Let’s start with three things that have become self-evident. One: Hugo Chavez, despite what he says, does not govern Venezuela as a democratically elected leader would. Two: Venezuela is no longer a democracy. Three: Individual liberties — including the freedom of the press and access to the Internet — are now in great danger in that nation, and all anti-government dissidents risk arrest or worse.
On Dec. 17, Venezuela’s 165-member National Assembly — overwhelmingly populated by spineless politicians who would never dare oppose Chavez’s orders — granted the president new powers that will enable him to rule by decree for a period of 18 months. This means Chavez will soon be able to push through any political or economic initiative he pleases without any input or debate from legislators. There is only one explanation for this seizure of power: Chavez wants to be Venezuela’s sole ruler, circumventing the newly elected assembly, which will be sworn in Jan. 5 with 66 legislators from opposition parties.
It’s a fact that Chavez — who has been in power since 1999 and has already announced plans to run for re-election in 2012 — has won presidential elections by all available means, including using state resources. There is no balance of power in Venezuela. Under a revised constitution written by Chavez’s cronies in 1999, the government’s legislative and judicial branches are essentially controlled by the executive; and the same can be said of the army, the electoral system and most of the nation’s media organizations.
The U.S. State Department has condemned Chavez’s efforts at imposing autocratic rule, as have other governments and organizations around the world. According to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, “what he is doing here, we believe, is subverting the will of the Venezuelan people.” And the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed concerns that when Chavez has total control, his political adversaries, the media (such as television news network Globovision) and human rights activists will be vulnerable. They are right — it is no longer possible to consider Venezuela a democracy.
In fact, it seems lately that one of Chavez’s goals is to emulate China. Venezuela is already similar to that nation in terms of its competitive economy, strong foreign trade and effective control over crime. But removing individual liberties, censoring news organizations and repressing political dissidents, as China does, is a dangerous example to follow — and it’s the model Venezuela is likely to copy. At China’s behest, Chavez’s government boycotted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo earlier this month held in honor of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned dissident. Now, Chavez also wants to follow China’s example by imposing controls on the Internet.
Expected reforms to telecommunications law in Venezuela aim to silence any voice opposed to Chavez’s regime. Under the proposed bill, media and websites would be forbidden to transmit any messages that “question the legitimacy of the authorities … encourage unrest among the citizens … and instigate or promote hatred.” And who decides if someone is breaking the law? Chavez and his censors.
It is entirely possible that Chavez will want to set up a communications censorship network similar to China’s, with the means to intercept and block certain information, whether by TV, radio or Internet, before it reaches Venezuelans. The proposed telecommunications bill requires that Internet service providers establish mechanisms that can immediately restrict certain messages and block access to certain Web portals. Which basically means that if something displeases Chavez, it is going to be censored. Under the new law, Chavez will not only rule by decree, but will also become the country’s censor-in-chief.
So what will happen if a Twitter user criticizes Chavez’s ambition to remain in power forever? Will that person be arrested? What will happen if someone outside Venezuela says on Facebook that Chavez is a dictator? Will that person be interrogated, detained or deported if he ever dares to set foot in Caracas?
Like many dictators throughout history, Chavez is not satisfied with having almost absolute control over Venezuela; now he doesn’t want people to say negative things about him.
This regime has swept away all remaining shreds of democratic tolerance.
The question, now, is how to remove him from power. This can only be done legally, by Venezuelan voters — a coup d’etat is out of the question. But the task of liberating Venezuela is becoming tougher every day as Chavez’s authoritarian regime tightens the screws.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
© 2010 Jorge Ramos
(November 15, 2010)