Analysis; Chavez's 'Socialism' Stirs Fears of a New Cuba

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Byline: EMILIO RAPPOLD Deutsche Presse-Agentur

RIO de Janeiro/Caracas - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could not really enjoy his New Year's holiday on the beach at Guaruja. According to Brazilian media, his Venezuelan colleague and "still friend" Hugo Chavez gave him sleepless nights.

With the radicalization of his tropical revolution to become 21st Century Socialism in Venezuela, the left-wing populist set off the alarm signals not only of his political enemies, like the United States, but also of followers and friends throughout South America.

Chavez "flirts dangerously with authoritarianism" and goes beyond the limits of democracy, Lula complained in private, according to the daily Folha de Sao Paulo.

Until now, most observers have seen in the former parachutist something like a dog who barks but does not bite.

"Now he really bites," said the prestigious Brazilian columnist Clovis Rossi.

Even before Chavez received the equally-controversial Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the weekend in order to strengthen the "alliance against imperialism," he dealt one blow after another.

In a period of only a few days, Chavez nixed the renewal of the licence for an opposition TV station; said he will nationalize the country's largest elctricity and telecommunications firms; and announced his intention to seek special powers, end the autonomy of the country's Central Bank, and push for special powers from Congress -- which he controls -- to run for an unlimited number of reelections.

And then -- as he was inaugurated for a new mandate expiring in 2013 -- he used the motto "socialism or death."

Even the Chavez-friendly Venezuelan sociologist Edgardo Lander admits that there is a risk that the country could slip into a totalitarian system.

"The situation is complicated. A lot of what was achieved (under Chavez) can be lost if one implements a certain system from the top," he said.

Hernan Castillo, a Social Science professor at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, turns to stronger terms.

"An autocracy is coming over us which will be based on the generous flow of oil dollars," he warned. …