Chicago Tribune | 11/30/2009 12:00:00 AM
Hard times for Hugo
Nov 30--Hugo Chavez's prescription for coping with power blackouts and water rationing: Take shorter showers and keep a candle by the bed, in case you have to get up and go. No wonder the Venezuelan president's ratings are falling.
The water shortages are caused by the seasonal warming phenomenon known as El Nino, he says, but all that singing in the shower isn't helping. Chavez recently urged all Venezuelans to limit themselves to a three-minute "communist shower." And despite food shortages, the president recently admonished citizens to get in shape, the better to serve his revolution. "There are lots of fat people," he said.
Chavez's outlandish pronouncements, especially those directed at the Yankee imperialists, are usually good for a cheap laugh. But lately he seems a little tone deaf. Oil revenues, which account for more than half of the government's budget, are down 52 percent this year. Inflation is near 30 percent. Those fat, wasteful patriots are not amused.
In October, Chavez's approval rating dropped below 50 percent for the first time since he took office in 1999.
Not that Chavez takes much stock in public opinion. Speaking last week at an international socialists' meeting -- this one was in Caracas, not Evanston -- Chavez called the jailed Venezuelan terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, who has confessed to numerous bombings, kidnappings and killings, "a freedom fighter." He called Zimbabwe's thug president Robert Mugabe and Iran's Holocaust-denying blowhard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "brothers" who have been wrongly labeled "bad guys." He mused aloud that Ugandan strongman Idi Amin, whose regime killed hundreds of thousands of citizens in the 1970s, might have been "a great nationalist, a patriot." Then he stood back and basked in the outrage.
But there's trouble on the horizon. With legislative elections coming up next September, only 35 percent of voters in a recent poll said they'd vote for Chavez allies; 46 percent favored opposition candidates. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they believed a popular uprising is a possibility. This can't be good news for a guy who's still trying to figure out how to become president for life.
Never a man to run out of ideas, Chavez has now decided to pick a war with Colombia. Earlier this month, the Colombian government agreed to allow the U.S. wide access to its military bases to help fight drug trafficking and leftist rebels. Chavez claims that's a cover for a planned invasion of Venezuela.
Read more here.
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