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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez Celebrates Himself

   Venezuela's populist president, who can only be called a demagogue, this week celebrated 11 years in office and the 18th anniversary of his attempted and unsuccessful military coup. He also told a radio station that he hoped to rule in Venezuela for another 11 years. That's unlikely. The rising sentiment of unrest and disaffection among many Venezuelans, and the increasingly harsh measures the Chavez government is having to take to put down protests, harkens back to other times in Venezuelan history, which has a long history of civil unrest. 
   The country's economy is terribly managed. One of Latin America's major oil exporters is now seeking help from Cuba on the energy scene. It cannot produce enough electricity to light its cities, and the benefits from billions of dollars of income from oil are not reaching those most in need: the millions of poor and marginalized who get government handouts in order to support the Chavez regime. They are made more dependent each year.
   To be fair, of course, governments of all stripes and colors have mismanaged the oil-based economic engine of Venezuela for many decades, and corruption has always been a problem. Chavez is nothing new in that regard. But his restriction of press and civil freedoms, his disregard for the rule of law, his virtual one-man rule, his repression of opponents -- this so-called Bolivarian Revolution that is without any real revolutionary change -- do not bode well for the future of the country. The possibilities of peaceful change in Venezuela are scarce. Under Chavez, in 2010, they are growing more scarce each day.
   Venezuelans over many generations fought hard and bloody battles to establish democracy in their country. It was not perfect; democracy is not perfect anywhere. But today, Chavez mocks the democratic institutions of his own country and undermines the nation's progressive future, all in the name of a revolution that he has loudly proclaimed but is not carrying out.
   From the Library of Congress' "Country Studies" series, take a look at this chapter on "The Century of Caudillismo" about the rule of Juan Vicente Gomez, in Venezuela in the past century. Note this nugget: "Although he was not the last of Venezuela's dictators, analysts of contemporary Venezuelan society commonly cite Gómez's lengthy rule as the true line of demarcation between Venezuela's democratic present and its authoritarian past." Would that it were true.

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