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Venezuelan Unrest: An Indicator of Future Instability?

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Venezuelan Unrest: An Indicator of Future Instability?

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In January 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was re-elected in a landslide victory in which he vowed to bring a new “21st-century socialism” to his country, later confirming his goal of transforming democratic Venezuela into a socialist state.

As the election neared, an Associated Press poll found that 62% of Venezuelans strongly support nationalizing companies when “in the national interest.” On May 27, 2007, Mr. Chavez—to the dismay of millions of stunned citizens—boldly shut down the popular Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), which was watched by over 80% of the nation.

The decision spawned violent protests—ironically, largely comprised of university students who tend to support the socialist ideal promoted by Mr. Chavez. The result has been the worst civil unrest in Venezuela since a military coup briefly removed Mr. Chavez from office in 2002.

The Venezuelan president labeled the station owners as “enemies of the homeland” and called his actions a “sovereign, legitimate decision” triggered by RCTV’s “poisoning” Venezuelans against his new socialist “Bolivian Revolution” (AP).

Undeterred by the display of thousands marching in Caracas, the nation’s capital, over the weekend, Mr. Chavez defiantly vowed to pull the broadcast licenses of any media outlet he viewed as a threat or that he determined was “sowing unrest.” His threat was directed at the popular Venezuelan station Globovision, and was meant as a stern warning to all radio, television and newspapers outlets in the country to “get into gear,” else he would be forced to “do what was necessary” to silence opposition.

With the government already in control of multiple national and local television stations, the president’s vow to create a powerful socialist state seems to be turning into a harsh reality.

Venezuelans are not the only ones who are uneasy about the RCTV shutdown and looming threats against additional media outlets. Many outside Venezuela, including the Bush Administration, are concerned that state control of Venezuela’s vast oil operations are next.

Venezuela is the fifth-largest oil-producing country in the world, and many nations, including the United States, rely upon its uninterrupted flow of oil. If Venezuelan oil becomes nationalized, the U.S.’s oil supply and gas prices will almost certainly be adversely affected.

Teodoro Petkoff, editor for the Caracas newspaper Tal Cual, summed up Hugo Chavez’s bold actions and the state of affairs in Venezuela: “He speaks of annihilating his enemies. In the mouth of a political leader, that is not good language. It is the language of a general on the battlefield” (AP).

One is left to wonder if Mr. Chavez’ actions and the subsequent massive demonstrations are signs of things to come. Furthermore, what will be the global impact of a destabilized Venezuela?

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