Not too many pundits expect Hugo Chávez's grip to be significantly weakened when Venezuelans go to the polls in September. But with the economy severely weakened by continued electricity shortages that not even rain bombs can fix, Chávez may be looking to stay on the offensive.
A few compelling examples:
- 40% pay raise for the military. I know I'd vote for/defend most anybody who gave me a 40% raise (I'm not being sarcastic - that's a big jump).
- Comments that the election of Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos to the presidency could lead to a war between the two countries. Yes, wag that dog, my friend!
- Rallying the troops on the Venezuelan bicentennial. See photo.
- Accusing US planes of "electronic warfare" against his country. See point 2.
Chávez's domestic problems are serious. In addition to the economy, which is the only major Latin American country expected to shrink this year, the crime rate is being cited as a significant driver of requests from Venezuelans of Spanish decent to obtain Spanish nationality. The main factor in the elections, though, may turn out to be whether the Venezuelan opposition can manage to do anything in unison.
If anyone's listening, I'd propose a Gingrich-style "Contract with Venezuela." Everyone loves a good contract these days.
Image Source: Times Online
Online Sources: Bloomberg Business Week, NY Times, Reuters, Wikipedia, Washington Post, The Times Online, The Independent, VHeadline