The 13th year of Hugo Chavez’s misrule has started.
Chavez has ruled longer than any Venezuelan president since the Andean dictator Juan Vicente Gomez.
Chavez also arguably has inflicted more lasting structural damage on Venezuela’s economy, its political institutions and society than any president in the country’s history.
Petroleos de Venezuela, which generates over 90% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and is literally the fiscal and industrial spine of the Venezuelan economy, has been destroyed.
Pdvsa today produces about 2.2 million b/d of crude oil compared with over 3.4 million b/d in 1998. Its refineries and upgraders are crumbling and were plagued by at least 17 major explosions/fires in 2010 in which four persons were killed and dozens injured.
Pdvsa boasts that it employs almost 100,000 workers and plans to invest $252 billion between 2010 and end-2015. But it’s all BS and lies. Pdvsa has not completed even one of its planned major expansion projects since officially launching its “Siembra Petrolera” plan in the second half of 2005.
Pdvsa’s financial debt is estimated at almost $28 billion, but its real liabilities including compensation claims by foreign companies whose assets were stolen, plus unpaid suppliers/contractors and others, easily totals over $50 billion.
The national power generation/transmission industry also has been destroyed by Chavez’s misrule, as have the “strategic” steel/iron and aluminum/bauxite industries.
Everything Chavez has stolen has collapsed almost immediately. Venezuela now imports over 85% of the food it consumes thanks to Chavez’s theft of millions of hectares of productive land. Construction activity also has collapsed since Chavez stole the cement, rebar and other construction-related industries.
But, despite Venezuela’s numerous and worsening structural problems, Chavez also still appears to have the upper hand as he begins his 13th year in power.
The lame duck National Assembly, which ends its ignominious five-year session no later than 4 January, has granted Chavez special powers to rule Venezuela by presidential decree for 18 months.
The departing assembly also approved a bunch of new laws that push Venezuela towards a centralized Socialist state that consciously ignores the will of a majority of voters who rejected Chavez’s December 2007 referendum to impose Bolivarian socialism by reforming the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution.
The new National Assembly, which includes 65 opposition legislators from the Democratic Unity Table (MUD), begins its sessions officially on 5 January.
A handful of the MUD’s new lawmakers have voiced hopes that the new assembly will debate the issues and laws with dignified democratic discourse.
MUD’s 65 new legislators also called a press conference on 3 January to invite Venezuelans who voted for them to accompany them to the National Assembly early on 5 January to show their support for Venezuela’s democracy.
But will the new MUD lawmakers even be allowed physical access to the assembly?
Some in Chavista officialdom are saying that the new opposition legislators are welcome in the assembly.
But there also has been chatter among hardcore chavistas about how the revolutionary “pueblo” (i.e. paid street thugs) might decide to physically prevent the new MUD legislators from entering the assembly.
Assuming that the new assembly sessions peacefully and democratically, as it ought to…will its 165 members including the 65 MUD legislators, 2 PPT legislators and 98 PSUV members have any real work to do over the coming 18 months?
Chavez doesn’t need the National Assembly, and legally he can ignore the legislature over the coming 18 months as long as the Supreme Court is in his pocket, which it is.
MUD can protest until its leaders are collectively purple-faced, but the facts are that Chavez can do anything he wishes, and he certainly will.
Some MUD leaders still appear to think that Chavez can (will) be voted out of power democratically in the end-2012 presidential elections.
But I suspect that Chavez will do everything in his power to bury the remains of Venezuelan democracy long before those elections.
Chavez and his local/international supporters will never give up power democratically.
If there’s an end to the Chavez regime, it will be violent and bloody.
But it’s also possible that Chavez will remain in power for many years because the “bravo pueblo” of Bolivar is just a myth.
Perhaps for most Venezuelans, it’s a case of “…mejor vivir de rodillas que morir de pie.”