Venezuela

The Darkest Hour Of Venezuelan Democracy

The Chavez-Maduro regime has corrupted democracy and impoverished the nation in a perfect storm of political strong-arming, cheap oil, and public apathy. The time is now to react.

Feb. 16, 2014 protest in Venezuela's capital Caracas
Feb. 16, 2014 protest in Venezuela's capital Caracas
Darío Acevedo Carmona

If you must lie, you lie — any dictator will tell you that. The socialist regime forged by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has now held power for 16 years, apparently using the procedures and rules of the democratic system.

It was defeated just once, in 2007 when voters rejected its proposed constitutional reforms, though it had no qualms then in threatening the victors. The late president called expand=1] the results of the referendum a "shitty victory" for his opponents. Indeed months later, backed by the exceptional powers that parliament had given him — an Enabling Act — he instituted everything Venezuelans had rejected in their vote.

Is the popular uprising now spreading in Caracas the end of this reign? It is still too early to say. Chávez, his followers and the whole Chavista movement, have played with democracy in the most cavalier, shameless manner. They have falsified elections to the point of turning them into harmless, useless formalities. They have resorted to the praetorian methods characteristic of fascist regimes, using paramilitaries to shoot and kill and spread fear among opponents; or like comunists, conquering power and perpetuating themselves as they dismantle institutions of state.

In the process of humiliating and destroying democracy, the Chavistas have enjoyed formidable tools and circumstances. Firstly they redefined the ideas of their 19th century idol Simón Bolívar, who apparently is but a step away from becoming a socialist or Marxist. The Bolivarian discourse has become an umbrella to justify the "feats" meant to attract the unwary inside and abroad.

The oil on which the country is literally afloat has become an instrument of diplomatic blackmail: Back me if you want your free oil! Given away at the cost of domestic impoverishment, it has helped make the "Bolivarian ideal" and its pseudo-socialist experimentation dominant in regional bodies like the Organization of American States (OAS), and in such proliferating bureaucratic institutions as the Bolivarian Alliance ALBA, the Community of Latin American States and the trading union UNASUR.

Talk is cheap

The evident results: The OAS has confirmed all elections, and no country speaks out against the blatant and considerable strikes against liberties and democracy in Venezuela. They have repositioned Cuba as a champion of democracy and freedom, revived the Cuban dictatorship and handed Venezuelan sovereignty to the Castros who now give instructions on what is to be done in Venezuela.

Allies further afield include Russia, China and Iran — the anti-American crowd — and support is given to terrorist groups and fanatics roaming the region. The country has become a shelter for terrorist chieftains of the FARC and ELN.

The Chavista discourse — from Chávez to his handpicked successor President Nicolás Maduro — is punctuated, even embodied, by the kind of cheap talk that would silence critics by bombarding them with insults and calumny.

The regime has flexed its crass muscles by sweeping away private enterprise; Venezuela is practically a country without businessmen now. Likewise with the media, the order of the day is to shut down, revoke licences and close channels. The papers have nothing to print on. One broadcaster was squashed financially during the last presidential elections while the latest attack has targeted another dissenting medium, the broadcaster NTN24.

While there may be shortages in the supermarkets, there is none when it comes to using violence against "enemies," through counter-demonstrations, shootings and beatings meted out by the regime's plain-clothes agents. The message is clear: They will do all that's necessary to retain power. If they are expand=1] prepared to beat legislators inside parliament, what else would they do in the future? The masks, it seems, are slowly coming off.

And we finally have the accusations against actors abroad — presidents in Washington and Bogota and the Colombian paramilitaries said to be fomenting street protests, just like the Castro regime that likes to blame the United States for the failure of its supposedly superior economic system.

Removing a dictatorship is no easy task, and the opposition coalition must make choices: continue with protests to force a presidential resignation, urge the world to pay attention or wait for more support from a public kept quiet by gifts and subsidies. Whatever path they choose, opponents must understand that nothing can succeed without unity among them.

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