Thursday, December 16, 2004

Miami Herald editorial on Chavez dictatorship

Some people do get it. The Miami Herald editorial show that at least in Miami people are very aware of the Venezuelan "legal" dictatorship. Although the registration is free, for people that do not want to be bothered the full text below.


A democratically enshrined dictatorship?


Beware what you wish for: Six years ago, disgusted with a corrupt political system, a large majority of Venezuelans ushered Hugo Chávez into power with license to conduct his ''Bolivarian revolution.'' Today, the nation stands at the brink of being an elected dictatorship. With new pro-Chávez justices packed onto the Supreme Court, a new law that gags the largely opposition press, a pro-Chávez majority in the National Assembly and broad executive powers to rule by decree, its hard to imagine that any Venezuelan institution can check the president's reach.

Chavistas ask, What's wrong with that? Mr. Chávez promises to spread the wealth of an oil-rich country that has an embarrassing amount of poverty -- and he's already spent lavishly on social programs for the poor.

No watchdogs

The problem is that limitless power leads to limitless abuses. Without watchdogs such as the press and judiciary, a president can stifle dissent, discriminate against minorities, send enemies to jail, award fat contracts to cronies, take kickbacks, use the treasury as a personal piggy bank and impose policies that are not in the interest of the greater good. In the end, the poor end up worse off. And such a president could be reelected for life.

The result of absolute power can be seen just north of Venezuela, in Cuba. Ruled by Fidel Castro for 45 years, the island's economy has been destroyed and its people stripped of fundamental rights. Publicly challenging the one-party system can land a Cuban in jail, as it did 75 dissidents imprisoned last year with terms of up to 28 years.

It's not reassuring that Mr. Chávez looks to Castro, a dictator, as his mentor. Nor are we encouraged that one of the newly appointed Chavista justices to the Supreme Court recently suggested that Venezuela's current constitution -- written to Mr. Chávez's own specifications -- should be amended to allow the president to be reelected indefinitely.

Power consolidated

Other disturbing signs point to the Mr. Chávez's relentless consolidation of power. The recently enacted Chavista gag law gives the government broad discretion to fine and shut down media outlets that until now have given voice to Mr. Chávez's critics. The measure outlaws messages deemed to ''disrupt public order'' and other offenses so vaguely defined that anything might be considered a crime. A new penal code just approved by the pro-Chávez Assembly even criminalizes the cacerolazo, a popular protest method of banging on pots and pans.

Venezuela's opposition remains divided and weak after Mr. Chávez defeated the attempt to recall him from office, and other watchdog groups are under threat of prosecution. No one remains to stop his rule. The consolation is that Mr. Chávez will be the only one to blame when the country fails to prosper.

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