Chavez losing political support


Mr Chavez, a devoted admirer of Fidel Castro, has forged an anti-American front with leaders ranging from President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

At home, however, Mr Chavez is in trouble. State elections are due in November and Venezuela's opposition, which now includes former followers of South America's standard-bearer for socialism, is expected to perform well.

The constitution compels Mr Chavez to leave office when his term ends in 2013. He tried to remove this clause and dramatically extend his powers last December - but lost the necessary referendum.

Billboards across Venezuela's capital, Caracas, carry his response. "Por Ahora," they read in red capitals, meaning "For Now". Whether Mr Chavez's political setbacks are temporary or terminal is the central question.

General Raul Salazar, once a close friend who served as the president's first defence minister, said that Mr Chavez suffers "many hells or infernos inside him".

"Perhaps he feels a real social resentment because of the poverty of his upbringing. That becomes a nightmare for any human being," added Gen Salazar, who campaigned against Mr Chavez in the referendum.

"Political leaders go through three stages. First they are governors, then they are statesmen and then they think they become God and they decide they don't need anyone's advice. I hope to God that he doesn't get to the third stage, but he's probably close."

Under Mr Chavez, Venezuela's government has become a one-man show. He takes almost every decision himself, working into the early hours, scrawling his signature on official papers. His ministers are powerless. Mr Chavez no longer chairs cabinet meetings, delegating that task to his vice-president.

Former admirers are increasingly concerned. General Raul Baduel, who served as defence minister and rescued Mr Chavez from an American-backed coup in 2002, said: "The person who's in charge of the destiny of our nation has become focused on one aim: to perpetuate himself in power even when this damages the country. Actually, damaging the country favours his aim, because each day we depend more upon the government."


Many of the military officers are no longer serving because they refuse to do his silly pledge to socialism. I think he is also paranoid about an International Criminal Court prosecution for his activities with FARC. That more than conviction probably explains his recent suggestion that the narco terrorist disband. He may also fear a narcotics trafficking charge for facilitating the transportation of Colombian cocaine through Venezuela to West Africa and then on to Europe. He has many reasons to be concerned and none of them have anything to do with a US invasion.


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