In his annual address to Parliament, earlier this month, the president announced (to no one’s surprise) that he was now a Marxist. He no longer pays lip-service to the separation of powers, which in practice disappeared some time ago. The head of the Supreme Court, Luisa Estella Morales, said last month that such niceties merely “weaken the state”. A leading member of the ruling United Socialist Party, Aristóbulo Istúriz, called for the dismantling of local government, which Mr Chávez wants to replace with communes.
The 1999 constitution guarantees property rights and the existence of private enterprise. But the president now says that private profit is the root of all evil. Callers to the government’s consumer-protection body, Indepabis, find its hold-music is a jingle about evil capitalists. Insisting that his recent currency devaluation was no excuse for price rises, Mr Chávez had Indepabis close down hundreds of stores for “speculation”. He told Parliament to change the law on expropriations and seized a French-controlled supermarket chain to add to the government’s new retail conglomerate, Comerso.I have always thought that Hugo Chavez really meant business. I even have a bottle of wine riding on him still being in power in 2013 (Intrade is no help here, at least that I could find). But now he's talking about replacing localities with communes? What's next, Five Year Plans? He blinked a large amount of private wealth out of existence with his recent currency devaluation; he nationalizes a new enterprise every week; and he's gagged independent media. The Economist makes much of the fact that public opinion polls have turned against him lately, but he clearly isn't the slightest bit interested in giving up power should he lose his election in 2012 (or the parliamentary elections in September), not that that could possibly happen because he's certain to rig the elections.
Things will turn nasty as the economy falters under weight of Soviet-style central planning and uncooperative oil prices. I strive above all things to not be histrionic or paranoid. Am I being histrionic and paranoid by predicting there will be violence in South America in the next ten years, either by civil war or an attempt by Chavez to plunder his way out of the hole he's dug himself?
UPDATE: On second thought, I guess a lot of dictatorships over the past few decades have avoided war. Hopefully Chavez won't have the longevity of a Castro.