Venezuela: Accelerating the Bolivarian Revolution
Latin America Briefing N°22
5 Nov 2009
President Hugo Chávez’s victory in the 15 February 2009 referendum, permitting indefinite re-election of all elected officials, marked an acceleration of his “Bolivarian revolution” and “socialism of the 21st century”. Chávez has since moved further away from the 1999 constitution, and his government has progressively abandoned core liberal democracy principles guaranteed under the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The executive has increased its power and provoked unrest internally by further politicising the armed forces and the oil sector, as well as exercising mounting influence over the electoral authorities, the legislative organs, the judiciary and other state entities. At the same time, Chávez’s attempts to play a political role in other states in the region are producing discomfort abroad. The September 2010 legislative elections promise to further polarise an already seriously divided country, while unresolved social and mounting economic problems generate tensions that exacerbate the risk of political violence.
Taking advantage in 2009 of a non-electoral year in which he stands to lose little in terms of political capital, as well as of his undisputed control of the National Assembly, Chávez has pushed through a series of laws that have been unpopular with broad sectors of the populace. Continued targeting of the political opposition and the mass media, coupled with growing economic, security and social problems, are deepening discontent. Ten years in power have failed to produce significant and sustainable improvements in the living conditions of the poorer segments of society, which are also experiencing critical levels of insecurity and stark deficiencies in basic public services. Tense relations with Colombia may take a toll on the president’s popularity at home.
In an unfavourable political and legal context and with restrictions imposed upon them, the opposition parties are attempting to consolidate an alternative political project with which to challenge Chávez in the 2010 elections. Nevertheless, and in spite of internal fissures, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) remains the most powerful political force in the country, due to the president’s leadership. Despite the growing internal tensions, Chavez’s grip on the levers of power and his remaining popularity with certain sectors of society are likely to be sufficient to allow him and his party to preserve their control of the National Assembly.