Over the next 12 months, watch for Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to take his brand of 21st-century socialism to the extremes. Having lost his majority in Parliament in September, Chávez has since been working hard to ensure that the new, opposition legislature will be irrelevant by the time it is sworn in in January. The Venezuelan president has consolidated control over the military and police, seized more private companies, and won temporary "decree powers" from the outgoing, pro-government National Assembly.
Chávez's power grab comes as the country's economic, social, and security problems are mounting. Violence has spiked dramatically in urban areas; there were some 19,000 homicides in 2009 out of a population of 28 million. In recent years, Venezuela has become a major drug-trafficking corridor, home to foreign and domestic cartels alike. State security forces have also been accused of participating in criminal activity. Meanwhile, Chávez has escalated -- rather than soothed -- the situation with fiery, partisan rhetoric that seems to egg on a violent suppression of the opposition. That message has an audience; government-allied street gangs in Caracas stand ready to defend his revolution with Kalashnikovs.
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