President Hugo Chavez has a public history of instability and multiple personality disorders we won’t go into here, but it’s well known to longtime Chavez watchers.
But over the past ten days, Chavez appears to have lost his marbles.
Consider his behavior with student protesters and the 15 February referendum on presidential re-election.
In January Chavez was urging security forces deployed against students protesting his bid to win endless re-election rights to “gas (the students) hard and jail them.” But a few days ago Chavez spoke by telephone with student leader Stalin Gonzalez, who lost to Jorge Rodriguez in last November’s municipal elections.
In January Chavez also thundered that war would erupt in Venezuela if he loses the referendum. “The people need me to stay in power until 2021,” he said. On 2 February he told CNN’s Patricia Janiot that if he loses the referendum he will not give up. “A new referendum could be held by popular initiative, or the people could call for a new constitutional assembly to completely rewrite the Constitution,” he said. But on 9 February Chavez said he would respect the people’s will if he loses.
It has been suggested that Chavez is moderating his behavior because (1) he is being pressured externally (ie army), (2) recent government polls confirm his violent rhetoric is backfiring, (3) he went from pitching hardballs to lobbing curve balls to unbalance the opposition’s tempo.
All these theories are plausible.
But how about the president’s recent oddball behavior?
*Chavez celebrated his 10th anniversary in power on 2 February by illegally decreeing a paid day off work, and then deploying hundreds of National Guard troops to force business owners to shut down at gunpoint. Even many hardcore chavistas thought their president’s behavior abusive and inappropriate.
*Chavez turned his 10th anniversary party into a regional event by calling a summit of ALBA presidents in Caracas to play the role of cheerleaders on the Venezuelan president’s big day of celebrating himself. The presidents of Honduras, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua looked pathetic following Chavez around Caracas all day from Miraflores to the national Pantheon and finally Los Proceres where a very poor turnout of chavistas in soggy red waited in the rain for hours before Chavez appeared with his poodle-like retinue of ALBA presidents.
*Chavez turned viciously against La Piedrita, one of the hardcore radical left armed groups in 23 de enero, after its leader gave an interview in which he said La Piedrita was responsible for most of the recent political violence, threatened to kill the president’s foes starting with Marcel Granier, and declared the group was prepared to give their lives in defense of the president and his revolution. Chavez ordered the arrest of La Piedrita’s leader on national television, and accused the group of being financed by the opposition right-wing and infiltrated by the CIA. Now the entire Marxist radical left is furious with Chavez and warning him there will be bloodshed if the president tries to take down any of the revolutionary people’s “cooperatives” like La Piedrita.
*Chavez also warned on television that the opposition plans to execute a destabilization plan he called “Checkmate the King” (i.e. King = Chavez) starting on 15 February with the goal of rocking the revolution and assassinating him if the opportunity presents itself. Chavez has been saying since 1994 that his enemies want to assassinate him. He has made such claims at least 30 times in the past 15 years, but to date he has never provided any evidence whatsoever to support his wild accusations.
*Today Chavez said on national television that he had given orders to prohibit Polish democracy activist Lech Walesa from setting foot in Venezuela, where he is scheduled arrive this week. However, a few hours later Information & Communications Minister Jesse Chacon told reporters the president had not issued the orders Chavez said on TV that he had issued. Chacon said that Walesa’s actions “would be watched” but o one had given any orders to keep him from entering Venezuela.
*Chavez also charged this week that the opposition “wants to start a religious war” in Venezuela, alluding to the recent desecration of the Mariperez Synagogue. However, all the anti-Semitic rhetoric, graffiti and physical provocations have come from chavistas. Moreover, as we blogged yesterday, the official version of who attacked the Synagogue simply is not credible, particularly since Interior & Justice Minister Tarek Al Assaimi, the senior figure responsible for all securitgy investigations, is a hardcore Baathist Iraqi Venezuelan whose father and uncle both worked for Saddam Hussein.
*And today Chavez gave a televised speech in which he guaranteed the Venezuelan people that the regime won’t reduce its investment “rhythm” in 2009. Venezuela’s economy is already toppling into a deep chasm, but Chavez cotinues to insist that everything is just fine.
“I, Hugo Chavez the soldier, promise you I won’t let you down, we won’t let down the Venezuelan people,” he pledged, a little desperately it seemed.