Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chavez Checks Out

Lefty left
Venezuelan President-for-life Hugo Chavez is dead at the age of 58 after a two-year bout with cancer.   Vice President Nicolas Maduro, surrounded by other government officials, announced the death in a national television broadcast this afternoon. He said Chavez died at 4:25 p.m. local time.  The Venezuelan constitution specifies that the speaker of the National Assembly, currently Diosdado Cabello, should assume the interim presidency-- but Maduro appears to be usurping the position of acting president, as wished by Chavez himself.

Chavez used his country's vast oil wealth to launch social programs that included state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs. Poverty declined during Chavez's presidency amid a historic boom in oil earnings, but he failed to use the windfall of hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the country's economy and help the poor raise their standard of living in real terms.  Inflation soared and the homicide rate rose to among the highest in the world. 

Chavez ruled through force of personality and showed disdain for democratic rules. He concentrated power in his hands through the use of allies who dominated the congress and loyal judges who controlled the Supreme Court.  Hugo insisted that Venezuela remained a vibrant democracy and denied trying to restrict free speech-- but one by one, outspoken opponents faced criminal charges,  were driven bankrupt or forced into exile.  Dissenting media outlets were either taken over by the government or run out of business.  Chavez also presided over a sustained attack on private ownership, implementing government seizures of companies and farmland,

Over time, Chavez also engaged in constitutional shenanigans which resulted in him being able to run for office multiple times beyond the originally-mandated two-term limit.  Two months after his re-election last October (in yet another sham election), Chavez returned to Cuba again for cancer surgery, blowing a kiss to his country as he boarded the plane. He was never seen again in public.

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