Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of Chavez's election as president of Venezuela. Accordingly, late Sunday afternoon, he declared Monday, Hugo Chavez Day, a national holiday closing all schools, government offices and many businesses. To commemorate the day, he took over the television and radio stations as well to address his devoted and not so devoted followers. While he spoke, the streets filled with pro and anti Chavistas banging pots and pans, setting off firecrackers and generally wreaking havoc in demonstration of their respective allegiances.
February 15 is a referendum in Venezuela to determine if the current law regarding term limits will stand. If the measure fails, Chavez will be out of office with no chance for re-election in 2012, but if it passes, he will likely die in office. At this point it is unclear what direction the vote will take, but the opposition is worried. In anticipation of this truly momentous event, there are daily protests in and around Caracas, usually violent, with tear gas used rampantly. The country is on the verge of economic and political collapse and the conventional wisdom is that regardless of the referendum's outcome things in Venezuela will go from bad to worse.
I have often wondered how a people allowed some of the world's most infamous leaders/dictators to become so powerful. Of course their rise didn't happen overnight and their ultimate objectives usually only became clear after it was too late. But, they all had to start somewhere and often with a peaceful and quiet ascension to power. The referendum on the 15th will not be a military coup or a violent government overthrow, it will be a simple vote for or against Chavez. Though the outcome remains uncertain, I fear we are on the verge of literally seeing history repeat itself here in Venezuela. Happy Hugo Chavez Day indeed.
PS I know the blog has been pretty political of late. Come back tomorrow and I promise to post much lighter fare and not mention Chavez or Obama or tear gas for a whole week at least.