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January 20, 2007
Venezuelan Democracy, RIP

The Venezuelan national assembly has followed in the footsteps of the German Reichstag in the 1930s in voting itself into irrelevancy. It gave President Hugo Chavez dictatorial powers, which he says he will use in the short term to nationalize vast swaths of the nation's industry and eliminate any term limits for his reign:

Venezuela's National Assembly has given initial approval to a bill granting the president the power to bypass congress and rule by decree for 18 months.

President Hugo Chavez says he wants "revolutionary laws" to enact sweeping political, economic and social changes. He has said he wants to nationalise key sectors of the economy and scrap limits on the terms a president can serve.

Mr Chavez began his third term in office last week after a landslide election victory in December.

The bill allowing him to enact laws by decree is expected to win final approval easily in the assembly on its second reading on Tuesday. Venezuela's political opposition has no representation in the National Assembly since it boycotted elections in 2005.

The transformation of Venezuela from democracy to banana republic is now complete. Chavez has reinvented the Fuerherprinzip, South America style, in having his rubber-stamp assembly grant him absolute power over the nation. No court, no legislature can overturn his decrees, at least not for the next eighteen months -- and one doesn't need a crystal ball to predict that Chavez will issue a decree negating that limitation as well, and probably sooner rather than later.

Western investors in Venezuela will suffer the same fate as those invested in Cuba before the fall of Batiste, or in Mexico during their occasional efforts to nationalize industries. They will be lucky if they can sell off their assets to Chavez for pennies on the dollar before he can seize them outright. The window for those transactions will close very shortly.

More importantly, Chavez has condemned the people of Venezuela to oppression and further misery. When outside investors stop underwriting projects in the country, their economy will head straight down. Chavez will use what remains -- the oil production -- to make splashy festivals for the poor and open a few schools and hospitals. The vast majority of what profit he can take will go right back into the pockets of Chavez and his cronies.

The drop in oil prices means that he will have less in his pockets already. Venezuelan oil is not of the highest quality and costs more to produce. Their margins are much thinner than the Saudis, for instance, who just pledged to increase production. If prices drop below $40 per barrel, which seems a stretch but still possible, Chavez will have almost no profit from oil production, and the lack of investors to build other industries in the country will cause Venezuela's economy to grind to a halt.

It wasn't that long ago that Chavez claimed he smelled George Bush's aroma at the podium of the United Nations, calling him a devil and an oppressor. In this case, I think we can conclude that Chavez smelled the enemy of the Venezuelan people -- and it was himself.

UPDATE: Some Leftists may indeed swoon with joy over Chavez, but the sensible Michael Stickings isn't one of them:

Chavez talks up his Bolivarean revolution -- his efforts to transform his country and Latin America, in alliance with like-minded rogue states like Iran, into a grand anti-American bloc -- but what forms the core of his rule is not liberation but absolutism. In this case, the rule of "revolutionary" law -- in effect, the arbitrary rule of a single unchecked man -- is nothing but tyranny, authoritarianism, the oppression of the people. Arbitrary rule always is. Which is why the rule of law, as opposed to the rule of man, is so central to democracy. And which is why, in our advanced democracies, we must safeguard the rule of law vigilantly and diligently, protecting it from the trespasses of those who would weaken it, scrap it, in the name of executive authority.

Well put. After that, he takes a cheap shot at Bush, but that's more habit than thought.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 20, 2007 10:20 AM

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» Descent from Blue Crab Boulevard
(T)Hugo Chavez has had his rubber stamp legislature grant their seal of approval to his demand that he be allowed to dictate law by executive fiat. Venezuela has begun the descent into dictatorship and rule by personality cult. Venezuela'... [Read More]

Tracked on January 20, 2007 12:23 PM

» Emperor Chavez from Considerettes
I’m on a “Chavez kick”, I know, but the man just begs for coverage. Hugo and his buddies have created a scene so similar to Star Wars that George Lucas may be able to sue for copyright infringement. Venezuela’s National Assembl... [Read More]

Tracked on January 22, 2007 12:20 PM


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