Chavez threatens to jail rival

Frances Winfield 30 October 2008

Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez has threatened his right-wing rival with imprisonment in the run-up to regional elections next month.

Manuel Rosales, Chavez’s main political opponent, is governor of Zulia state and leader of the opposition party.

He failed to win against Chavez in the 2006 presidential election, but is hoping to gain the mayoralty of Maracaibo in November.

At a Zulia meeting of businessmen on Saturday, Chavez said: ‘I am determined to put Manuel Rosales behind bars’.

He has alleged that Rosales has been responsible for acts of criminality such as plotting to assassinate him and illegally obtaining cattle ranches.

Chavez has not however supplied any hard evidence to corroborate these claims.

The international stage is no stranger to Chavez’s outspoken comments, which are frequently directed at politicians and countries who do not share his principals.

The United States has often come under his fire, being attacked as a decadent empire. In addition, Chavez infamously called George W. Bush a ‘devil’ at a UN assembly in 2006.

More recently he has dismissed Sarah Palin as a ‘beauty queen’ in response to her naming him a dictator.

Nonetheless, Chavez’s threats towards Rosales strike closer to home than usual, and are a sign of an increasingly tense election campaign.

Chavez’s remarks come as his country’s economy falters.

Venezuela is the largest oil producer in the Western hemisphere and is consequently being hit hard by global falls in the price per barrel.

Over 90% of Venezuelan export income and over half of its government’s annual expenditure come from oil.

This leaves the country dangerously positioned should the drop in prices continue and a world recession occur.

Despite its vast natural reserves of fuel, Venezuela also suffers from poor infrastructure.

Only ten days ago a giant power cut affected some of the most densely populated areas of the country including the capital Caracas.

Moreover, the price of living in Venezuela has increased with inflation running to over 35% during the past year.

Although President Chavez enjoys large popular support for his social programmes aimed at aiding the country’s poor, such schemes are expensive and may have to be reduced given the economic climate.

This is not welcome news for Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela which faces potential losses in the forthcoming elections.

Chavez has called this vote ‘the most significant in Venezuelan history’; he must hope that the results will not mirror his failure last December when he was defeated over plans to change the constitution.

Frances Winfield