The only question voters were asked to decide in the 15 February referendum was if the Constitution should be amended to allow President Hugo Chavez and all currently elected public officials to seek re-election indefinitely.
But since “winning” a rigged vote which the Chavez-controlled CNE ensured the president would not lose under any circumstances, “El Comandante” and his cronies in crime are behaving as if they won a broad mandate to transform Venezuela immediately into a socialist state.
This behavior is typical of Chavez, who has been plotting the wholesale expropriation of the privately-owned food industry for years. Other industries on the president’s takeover list include pharmaceuticals and the automotive sector, likely starting with General Motors when its parent firm goes bankrupt in a few months, etc.
With his referendum victory in hand, Chavez as always is (a) striking before the opposition regroups, (b) retreating from an immense economic crisis his regime is completely unprepared for by charging forward, and (c) setting up the private sector for all of the blame when Venezuela’s economy tanks in a few weeks.
The president’s latest wave of expropriations is pure populism, designed to convince the generally uninformed poor Venezuelans who constitute his core support base that the revolution really does have their best interests at heart
Chavez claims the private sector is responsible for increasing shortages of food products and soaring food prices. The private sector hoards, price gouges, manufactures shortages and exploits workers for very low wages, according to Chavez.
Many poor working Venezuelans believe what their president is saying. For example, the workers at Polar’s Primor rice plant cheering its expropriation by the regime illustrated how many poor Venezuelans feel about Chavez’s seizure of food companies.
The average poor Venezuelan doesn’t understand economic issues like demand, supply, currency controls, raw material imports, production and labor costs, etc.
All he or she knows is that (a) wages never keep pace with rising prices of everything the worker needs to buy, (b) employers usually appear to be much better off economically than the workers, and (c) for decades successive governments (even before Chavez) have always told the poor that the middle/upper classes (los empresarios, jefes, patronos, la empresa privada, etc.) are corrupt.
Chavez and his new Commerce Minister Eduardo Samán are on a rampage.
The president expropriated 1,500 hectares of productive farmland owned by the Smurfit Kappa Group. He also claims to have signed a decree nationalizing the local assets of “a transnational company” (Cargill?).
Separately, Samán announced that all “areperas” will be “fiscalized” nationally and anyone found to be pricing their arepas too high (i.e. BsF 18-20) will be jailed and their “areperas” will be expropriated.
“The law says usurers will be punished with prison of two to four years,” he said, adding that he also plans to move against pasteurized milk producers.
Many Aperera owners in Caracas, typically small business owners, told reporters that if the regime forces them to sell at BsF 1.50 – the price Samán threatened to impose – they would shut down their businesses because no one can profit at that price.
But Chavez already has a ready solution for that too, announcing he may create a national chain of “Chavez restaurants” where the “pueblo” will be able to eat at cheap prices while the government contains food price inflation.
Business leaders have issued several public appeals in the past week for a dialogue with President Chavez, who clearly has rejected any possibility of a dialogue with anyone who dares to criticize or resist his bully-boy conduct.
Chavez yesterday again warned Polar Group’s President, Lorenzo Mendoza, that if Polar picks a fight Chavez will expropriate “…up to the last plant you have, I’m warning you….if you want a fight, then come…but I don’t want to fight with anyone…I’m here to defend the interests of the people, not those of the bourgeoisie…”
Chavez also threatened to “eliminate Fedecamaras… I don’t care what the president of Fedecamaras says…get involved in a coup again and I will eliminate you… I was a pendejo five years ago, but I won’t allow this stateless bourgeoisie to continue abusing us…”
How long will this latest rampage of presidential expropriation continue?
Our guess: until all of the remaining large/medium Venezuelan and foreign-owned food companies are in government hands. The regime also likely will start expropriating other non-food companies soon.
Who will oppose these expropriations, the political opposition or business institutions like Conindustria and Fedecamaras?
What’s left of the private sector not in bed with the Chavez regime is completely excluded from the revolution’s policymaking process. The president couldn’t care less what the business sector thinks of his policies.
The political opposition is also completely lacking in public credibility/influence over Chavez.
Populism and class warmongering…but so far it appears to be playing well in the barrios. And as the economy’s crisis worsens in coming months, Chavez will start saying the expropriated private companies were found by the regime to be in a terrible state because the former private owners did not invest in maintenance or new capacity.