Hugo Chavez does not know when to stop. Many of his recent actions involving the nationalization of the banking, energy and telecom markets will certainly drive up supply risk for companies with indirect or direct ties to the region. But at this point, he seems to have gotten away with his billions of dollars in grand theft from the private sector and private shareholders. However, his latest action, taking control of a major television network, might finally have been one step too many in the eyes of even his supporters.
In the above link, The Wall Street Journal article (registration required) describes how protesters took to the streets in response to Chavez' latest actions, taking RCTV off the air. According to the Journal, "RCTV had more than 44% of the nation's television market share and offered, along with contrarian political views, a wide range of entertainment. For many poor, working-class Venezuelans, whose evening soap opera is one of life's few pleasures, the end of RCTV is nearly unforgivable. This is especially so because it has been replaced by a government-run station that Venezuelans say is boring."
The protesters voicing opposition to Chavez' actions "represent the country's middle and lower-middle income sectors. Yet it is notable that the protests have spread beyond wealthy Caracas to include public universities in poorer parts of the country where student bodies tend to be even more humble." But what is new about this particular development is that the protest movement has shifted its focus to "freedom and calls to end the dictatorship." Is it the beginning of the end for Chavez? Perhaps, but rather than sit back and let history take its slow course, we should encourage our governments to take action against this brutal dictator not only to restore Western interests in free trade in the region, but the basic human rights of Venezuela's inhabitants as well (including the right to watch bad soaps).
Incidentally, Chavez appears to be attempting to distract attention from his latest scheme by venturing into the computer business. But this can't be called an act of benevolent convergence. Nor is Chavez focusing on creating an evil iPod. Rather, he wants to to "come out with his own PC that he would then distribute to citizens in the region, according to sources in the PC industry who have been contacted by Venezuelan officials ... The PCs would be part of Chávez's strategy of winning friends in the region through gifts paid for through Venezuela's oil industry. Cuba, Bolivia and other nations have all been recipients of gifts from Chávez. The PCs would likely cost little or could even be given away." One wonders whether or not XP or Vista will be the dictatorial operating system of choice. Regardless, I'm guessing that the Chavez PC will come with its own form of state-mandated spyware.