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Chavez to Foes: Pass the Ketchup

By Jefferson Morley | Blogs

September 23, 2005; 08:11 AM ET | If you enjoy America’s polarized politics, consider Venezuela's divisive debate over leftist President Hugo Chavez.

In the past week, Chavez has made news by cancelling all mining concessions to foreign firms, suggesting the removal of the United Nations from New York and sending soldiers to take over idle factories and farms, including a Heinz Ketchup plant. Before that his government sought the extradition of an accused anti-Castro terrorist from Texas and demanded an investigation of televangelist Pat Robertson’s call for Chavez’s assassination.

Venezuela’s mainstream media and bloggers media routinely excoriate Chavez as an "intoxicated fool"--and that's when they're in a good mood. State-run television, radio and news sites defend him as a man of the people. The general public seems to side with Chavez. When the opposition forced referendum of Chavez’s rule last year, he won 70 percent of the vote. (As after Bush’s victory in Ohio, some of the losers charged that voting machines had been electronically rigged.)

Now debate is growing in Venezuela over the seizure of unused economic assets. Chavez’s leftist government has sent soldiers and supporters to take over some 700 properties with the goal of turning them over to poor people, according to El Universal, a Caracas daily often critical of Chavez. Spontaneous street protests against the move erupted this week. The Universal editors, say the takeovers could "suffocate business activities and free enterprise."

The country’s attorney general rejected the criticism telling the pro-Chavez web site Venezuela Analysis that the issue was being "politicized." He said the takeovers are done “in strict compliance with the law and with a social and humanist sentiment. The Ministry of Agriculture and Land has no plan for taking over [Venezuela’s] agro-industry.”

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