January 16, 2007
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is living up to his promise to radicalize his Bolivarian Revolution after his re-election.
In fact, Chavez has stopped referring ambiguously to some sort of socialism and openly announced that Venezuela will become a socialist country, albeit with a "Socialism of the 21st Century."
But, how modern really is the socialism that Chavez proposes for Venezuela?
Given the announcements made last week, when he was inaugurated for a new term and named a new Cabinet, we can say that Venezuela is heading towards the old communism of the last century, and more in the Cuban or North Korean style than the Chinese.
The decisions announced by Chavez are very similar to those taken in the early years of the Cuban Revolution.
Saying that these were strategic sectors from the point of view of national interests, Chavez announced the nationalization of CANTV, Venezuela's largest telephone company which is controlled by Verizon, as well as the production and distribution of electricity.
Although in the latter case he did not mention names, one of the most important electric power companies in Venezuela is Electricidad de Caracas, which belongs to the U.S. company AES.
And although the government has said there will be compensation for investors, it is far from clear that this compensation will be by market rules -- that investors will be compensated for the real market value of the properties they are being forced to hand over. And, of course, it is even more doubtful that a company that belongs to a government will offer even an adequate level of service and efficiency.
At the same time President Chavez announced that the license of Radio Caracas Televisión a national television network, would not be renewed. He accuses the company of having backed an attempted coup against him.
While Chavez is not the only openly leftist Latin American president, he is proving to be the most radical.
Bolivia's Evo Morales also "nationalized" that country's gas industry, but it was little more than a change in the rules that allowed the country to increase its income from the extraction and sale of gas.
Nestor Kirchner in Argentina and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil have similar ideologies to Chavez but don't share his statism.
And among the newly elected left presidents, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega was just sworn in but has promised to respect private property and encourage foreign investment. He supported an already negotiated free trade agreement with the United States, but one of his first actions as president was to join ALBA, a Venezuela-initiated bloc that seeks to limit U.S. influence and also includes Cuba and Bolivia.
On January 15, Rafael Correa was sworn in as President of Ecuador. He is another left of center socialist who has promised a series of radical measures against open markets, but how much Correa will be able to do is an open question, since Congress is entirely in the hands of the opposition.
Chavez, on the other hand, has succeeded in increasing his power within Venezuela in a way no one else has been able to do in recent years in Latin America.
That is why it's likely that, like Cuba, Venezuela will remain an economic island, at least in the medium-term. And even that is open to question, because despite his personal popularity, the polls indicate the big majority of Venezuelans oppose the idea of their country becoming another Cuba.
As for the rest of Latin America, Hugo Chavez is as unpopular as his favorite nemesis, U.S. President George W. Bush, according to polling firm Latinbarometer.
Alberto Padilla is the business and financial news anchor and reporter for CNN en España