Even this was too much for the president, who had the loyalists in the outgoing legislature grant him sweeping decree powers for the next 18 months, effectively bypassing parliament.
At the same time, a couple of dozen laws completed the process of implementing the bulk of the constitutional reform rejected by the electorate in 2007. In particular, a package of five laws aimed at setting up a “communal state” threatened to render what remained of representative democracy in Venezuela a purely decorative matter.
In June 2011 Chavez gave a televised address from Cuba saying that he was recovering from an operation to remove a cancerous tumor. In July last year he declared himself fully recovered just three months before an election, which he won.
In November and again in December he returned to Cuba for more cancer treatment. His allies took the winning 20 out of 23 governorships as favorable auguries for the continuation of Chavismo after his death. Last month he returned to Caracas.
The debate continued as to whether Chavez could fairly be described as a dictator, but a democrat he most certainly was not.
A hero to many, especially among the poor, for his populist social programs, he assiduously fomented class hatred and used his control of the judiciary to persecute and jail his political opponents, many of whom were forced into exile.
Contemptuous of private property, he seized millions of hectares of farmland and scores of businesses, often with little or no compensation. The result was an even more oil-dependent economy, which in place of the “endogenous development” promised by the revolution, relied on imports for basic foodstuffs once produced domestically.
Internationally, Chavez posed as an anti-imperialist and lavished aid on ideological allies.
Venezuela would, he claimed, play a vital role in saving the planet from the evils of capitalism.
In a notorious speech to the UN general assembly in 2006, he called then-US president George W. Bush “the devil,” claiming the podium still smelled of sulfur.
It went down well in some quarters, but economic failure at home and the cozy relations he had enjoyed with dictators such as Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi would ultimately limit his appeal, even on the international left.