Jan 31/07 | On the OAS's Predicament: Principles or Buildings For Sale?
PMBComment: Juan Forero, the one who wore panglossian glasses when covering Venezuela for the NYTimes, presents a very realistic picture below of the continuing distress being produced by Mr. Chávez’s misinterpretation of his “mandate”. When the great-grandchildren, the grandchildren, the children and even recent immigrants leave by the thousands, we can easily describe not only the present state but also the future predicament of a country that for centuries had been a net recipient of opportunity seekers from near and far.
Today, in one of those populist charades so dear to the heart of totalitarian rulers, an illegitimate National Assembly – after all it was elected by less than 18% of the eligible voters - will surrender in Caracas’ Plaza Bolivar its legislative duties to a man who in 8 years has been able to destroy much but who has built nothing more than a heinous and limitless cult of personality. Surrounding him, as is usually the case, are countless sycophants who have excelled in the art (or is it a science by now?) of looting the coffers of the state with reckless abandon, not to mention absolute impunity.
Today is the first day in which using the term democratic to refer to the rule of Hugo Chávez is not only wrong – as it has been the case for years by the way - but also a sign of inexcusable connivance.
If the member states of the OAS let this latest abuse go unnoticed, I can – and probably will - recommend a good real estate broker who would happily arrange the disposition of the magnificent OAS headquarters on
By Juan Forero
Wednesday, January 31, 2007; A01
Two months after Chávez was reelected to another six-year term by an overwhelming margin,
Chávez's government announced earlier that it intends to nationalize strategic industries, such as telecommunications and electric utilities, and amend the constitution to end presidential term limits.
The new, more radicalized era is enthralling to the president's supporters. To them, Chávez is keeping the promise he has consistently made over eight years in office -- to reorganize Venezuelan society, redistribute its wealth and position the country as an alternative to
"This is a moment that could be key in the history of Latin America," said Joanna Cadenas, 36, a teacher in the state-run
But the moves -- which opponents say are marked by intolerance and strident ideology -- are prompting some Venezuelans to leave the country and others to prepare for a fight in the last battlegrounds where the opposition has influence. A few are trying, against the tide, to remain apolitical in a country marked by extreme, even outlandish rhetoric.
"What we're seeing happen here is not good," said José Manuel Rodríguez, 42, an accountant seeking travel documents at the Spanish Consulate. "What we see here is the coming of totalitarianism, fewer guarantees, fewer civil rights. I want to have everything ready to leave."
Chávez's moves are worrying Bush administration officials, who have voiced concern over the ideological nature of nationalization plans that have targeted companies such as CANTV, the dominant provider of fixed-line telephone service, and the utility Electricidad de Caracas, both of which have stakeholders in the United States.
"We should all be concerned about the direction President Chávez is taking his country," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, said in a statement this week. "Any leader who tries to tighten his grip on power by destroying the institutions of democracy, curtailing press freedom and using his office to intimidate pro-democracy opponents is setting in motion a dangerous process with potentially ominous consequences."
Venezuelan government officials argue that the president's moves are the will of the people and that his latest electoral victory is a mandate for Chávez to deepen what he calls his Bolivarian revolution.
"We cannot disqualify Hugo Chávez as social leader who, with the support of big majorities, makes decisions," said Haiman El Troudi, a former chief of staff to Chávez who now works at the
El Troudi, the author of a book about the kind of companies that should make up the 21st-century socialism that Chávez extols, said the government will move quickly to transform the country into a mixed economy of state firms and private ones, "but with conditions." He said that politically and economically,
El Troudi also acknowledged that the government needs to better woo the 4 million Venezuelans who voted against Chávez and now feel they have no political representation. "These 4 million people are not oligarchs, and they don't represent the ideas of the oligarchy," he said.
Still, Chávez's own rhetoric, in daily speeches that can last hours, are filled with invective against opponents and the Americans, giving the former paratrooper the air of what prominent Mexican author Carlos Fuentes calls "a tropical Mussolini."
Even some of Chávez's allies have raised eyebrows over some of his plans. The president has formed a coalition, the United Socialist Party, to unite the numerous parties in the National Assembly -- all of them pro-government. But the leaders of bigger, well-established parties such as the Communist Party and Podemos are balking, at least for now.
In a recent meeting for leaders of Podemos, one delegate, Pedro Peraza, said that although support was strong for folding into the president's party, Podemos needed to be cautious. "Things cannot be that way, that it's all about what the president says and that we just follow along," Peraza said. "That would be like communism."
Despite concern voiced by several Podemos members, the president of the party, Ismael García, said that the dissolution of his party was only a matter of time. Asked if folding Podemos and other parties wouldn't give Chávez too much power, García cited the widespread support the president enjoys.
"We're not turning over anything to anybody," he said. "The president has won this through his prestige, his worth as a leader, his courage."
Chávez's boundless energy, and broad ambitions, have hardly slowed plans that include putting a satellite into space, sending 100,000 poor Venezuelans on vacations to
"We thought 2007 would be a time for change, a time for constitutional reform, but we never thought one month after the election we'd see a creation of a sole party, the shutdown of RCTV, the nationalization of CANTV and the electricity of Caracas, and the announcement of a new political map of Venezuela," said
Rigoberto Lanz, a prominent intellectual who is an adviser in the government's Science and Technology Ministry, said the size of Chávez's ever-expanding government has done little to curb what he called the two most serious "enemies" of the Chávez administration, corruption and bureaucratic inertia.
And while Lanz and others are working to empower Venezuelans, he said, there is not a mechanism for people's wishes to be reflected in major policy moves, such as nationalizing companies. Among Chávez's plans are communal councils, funded by oil revenue, that would give ordinary people decision-making powers. "We're still far from the big decisions being made by the people," Lanz said.
A recent survey done in
"It suggests Chavistas are uncomfortable with some of this and, more importantly, it shows that Chávez is misinterpreting his mandate," said
Perhaps surprisingly, some in the opposition see this moment as a time for optimism. Once badly fragmented and discredited, they believe they could find adherents as Chávez tries to inject socialist dogma into schools, as he has promised to do, or replace municipal governments with community councils.
"Our job is to present alternatives, and then we need to organize and make people conscious," said Leopoldo López, the opposition mayor of Chacao, an affluent district of Caracas. "I'm not despondent. The lack of hope is the worst enemy we have."
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