In his undaunting effort to control every aspect of Venezuelan life, President and despot Hugo Chavez found out that time had eluded his grasp, for the time being. El Tonto Grande had decreed that effective Monday, September 24, Venezuela would change its time to 4.5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, a half hour later than the present time. However, Chavez announced the time change only 8 days before it was supposed to take effect. Moreover, he added to the confusion in his announcement by instructing Venezuelans to turn their clocks foward one-half hour, when his policy actually required them to turn their closks back one-half hour. Admitting defeat amid mounting confusion, Chavez finally postponed implementation of the plan.
What was the rationale for the attempt by Chavez to put Venezuela in its very own time zone, shared by no other country? According to Reuters, "Chavez had said the shift would allow children to wake up for school in daylight instead of before sunrise, but acknowledged that some people might claim he was crazy." No kidding.
More fundamentally, this incident illustrates the effort of a fanatical despot to force every aspect of Venezuelan society and national life to conform to his personal whims. In the same speech as his announcement of the time change postponement, Chavez threatened to close or take over any private school that refuses to submit to the oversight of his socialist government as it develops a new curriculum and textbooks. He has suppressed opposition political parties and has closed down opposition newspapers and broadcasters. His rubber-stamp parliament has amended the nation's constitution to allow him to serve as President indefinitely. Yet this man has become a role model for those on the U.S. left who applaud any anti-American stance, no matter how ludicrous.
In the meantime, Chavez is functioning as a one-man wrecking crew, demolishing the Venezuelan economy. As reported in the International Herald Tribune in September:
While Venezuela earns record proceeds from oil exports, consumers face shortages of meat, flour and cooking oil. Annual inflation has risen to 16 percent, the highest in Latin America, as Chávez tripled government spending in four years.
Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips are pulling out after Chávez demanded that they cede control of joint venture projects.
The bolivar has tumbled 30 percent this year to 4,850 per dollar on the black market, the only place it trades freely because of government controls on foreign exchange. That compares with the official rate of 2,150 per dollar set in 2005. Chávez may have to devalue the bolivar to reduce the gap and increase oil proceeds, which make up half the government's revenue.
"This has been the worst-managed oil boom in Venezuela's history," said Ricardo Hausmann, a former government planning minister who now teaches economics at Harvard University. "A devaluation is a foregone conclusion. The only question is when."
And so Chavez has set out to do to the Venezuelan economy what his hero, Fidel Castro, has done for Cuba. Yet, astonishingly, his anti-American defiance has made him a role model in Latin America for a resurgent, authoritarian, anti-American left. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and his socialist allies won elections there this past Sunday. Correa has proposed a constitutional amendment there to allow the President to serve two four-year terms instead of one, and his opponents charge that this change is just the first step in his efforts to make himself President for life.