by Nick Foster in Caracas and Tony Allen-Mills
In a controversial attempt to turn Venezuela into a socialist utopia, President Hugo Chavez is planning to build a network of egalitarian communities without mayors or municipal governments. He declared last week that his new “socialist cities” would be run by “people power”.
Chavez told the Venezuelan national assembly that vast tracts of the country’s largely unpopulated interior would be used for the construction of new cities, each covering up to 100 square kilometres (38.6 square miles).
He gave few other details at swearing-in ceremonies after his recent re-election other than to advise his critics: “Those of you who want to know what type of socialism I have planned for Venezuela should read Marx and Lenin.”
The president’s plan was denounced by political rivals as a ploy to reduce the power of state governments that provide the main source of opposition to his increasingly autocratic regime. The new cities would be self-governing and beyond the jurisdiction of provincial governors.
The plan was also dismissed as a deluded attempt to re-create the socialist paradises promised by despotic regimes in the 20th century, with pitiful results.
“Chavez’s plan is to introduce a system similar to Pol Pot (the Cambodian Khmer Rouge leader),” warned Carlos Raul Hernandez, a political scientist. “When Chavez talks about people power, he means doing away with elected institutions and replacing them with groups of fanatics.”
Chavez was sworn in for a six-year term on Wednesday amid signs that he intends to cement his grasp on power with a series of constitutional changes and international alliances that are sure to aggravate his already strained relations with Washington.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran arrived in Caracas yesterday for discussions with Chavez on their deepening economic, political and military relationship. While some analysts have characterised Iran-Venezuela contacts as primarily intended to annoy President George W Bush, one Washington source said the White House was concerned at the potential for Iranian-backed terrorist groups to obtain a foothold in Latin America.
Washington is also worried that attempts to impose economic sanctions on Iran over its clandestine nuclear programme may be subverted by Venezuela, the world’s fifth largest oil producer.
“While Bush has been busy trying to take over the Middle East, America’s enemies have been moving their chips to our south,” said a former US military intelligence officer.
However, as oil prices remain high enough for Chavez to be insulated from the economic difficulties that afflict much of Latin America, profits have begun to fall in recent months.
“Chavez’s self-confidence has outgrown his momentary good fortune (from high oil prices),” said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue policy group. “These latest moves may accelerate the implosion of a political system whose vulnerabilities are increasingly exposed.”
Source: The Sunday Times
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