- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2000

Venezuela's controversial president, Hugo Chavez, is at it again. This time his target is the labor unions. On Monday Dec. 4, Venezuelans voted overwhelmingly in favor of a government-sponsored referendum to hold new elections for union bosses. Unsurprisingly, the measure will remove hundreds of opposition labor leaders from their positions. Although Mr. Chavez has effectively filled Congress, state governments and the judiciary with his friends, the opposition controlled the labor unions before the referendum.

The other wild card continues to be Venezuela's media organizations, although Mr. Chavez has clearly attempted to cow this industry, too, into submission. On Sunday Dec. 5, Mr. Chavez called on journalists to rebel against the antigovernment values of their media owners.

The president's extracurriculars have also been disconcerting. In October, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro traveled to Venezuela to visit Mr. Chavez. The two engaged in conspicuous displays of affection. And Fidel made out rather well from the visit. In a grand gesture of patriarchal generosity, Mr. Chavez is virtually giving away oil (53,000 barrels per day) to Cuba.

Mr. Chavez seems intent on pushing his power to the limits of legitimacy. His rhetoric and affection for Mr. Castro puts his actions in a troubling context. The question remains, will the president step down when his term ends or will he cloak a coup in "democratic" trappings?

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