Trouble brews in Venezuela

A diplomatic flap in Venezuela is raising tensions ahead of a referendum on sweeping new powers for President Hugo Chavez, said Guillermo Martinez in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and this is something Americans shouldn't ignore. If Chavez gets these

What happened

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Thursday threatened to reconsider his country’s ties to Spain after King Juan Carlos told him to “shut up” at this week's Ibero-American Summit in Chile. The diplomatic flap raised tensions ahead of a Dec. 2 referendum on whether to grant Chavez sweeping new powers.

What the commentators said

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Chavez is using his typical, boorish "dramatics" to "deflect attention" from a serious matter, said The Washington Times in an editorial. "This would-be clone" of Fidel Castro is "gutting" his country's constitution to give himself dictatorial powers.

Chavez is certainly loving the attention, said Guillermo I. Martinez in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun-Sentinel. Most Americans seem content to ignore his foolish antics “as long as he keeps exporting the oil this country needs,” but beware. This is one “dangerous fool.”

Dec. 2 will be a wake-up call, said Michael Rowan and Douglas Schoen in The Hartford Courant. If Venezuelan voters give Chavez the constitutional amendments he wants, he’ll have “dictatorial powers" of "an elected strongman reminiscent of Spain's Franco, Italy's Mussolini and Orwell's Big Brother.” That will let him shut off the oil with the flip of a switch, something that could “tip the world into a recession.”

Chavez’ “coup” will also set back his country’s democracy by decades, said The Washington Post in an editorial (free registration). Students, “by the thousands,” have protested Chavez’ “socialist” reform measures even though they have to brave attacks by pro-Chavez goons. “It's encouraging that so many of its people aren't prepared to give up their freedom without a fight.”

Yes, but 60 percent of Venezuelans—according to one newspaper survey—are behind Chavez' proposals, said Sebastian Kennedy and Martin Markovits in the New Statesman. "Only a nationwide outburst of mass opposition could interrupt Venezuela's inexorable socialist metamorphosis."

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