Since last September 26 Chavez has been in a blitz of new legislation of a clear totalitarian bent. In fact most people consider that the what has happened in the past three months is a legal coup d'etat. But I can admit that I am impressed with him: he has managed today to go back on two measures that he can use to present hismelf as a democrat and thus surely the other 98 steps he took must be democratic ones. And I am sure that plenty of suckers will buy that!!!! Allow me to explain.
The first measure it to "veto" the university law. That law was designed to gain control over the major universities of Venezuela who benefit of a significant autonomy in particular to elect their presidents. Since chavismo is unable to win elections in these universities anymore, and since it is even badly routed in some, the new law was a way to take over them. And the private universities along the way.
And yet today Chavez announces that he vetoed that law which apparently he needed.
First, there is no such a thing as a veto. The constitution says that after a law is voted the president can delay its application in the next 10 days by sending "suggestions" to the National Assembly. But the returned law, he must sign it. Period.
Second, he really did not need that law since he was already applying a ferocious financial squeeze on these "rebellious" universities and sooner or later he would force them to some compromise.
And third such a law was an unnecessary risk considering the combativeness exhibited by the students.
I am not ready to say that the eventual dismissal of the law was part of the plan all along to make people forget about, say, the enabling law. But I am sure that considering the world backlash against the legislative agenda and coup of December Chavez needed to do something and dismissing a horrendous university law was quite a nice expedient. Not to mention that it will give something to do to the next assembly and keep it busy instead of making street protestations (see my next post).
Even though the university resistance has been admirable considering it was vacation time I am not willing to chalk it as an opposition victory, a tie at best; because from that "veto" Chavez will get some mileage. This is not at all a comparable case to the Bolivian Gazolinazo and Reculazo of recent days which truly damaged Evo Morales. Not to mention that even the prestigious Nature magazine is getting on the Venezuelan case!!!!
The second item might actually be more of a victory. It was assumed that the regime would increase the sales tax by 2% points. But the protestation by reputed economists and the denunciation that the poor were going to suffer the most of it (though the poor did not emit even a peep skeeeek on this respect, we are not in Bolivia here) must have reached some sensible ears in Miraflores. Heck, if after a global 40-50% devaluation you also need to raise the sales tax, you are in more trouble than what yourself thought you were. Checking its accounts and looking at the obvious inflationary consequences, the regime listened and the sales tax hike was scraped.
Thus I give that point to the opposition because this one actually forced the regime to review its accounts, thus proving again to financial markets that it does not know what it is doing.
Still, two points against 98 does not erase the coup, you will agree.
PS: there is an article of Leopoldo Lopez in El Pais on this subject. Do not miss it.