Chavez consolidating parties that back him

January 04, 2007|By New York Times News Service

CARACAS, Venezuela --President Hugo Chavez has begun forging a single Socialist party among his varied supporters, one of his recent efforts to create momentum for far-reaching changes to Venezuela's political system that analysts say will effectively concentrate greater political power in his hands.

Chavez announced the plan for the single party, called the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, in a speech last month to supporters here. He reminded them of his 23-percentage-point margin of victory when he was re-elected last month to a six-year term.

"Those votes don't belong to any party," Chavez said. "They belong to Chavez and the people."

Since then, the swiftness and boldness of Chavez's attempt to create such a large party tied so closely to his personal leadership have created concern, even among sympathetic analysts, that the step would effectively turn Venezuela into a one-party state.

In an essay published on Aporrea, an influential pro-Chavez blog, Edgardo Lander, a sociologist at the Central University of Venezuela, questioned the reasoning behind forming a single political party described as Socialist when the definition of the "21st-century Socialism" that Chavez aspires to build remained extremely vague.

"Isn't the cart being placed in front of the ox?" Lander wrote. "What future, from the point of view of pluralism and democracy, lies ahead for a political organization decreed in this fashion?"

Analysts more critical of Chavez have drawn a parallel with Fidel Castro's successful effort to create a single ruling party in Cuba in the early 1960s.

Chavez has tried to ease fears that his project would lead to authoritarianism by saying party leaders would be chosen largely by his rank-and-file supporters - an idea lambasted by critics here. "His tireless finger won't stop singling out those who are going to be the bosses," said Teodoro Petkoff, the editor of the opposition-aligned newspaper Tal Cual.

Some of Chavez's supporters say the creation of a single party would combat the excessive bureaucracy and corruption stemming from the need to distribute political spoils to an array of different parties. Others view the new party as a way to remain ahead of a fractious opposition.

The move has already revealed tensions within the coalition of more than 20 political parties that supports the president. Critics say the plan could marginalize relatively small pro-Chavez parties that support an open economy, existing government institutions and a pluralistic political system.

By contrast, much of the support comes from more hard-line members of Chavez's party, the Fifth Republic Movement, which was dissolved last month to make way for its larger successor.

"We're witnessing a struggle between two ideological currents within the Chavista movement," said Steve Ellner, a political scientist at University of the East in Venezuela.

Some of the strongest resistance comes from Chavez's allies on the far left. The Communist Party, in particular, stands to lose considerable stature as it folds into the new party.

The Communists have weathered decades of persecution and the collapse of the Soviet Union. "The Communist Party was created to defend the workers and should continue this struggle," party official Jeronimo Carrera told the newspaper El Nacional.

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