Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Venezuela: The People's En-Suite

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Venezuela: The People's En-Suite

Article excerpt

I arrived in Caracas to find my hotel being nationalised. The Hilton occupies a vast complex in the centre of town, now a somewhat unsavoury area. The government, which owns the lease, has told the company to leave by May.


It felt comically apt. The fate of the Hilton encapsulates perfectly what is going on in Venezuela: Hugo Chavez's revolution has moved up a gear. All around Caracas, giant red posters remind people of the "five motors" of the revolution. Images of Chavez are everywhere, from the ubiquitous graffiti to the "21st-century socialism" wristwatches on sale in the street markets.

For much of his eight years in power, the bombastic comandante has battled for survival. His opponents tried to unseat him militarily (in 2002), economically (via an oil-sector strike and lockout in 2002-2003) and politically (with a recall referendum in 2004).

The state and Chavez have morphed into one. Congress, entirely made up of representatives of pro-government parties, has effectively neutered itself by giving the president the right to rule by decree. By May, by extending government control over facilities in the Orinoco basin, Chavez will have complete power over the oil sector. The telecoms and electricity sectors are the next targets for nationalisation. He has removed his vice-president and finance minister from office, both seen as independent-minded, and is turning his attention to the legislature.

With Congress reduced to rubber-stamping, the country's most important policy platform has become Alo Presidente, Chavez's radio and television broadcasts, nightly on radio and weekly on television. …

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