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Page added on November 29, 2007

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Venezuelan leader’s power play has echoes of Castro

…”Venezuela is going to be a big, big headache” for Washington if Chavez wins the referendum, says Javier Corrales, a political science professor and Chavez watcher at Amherst College.

Corrales says an emboldened Chavez could drive up energy prices through his control of Venezuela’s oil industry, refuse to cooperate with U.S. anti-drug efforts and undermine the fight against Islamist militants through his economic partnership with Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism.

In Venezuela, tensions have started to boil over as polls show the referendum’s outcome is in doubt. Clashes between supporters and opponents have repeatedly turned violent, and one protester was killed Monday. Using his trademark hyperbole, Chavez told a crowd of students last week they could “save the world” by voting in his favor.

Critics fear that a “yes” vote would cement Chavez as a de facto dictator and lead to more of the problems that have begun to plague his self-styled socialist revolution. The economy is still expanding thanks to record prices for Venezuela’s oil, but there are growing shortages of basic goods such as milk, pasta and sugar. The exchange rate for the currency is so distorted that passengers arriving at the Caracas airport are immediately besieged by black-market traders desperate for U.S. dollars.

USA Today

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