Crackdown in Caracas

DARIO LOPEZ-MILLS/AP

President Hugo Chavez thanks God during a news conference in Caracas

Carlos Fernandez and Carlos Ortega were history. For two months, Fernández, head of Venezuela's national business chamber, and Ortega, boss of the nation's largest labor union, led a loud but inept general strike meant to oust leftist President Hugo Chávez. When the strike ended earlier this month, they had succeeded only in crippling an already depressed economy, paralyzing Venezuela's all-important oil industry and exposing themselves as part of the corrupt oligarchy Chávez overthrew in the 1998 presidential election.

After outlasting and outsmarting this duo, Chávez could have focused on Venezuela's recovery. Instead, shortly after midnight on Feb. 20,...

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