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Viewing cable 09CARACAS982, CHAVEZ DETERMINED TO ACCELERATE HIS REVOLUTION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CARACAS982 2009-07-28 20:08 2010-12-10 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Caracas
VZCZCXRO8634
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHCV #0982/01 2092053
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 282053Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3463
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CARACAS 000982

SIPDIS

HQSOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DEPARTMENT PASS TO AID/OTI (RPORTER)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/27/2024
TAGS: PGOV KDEM VE
SUBJECT: CHAVEZ DETERMINED TO ACCELERATE HIS REVOLUTION

REF: CARACAS 933

CARACAS 00000982 001.2 OF 002


Classified By: CDA JOHN CAULFIELD FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY. President Hugo Chavez appears determined to
enact a series of controversial laws covering the electoral
process, education, social property, and the criminal penal
code that are vital tenets of his Bolivarian Revolution and
would further consolidate his power. Many of the laws are
repackaged from previous failed legislative efforts that
proved too unpopular with the Venezuelan electorate. Chavez
likely calculates that now is the time to move forward
aggressively and take advantage of the fact that many
Venezuelans are unaware of the practical significance of the
legislation or may dismiss it as just one more debate in the
ongoing dispute between Chavez and the opposition.
Additionally, he may be trying to pass the series of
unpopular laws in short order and bank on the fact that
voters will have accommodated to the new situation by the
time elections roll around next year. The opposition will be
hard pressed to rally its troops against laws that have yet
to be implemented and are hard to comprehend, especially
during the summer lull when university students and many in
the opposition are on vacation. Chavez can be expected to
apply these laws selectively against a limited number of
individuals and institutions as an example to the rest. END
SUMMARY.

-------------------------------------------
ACCELERATING THE REVOLUTION BECAUSE HE CAN
-------------------------------------------

2. (C) Speaking at an event on July 25 commemorating the
10-year anniversary of the National Assembly's effort to
rewrite Venezuela's constitution, Chavez said he is willing
to rule by decree to push through new "revolutionary" laws,
and called on legislators to accelerate the country's path to
socialism. These controversial laws cover issues such as the
electoral process, education, social property, and the
criminal code that would allow the government further control
of almost all aspects of Venezuelan life. Contacts in the
political opposition and local academic community had already
expected the National Assembly to pass these laws in the
coming months to take advantage of the summer lull when most
Venezuelans are focused on their vacations. They tell us
that because Chavez already has total control of the rubber
stamp Assembly, the manner of how the laws are enacted is not
as important as the fact that he is determined to enact them.
Chavez has called for the passage of all of these laws by
December 15, the 10-year anniversary of the enactment of the
country's "Bolivarian" constitution.

3. (C) The electoral law would limit the ability of small
political parties to claim legislative seats at all levels of
government and would almost certainly increase Chavez's
chances of retaining a majority in the National Assembly
after elections expected in late 2010. This law would appear
to weaken previous safeguards on the transparency of the
electoral process and secrecy of the vote and would give
unprecedented discretion to the Chavez-dominated National
Electoral Council. The education law (REFTEL) is expected to
further politicize the official curriculum along socialist
lines and make it harder for independent minded teachers and
administrators to obtain jobs in public schools. The social
property law has been dubbed the "Cuban Law" by critics who
claim the new rule would allow the government to expropriate
individual homes and businesses. The penal code reform would
expand state control over criminal proceedings and, most
controversially, require banks and telecommunications
companies to record and make available to state officials all
phone calls, emails, and banking transactions in Venezuela.
We will report on all of these laws in more detail via
SEPTEL.

-------------------
BACK TO THE FUTURE
-------------------

4. (SBU) Many of the "new" laws currently in front of the
National Assembly are vital tenets of Chavez's Bolivarian
Revolution but are repackaged from the unsuccessful December
2007 referendum and other failed legislative efforts that
proved too unpopular with the Venezuelan electorate. A 2001
proposal to reform the country's under-performing education
system galvanized the opposition, led to massive street
demonstrations by parents, teachers, and school
administrators, and was one of the catalysts for the April

CARACAS 00000982 002.2 OF 002


2002 coup. The penal code reform contains the spirit of the
deeply unpopular "Ley Sapo" (Snitch Law) that Chavez passed
by decree in May 2008 and then subsequently revoked due to
public backlash. Elements of the social property law were
first proposed as a modification to the constitution that was
defeated in the December 2007 referendum. Critics say the
National Assembly wants to appear to be introducing less
radical versions of the laws to tamp down potential adverse
public reaction.

5. (C) Our contacts admit that the opposition will not be
able to organize itself formally to protest these impending
laws until at least October when university students return
to campus and Venezuelans are back from vacation. They add
that Chavez has a track record of passing controversial laws
during the summer months and likely judges that the initial
outcry after the laws are passed will long be forgotten by
the time of National Assembly elections scheduled for late
next year. Noted Venezuelan pollster Luis Vicente Leon told
poloffs on July 21 that there has been no public backlash
against the pending legislation because opposition media
outlets have relatively little penetration among the
populace, and therefore most Venezuelans are not aware of
what the Assembly is about to pass. He said this is why
Chavez has been cracking down on radio stations in recent
weeks; these stations have a wider reach among Venezuelans,
and Chavez must target these outlets to keep awareness low
and to better control his message.

6. (C) Leon's comments echoed those of other academics and
opposition party officials who note that both the penal code
and the electoral law are complicated issues that many
Venezuelans do not understand, or may dismiss as simply
another dispute in the ongoing battle between the opposition
and the Chavez government. COPEI Secretary General Alejandro
Vivas confirmed to Poloffs in mid-July that the opposition
will not be able to do much more than take note of and
monitor the laws' passage before trying to mount a more
organized opposition this fall. Nevertheless, he highlighted
the importance of challenging these laws through legal and
institutional means. He noted that even though state
institutions are effectively subservient to the executive
branch, these institutions will be around after Chavez leaves
office, and the opposition needs to be on record doing what
they can to challenge these laws through all means at their
disposal.

-------
COMMENT
-------

7. (C) Chavez is a savvy politician skilled at calibrating
and re-calibrating his political strategy to advance
controversial legislation and achieve his policy goals.
Whether because of worsening economic conditions, the absence
of a viable political rival, or a time period of about a year
before the next scheduled elections, Chavez likely calculates
that now is the time to move forward aggressively to
implement his agenda and accelerate his revolution. The laws
currently in front of the Assembly represent some of the most
controversial legislation of Chavez's rule, but they also
form the backbone of his political ideology. In attempting
to pass these laws in short order, Chavez runs the risk of
going too far too fast, but his likely selective
implementation against a limited number of individuals and
institutions may help maintain complacency among the
Venezuelan electorate. The opposition is very worried about
the impending legislation, but they will be hard pressed to
rally more than pro forma opposition to laws that have yet to
be implemented, are difficult to comprehend, and are easily
lost among the constant din of Chavez's "revolution."
CAULFIELD