Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Chavez's tinpot socialist dream

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, fresh off a commanding electoral victory, wants to launch a socialist state by nationalizing industries and ruling by decree.

Chavez said he would submit a "revolutionary enabling law" to legislators through which he would be able to pass bills by decree to rush through socialist economic packages. The measure should sail through Congress, dominated by Chavez loyalists....

Chavez, in power since 1999, said he would nationalize Venezuela's largest telecommunications firm CANTV and unspecified power companies in the fourth biggest oil exporter to the United States.

He has also said that only loyalists can serve in the army or work for the state-run oil company.

It sure sounds like Chavez is setting himself up as a dictator -- and proponent of leftist revolutionary confrontation -- in the world's eighth-largest oil exporter, subverting democracy to his own ends.

What should we do about it? Nothing.

Chavez is hugely popular in Venezuela. He won 61% of the vote in the recent elections. Since opinion polls leading up to the vote showed similar levels of support, it's reasonable to conclude that the vote was accurate.

Further, Chavez is doing everything in the open. He's making no secret of his plans or his goals.

I think Venezuelans will come to regret throwing democracy away, but if they want a socialist dictatorship they should have it, and it should be none of our business.

But wait, critics say. Chavez controls all that oil. What if he uses it as a weapon?

What if he does? Venezuela's production of about 3 million barrels a day accounts for less than 4 percent of global output. He simply doesn't control enough of the market to be able to set prices -- or even influence them much. Further, anything he tries will end up hurting Venezuela more than his target, by reducing oil revenues. And he's going to need those revenues to finance his social programs.

Well, what about a military buildup? What if he invades his neighbors?

Venezuela's military is tiny: about 82,000 total, of which the Army accounts for 34,000 (plus another 23,000 national guardsmen). While the air force is relatively modern, the navy is small and aging and the army's equipment is seriously outdated. Total military spending is less than $2 billion a year, and a tiny fraction of GDP.

To the west, Colombia spends more than three times as much. To the south, Brazil spends 12 times as much. Only tiny Guyana to the east could possibly be a victim, with just 1,600 or so troops. But beyond the general sanction such a move would bring, Guyana is a member of the British Commonwealth -- meaning Britain would take specific exception to any aggressive move. Plus Guyana is a poor country, with nothing of value that Chavez could want.

What about using his oil money to finance leftist insurgencies around South America and the Caribbean? This is the most legitimate worry, as it's the most feasible way for Chavez to stir up trouble if he were so inclined. But it hasn't happened yet, and there's nothing to do until it does. We cannot and should not punish a country for what we think it might do someday. We can only punish it for its actions or clearly imminent actions.

So while Venezuela appears ready to embark on a major mistake, it is their mistake to make. Our role is simply to be vigilant to make sure Chavez's problems stay inside his borders -- and to assist democracy if and when the Venezuelan people grow tired of dictators.

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Blogger Not Your Mama said...

I'm with you, absolutely nothing is the thing to do.

He can sink his boat just fine without our help.

1/09/2007 6:36 PM  

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