.
It was a result of the Caracazo riots that then-Commander Chávez decided to found a revolutionary movement within the military that attempted two coups in 1992 and made a popular hero out of Chávez when he was imprisoned for leading the first of them, in February 1992, saying he had only failed por ahora, “for now,” a slogan he still uses.
After being pardoned and freed two years later by Pres. Rafael Caldera, he founded the Fifth Republic Movement party and won the 1998 presidential election. The rest, as they say, is well-documented history.
So Chávez must tread carefully because he understands better than anyone the dangers of gasoline price hikes: they were his making, but could easily be his undoing.