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Venezuela. Chavez has abandoned democratic principles

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Bogotá/Brussels - Against the spirit of the constitution, President Hugo Chávez is accelerating his “Bolivarian Revolution” by implementing radical laws that affect basic rights and liberties and thwart the political opposition’s fair chances in the December 2010 legislative elections.

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Venezuela: Accelerating the Bolivarian Revolution, the latest update briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines how in 2009 the Chávez government has progressively abandoned core liberal democracy principles guaranteed under the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The executive has increased its power and provoked unrest internally by further politicising the armed forces and the oil sector. It is exercising mounting influence over the electoral authorities, the legislative and judicial branches of power and other state entities.

“The December 2010 legislative elections promise to further polarise an already seriously divided country”, says Nicolás Letts, Crisis Group’s Colombia/Andes Analyst. “Unresolved social and mounting economic problems are generating tensions that exacerbate the risk of political violence”.

The government’s lack of capacity to correct serious deficiencies in the management of the state is provoking increasing social protest. The continued targeting of the political opposition and the mass media, coupled with growing economic, security and social problems, are deepening discontent. The opposition, which continues to be divided, is challenging Chávez through democratic means. However, it may in the future look to more violent alternatives for confronting him, if his government continues to shut off space for participation and restrict critics from expressing their views through democratic mechanisms.

Society at large is experiencing critical levels of insecurity and stark deficiencies in basic public services. Tense relations with Colombia may take a toll on the president’s popularity at home. While Chávez’s bellicose rhetoric towards Colombia is unlikely to elicit an armed reaction, it does stimulate the potential for mounting trouble along the border.

“Ten years of ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ have failed to produce significant and sustainable improvements in the living conditions of the poorer segments of society”, says Markus Schultze-Kraft, Crisis Group’s Latin America Program Director. “Chávez has proved to be a poor manager, with difficulties to administer the vast state apparatus he has created and cater for citizens’ legitimate demands”.
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