The extraordinary and unprecedented events in Venezuela in recent weeks that have sent the world oil price soaring (though controlled this week by an Opec decision to permit a small increase in production) appear to be concluding with President Hugo Chavez ever more firmly in the saddle.
When the conservative opposition to his radical government embarked on a nationwide and open-ended strike at the beginning of December, accompanied by the almost daily mobilisation of its supporters in the streets of Caracas and other major towns, the purpose was to bring about the president's downfall, through resignation or military coup d'etat. Yet although this strategy has done immense damage to the economy, almost bringing the all-important oil industry to a halt, Chavez has never shown the slightest sign of giving in.
Since the new year, he has been fighting back with vigour, leaving a divided and leaderless opposition - who never expected their strike to last beyond Christmas - with an uncertain future. Chavez is a popular and democratically elected president, and he is firmly backed by the armed forces. A former army officer himself, he has an intimate knowledge of the institution, and he is well aware that the opposition's attempt to cripple the nationalised oil industry - the icon of the country's nationalists - has not been popular with the soldiers.