Posted on 26-03-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

A few weeks ago Sean Penn whined that people called the elected Hugo Chavez a dictator and went on to say that “[t]here should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.”  See link.  Evidently Hugo Chavez agrees.  Escalating his attack on private media (most of Venezuela’s private TV stations have been shut down on his watch), Chavez arrested the owner of the only remaining critical TV channel for remarks “offensive” to the President.  See link.

Guess what Mr. Penn, that is dictatorial conduct.  Far too many people equate democracy with elections.  If Sean Penn evidently thinks so on the left so do many on the right (unless of course the Democrats use their mandate from the last election to pass health care, which is rank tyranny).  When Afghanistan and Iraq went to the polls many Republicans eager to claim political victory hailed the establishment of democracy.  Yet casting the democratic franchise is just a small part of creating a democratic state.  Far more important is creating democratic institutions that respect the rule of law, leaders who understand that approval at the ballot box does not free them from any constitutional limitations and most important the willingness of leaders to accept repudiation by the voters who put them in office.

Chavez fails on many of these counts.  He has packed the Venezuelan Supreme Court with cronies making that institution a rubber stamp.   He has used the institutions of the state to muzzle dissent, notably by his attacks on the press.  More recently when the public rejected his power grab by public referendum he was forced to accept the result by threat of a military coup.  These are the dictatorial tendencies, albeit one who cloaks himself in populist tendencies.  People forget that Chavez’s first attempt to seize power in the 1990s was by an attempted coup before he turned to the polls.

It is not hard to see why so much of the American left approved of Chavez when he came to power.  Venezuela has been cursed with oil wealth that has rarely flowed to the improvement of its impoverished masses.  Venezuela’s long democratic tradition was gradually turning into oligarchy.  To his credit Chavez shook Venezuela’s moribund institutions out of their stupor.  But that does not excuse the blinders of a portion of the left to what Chavez has become, his embrace of authoritarian regimes across Latin America and the world, his support of the Columbian terrorist movement FARC and his destruction of Venezuela’s democratic institutions.  Like many of his authoritarian peers he considers himself indispensable to his country as seen from his comments about remaining in office for the next couple of decades.  In the meantime his economic mismanagement is wrecking Venezuela’s economy, his government has failed to stem a growing crime wave and many of Venezuela’s best and brightest are voting with their feet.

A thorough repudiation of Venezuela’s caudillo at the ballot box and his replacement by a more competent steward of Venezuela’s fortunes (whether from left or right) is long overdue.

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