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Hugo Chavez Still Trying to Become President for Life

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar kicked off Chavez's talk-a-thon and reform-a-thon week by denouncing the "Chávez, (Russian president Dmitri) Medvedev and the Ayatollahs' system" as political models of "nations where freedoms have dramatically moved backward and they try to get united against free nations based on democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights." It's nothing less than "a political project based on an ideological renewed edition of the hardest-core Marxism intended to dismantle liberal democracy." 

Obviously. But what is Chavez going to pull out of his bag of dirty tricks to ensure that he's not humiliated at the polls like he was in Referendum 2007? 

First, he's kissing up to the administration in Washington, which appears to have been returning the favor. U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Caracas John Caulfield said he expected a warming in relations after chatting last week with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro about "the opportunity for a new dialogue ... between our governments from the perspective of a new administration in Washington." For his part, Chavez has lauded the selection of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, according to Caracas newspaper El Universal, and he expressed hope in his marathon address that Obama's arrival will stop the "meddling" in his grand Bolivarian plans. Though now the hot-and-cold ruler thinks Obama has "the same stench" as Bush. 

Next, Chavez faithful are doing the dirty work against the country's remaining free media in the run-up to the vote. La Piedrita, a Che-loving "humanismo socialista" organization, proudly takes responsibility for recent multiple attacks on Globovision (which made Chavez's bashing list in his snoozefest address), on one Globovision reporter's home, and on the daily newspaper El Nuevo Pais. In the run-up to the November elections in which Chavistas lost ground (including the mayorship of Caracas),  Tarek El Aissami, Chavez's interior minister, defended the militant attacks on the media by accusing Globovision of a "conspiracy" against Chavez. After the elections, Chavez opened an administrative investigation into Globovision's activities, assuredly trying to send the last non-satellite opposition news station the way of Radio Caracas TV. 

But what about that trifecta cited by Aznar? Never mind that Chavez and his Bolivarian buddy Evo Morales have been invited to a feast in Tehran celebrating "victory of the Palestinian resistance" (yes, Iran has already congratulated Hamas on its "victory" in the wake of Israel's unilateral Gaza pullout). Venezuela's $1 billion arms loan from Russia doesn't just ensure that Chavez can defend himself from the "empire," as he often claims, but supplies him with enough might to fend off international entities who may spring to Venezuelans' defense should Chavez begin systematically purging the opposition and forcefully pass his "reforms." That $4 billion worth of Iranian industrial development in Venezuela doesn't hurt in propping up the regime, either.

And if at first you don't succeed, then just buy more votes this time.

It's precious to see tyrants stick together, but it's more important to see how the Venezuelan opposition sticks together at this juncture. The polling that shows Chavez headed for defeat may not yet reflect Chavez's wholesale efforts to rally his blind followers or a stepped-up campaign of intimidation against the opposition. While bracing for a few weeks of hell, those brave enough to stand against Chavez's "Groundhog Day" referendum -- again -- will need to watch their backs (and invest in some good masks to protect against tear gas).