Opposition leaders say they've gathered more than 4 million voters' signatures in a petition effort. Only 1.8 million signatures would be needed under Venezuela's constitution to hold an election before Chavez's six-year term expires. To Chavez, though, popular petitions aren't democracy in action. He labels the opposition "coup-plotters, fascists and
terrorists." Meanwhile, Chavez calls the rise of left-leaning elected leaders in Brazil and Ecuador, along with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Chavez, "the axis of good."
Humility is not a Chavez trait. Nor is compromise. Chavez struts like the king gallito -- the toughest rooster in this cockfight over Venezuela's future, seasoned by years of plotting and training to get to the top. He's not about to give up his spurs now.
His opponents are united by their visceral dislike of Chavez's leftist policies. Yet not one of them -- in the business world, in the 1-million-plus workers' labor movement, in the ranks of educators or church leaders or opposition politicians -- has risen as The One to unite all the country and serve as the anti-Chavez.
Ah, the curse of Latin America's politics of personality.
The populist Chavez, vowing to crusade against government corruption, entered the Miraflores Palace four years ago with the kind of mandate that many elected presidents would envy. Chavez managed not only to get re-elected two years later but orchestrated a power grab to change his nation's constitution to serve a six-year term.
Four years, and corruption has not gone away. Nor have Chavez's policies helped the poor. Indeed, there are 2 million more poor people than four years ago. His move to radicalize education by forcing students to tell their teachers if their families and friends support Chavez smacks of totalitarian bullying. His push to put his own political henchmen in charge of the nation's oil industry and his use of Bolivarian Circles -- often armed mobs of trained Chavez supporters who beat up protesters -- has poisoned people who once saw Chavez as a democratic savior.***
"We're going to shut the door on them ... not a single dollar more for the coup mongers," left-wing populist Chavez said in a fiery speech promising a "revolutionary offensive" against his foes, who include many private businessmen.
Speaking at a ceremony to commemorate a botched coup bid he led in 1992, Chavez said foreign exchange curbs to be introduced Thursday would be administered by a loyal retired army officer, Capt. Edgar Hernandez.
Hernandez will head a currency control office set up to counter the economic damage from the nine-week-old opposition strike, which has triggered a financial crisis in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.
The government announced the controls, along with heavy budget cuts, to halt capital flight and a sharp drop in the bolivar currency caused by the grueling protest shutdown.***