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Venezuelans Give Chávez a Mandate to Tighten His Grip

If President Hugo Chávez rules like an autocrat, as his critics in Washington and here charge, then he does so with the full permission of a substantial majority of the Venezuelan people, Sunday’s election here showed.

Sent to power for a third time, Mr. Chávez seems intent on assuming the mantle from the fading Fidel Castro of chief Latin American scourge of the United States. He also has made no secret of his intent to consolidate his power further through legal and personnel changes.

He has spoken of a desire to unite his supporters in one political party and to alter legislation to allow him to remain in power past 2020.

Winning support for such measures may not be difficult in a country where his allies already control the legislature and the Supreme Court as well as governorships in all but two states, and where the military, the national oil company and other government bureaucracies and institutions have been systematically packed with Chávez boosters and stripped of opponents.

Now, facing an anemic opposition that could not win in any of Venezuela’s 23 states or Caracas, Mr. Chávez is expected to tighten his grip, first and foremost over his own supporters in an effort to prevent challenges to his rule from emerging.

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