President Hugo Chavez, emboldened by his overwhelming re-election on Dec. 3, has moved Venezuela’s revolutionary process into high gear. Two other landmarks of his presidency have similarly been followed by periods of intensified change: his election to a new full term, or his “re-legitimization” after the adoption of the country’s new constitution in 1999, and the burgeoning of social missions after the failed coup and oil company strike of 2002.

Chavez’s sway derives from an unprecedented 62 percent majority win, with victories in every state. Voting abstention fell to a new low of 25 percent. Chavez supporters govern all but two states.

In recent speeches, Chavez has condemned corruption and bureaucratization and has proclaimed socialism to be the nation’s goal. On Jan. 8 he spoke of “a new era, the National Simon Bolivar Project of 2007-2021,” and “Bolivarian socialism, which requires greater levels of effort and engagement, clarity and efficiency, and revolutionary quality.”

The occasion that day was his introduction of a revamped cabinet with 15 new ministers and 12 holdovers. Taking an oath adapted from Bolivar’s as he was setting off for the wars of independence, they vowed “never [to] rest arm or soul in the construction of the Venezuelan path towards socialism.”

Chavez outlined five steps, or “motors,” toward a socialist Venezuela.

First of these would be an enabling law letting him pass laws by decree for one year. One such decree, for example, is aimed at nationalizing previously privatized corporations. Chavez specified CANTV, a telecommunications company owned 25 percent by Verizon, and an electric power company owned by the U.S. multinational AES Corp.

In similar fashion, the government’s minority shares in four oil operations in eastern Venezuela would be converted into majority shares with the state gaining control of 18 percent of Venezuela’s oil production.

The second “motor” is constitutional reform in the hands of a new constitutional assembly. The assembly would likely authorize government control of the central bank, nationalization of natural gas operations and full state control of the nationalized oil industry and allow unlimited presidential terms.

Third on the list is “popular education” that would “deepen the new values and demolish the old values of individualism, capitalism and egotism.”

Fourth, the government will readjust patterns of local political power to match geographic boundaries.

Lastly, the Chavez government will build up the community council movement to strengthen grassroots power. Observers point out that agitation for shaking up bureaucracies and local layers of government is coming from the community level.

The government announced Jan. 8 that $5 billion would go toward expanding the number of councils from 13,000 to 21,000 over one year. They are seen as the means by which education, health care, housing and other social missions can be managed locally rather than through the bureaucracies. Councils each representing 200-400 families will engage in participatory democracy.

The new minister for popular participation, the responsible agency for the community councils, will be David Velasquez, who as a Communist Party deputy in the National Assembly wrote enabling legislation for the councils.

On Jan. 10, Chavez himself took the oath of office. His two-hour long address that day took on the dramatic proportions of grand opera, especially as it set the stage for Venezuela’s “socialism of the 21st century.”

He portrayed an eclectic parentage for socialism including Jesus Christ, who was “the greatest socialist in history”; indigenous peoples with communal traditions; early Christians; and Bolivar, whose writings on social justice were reviewed. Chavez vowed “not to give rest to my arm nor rest to my soul, that I will give my days and nights, my entire life to the construction of Venezuelan socialism, of a new political system, of a new social system, of a new economic system.”

Beginning with his re-election, Chavez has been proposing a new single party of the left, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Its objective would be to activate a community base of support for his movement and its main task, the waging of a “battle of ideas for the socialist project.” Smaller left parties, including the Communist Party of Venezuela, would be folded into the new entity so as, in theory, to relieve the political process of “careerists” and hierarchical power relationships

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