Saturday, November 20, 2004

Nov 20/04 - On the a super Editorial from the Washington Post and on the assassination of a less than "holy" State prosecutor

PMB Comment: on Thursday night an all powerful state prosecutor was killed when his SUV was apparently blown up with a remotely operated C4 bomb. In which city of the world did this wicked crime occur? Baghdad? Mosul? Moscow? Madrid? Medellín? No, it actually occurred in the heart of Caracas.

Not surprising? Actually, in spite of unrelenting political tension – which has included its fair share of unresolved criminal acts - the killing of Danilo Anderson is Venezuela’s first (contemporary) instance of a targeted political assassination and, to boot, it has all the essential ingredients to stir up the country’s putrid pot.

While his formal title was “Fourth State Prosecutor for Environmental Matters with National Competence” Anderson was better known as Chavez’s chief henchman; a pit bull willing to carry out the Lt. Colonel’s most perverted schemes, a tropicalized version of Robespierre who – predictably - met his predecessor’s fate.

Anderson was behind every single legal case in which the law was subverted in order to intimidate Chavez’s opponents, or to cover the tracks for the amoral regime he served with obsequious delight. To millions of common Venezuelans Anderson was THE “boogeyman”. While all this does not justify, much less excuse, an assassination it might explain why he was its target.

Evil and so forth, who had him killed? Who gains most from his death? Who or what is next? Who knows! The fact that there are so many credible hypotheses and scenarios is proof in itself of the sorry state we have reached as a society. Fingers point to “U.S. trained opposition paid terrorists”, “individuals he had – or was planning to - indict”, “competing factions in the complex web of opportunists that Chavez has weaved around himself”, “chavista provocateurs seeking excuses to pounce on their opponents”, “tried and tested Cuban shenanigans”, and everything in between.

An environment in which anything flies is Hugo Chavez’s demented legacy to Venezuela and the region. While no effort should be spared to unmask and punish those that planned and carried out this crime, there is no doubt that Mr. Chavez bears some of the responsibility personally for setting the stage and providing potential motive. How can we forget that citizens’ rights have been trampled upon, institutions have been demolished, justice has been booby trapped, free press is about to be gagged, and the electoral system was finally gutted during the recent regional elections. An old Spanish proverb aptly states: If you sow winds, you will harvest storms.

In today’s superb Editorial, the Washington Post reminds its readers – once again – of a tragedy called Venezuela, and from their description of our affairs it must be obvious even to the occasional observer that we did not find a democratic, peaceful, low-carbohydrate solution to our problems through the intervention of Jimmy Carter (who ever has?) and the O.A.S. (R.I.P.?). The editorialists do a very good job summarizing the state of play and - once again - call on the Bush administration to get off its butt and focus attention on the region in general and on Chavez in particular. At least incoming Secretary of State Rice is on the record with some very tough language that, if pundits are correct, reflects word for word the thinking of the re-elected President. Will W do better the second time around? We Will Wait and C. PMB

The Washington Post

Watch Venezuela

Saturday, November 20, 2004

THIS WEEKEND President Bush visits Chile and Colombia, two nations that he will rightly celebrate for their capable democratic governments. But it is foolish to pretend, as does some of the administration's rhetoric, that democracy is thriving across Latin America. In fact, while the Bush administration has been ignoring the region over the past four years, political conditions have seriously deteriorated in several key countries -- and the prospect is of still worse developments, especially if U.S. neglect continues.

The likely focal point of trouble is Venezuela, a country of 25 million that supplies the United States with 13 percent of its oil. In August, after months of heavy-handed governmental actions to influence the outcome, President Hugo Chavez survived a recall referendum; since then his supporters have gained control of 21 of 23 states, as well as the capital, in local elections. Those triumphs have prompted the erratic former military rebel to accelerate what he calls his "Bolivarian revolution" -- a push toward authoritarian rule at home and a deepening alliance abroad with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and other antidemocratic movements.

In the past Mr. Chavez has been assailed by independent media who sympathize with his opposition; he has responded with a new media law that will allow his government to suspend the licenses of radio and television stations for content deemed "contrary to the security of the nation." A new penal code will outlaw most forms of public protest and designate some as terrorism. An expansion of the Supreme Court will allow the president to stack the only judicial body that has retained some independence. A campaign has been launched against civil society groups, beginning with the election monitoring group SUMATE, whose organizers are threatened with charges of treason. Mr. Chavez is using Venezuela's oil revenue to fund antidemocratic or populist movements in nations such as Bolivia and to subsidize Mr. Castro's bankrupt regime.

Late Thursday, state prosecutor Danilo Anderson was killed, apparently with a car bomb. He had been preparing to bring charges against some 400 people who signed a statement of support for an interim president after Mr. Chavez was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup. The apparent assassination was a shocking and despicable act, from which the opposition -- made up largely of mainstream politicians, and business and church leaders -- should quickly disassociate itself. But it should not provide a pretext for Mr. Chavez to continue seeking the imprisonment of nonviolent political opponents.

It is difficult for the United States to respond to Mr. Chavez, in part because he has adopted Mr. Castro's practice of portraying the United States as an enemy bent on imperial intervention in Venezuela. Mr. Bush's choice for secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was quoted recently as describing Mr. Chavez as "a real problem" and saying that "the key there is to mobilize the region to both watch him and be vigilant about him and to pressure him when he makes moves in one direction or another. We can't do it alone." That sounds like a wise policy; once she takes office, Ms. Rice should end the administration's passivity toward this important region and pursue it.