Socialist Democracy: What’s at Stake in Venezuela’s Presidential Election

A Socialist Democracy?

Opponents of Chávez say the Venezuelan president is autocratic, with some even calling him a dictator.

They point out that Chávez had the country’s constitution changed so that he can be re-elected an unlimited number of times. The president has also expanded the number of judges on the Supreme Court and packed it with his supporters, while promoting laws that give him greater control over the state-owned oil company PDVSA.

One major concern for Venezuela’s opposition as of late has been the decision by the Venezuelan congress to divert resources from state governments — which are sometimes controlled by politicians opposed to Chávez — towards socialist communes, that are officially independent, but rely on the government for funds and for their legal status. A lawpassed in 2010, says these communes will have courts with jurisdiction over local residents, and that their objective will be to “regulate social and community life [and] guarantee public order, social harmony and the primacy of collective over individual interests.”

Chávez supporters argue that the communes are merely an effort to expand democracy, and get people directly involved in government. The president’s supporters also note that the indefinite re-election law was voted on through a national referendum, and that other changes in Venezuelan democracy have been approved legitimately, by that country’s congress.

The government plans to register 3,000 communes around the country if Chávez is elected for another term, while the Capriles campaign says that it would stop this scheme and instead focus on generating family owned small and medium enterprises.

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