Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez continues his march to authoritarianism.
In an effort to bolster the already excessive power of the executive, Chavez received authority to govern by decree until mid-2012 from a lame duck legislative national assembly controlled by Chavez loyalists. This action comes on the eve of a January handoff to a new legislative body with 40 percent of the membership, representing more than 50 percent of Venezuela’s voters, waiting to openly debate Venezuela’s future.
Boasted Chavez, “you won’t be able to make a single law, little Yankees.” (Like Fidel Castro, Chavez considers any opposition to his revolutionary, socialist way an act of treason and instigated by the U.S.) In response to legitimate criticism, Chavez said that the opposition should take “a Valium, or something like that. Otherwise, they should see a psychiatrist to get some recommendations.”
The outgoing pro-Chavez legislature is also broadening the already extensive powers of the presidency to control the banking system, muzzle the media, and continue a flurry of confiscations and expropriations. It is also working to throttle external support for human rights, pro-democracy, and civil society groups.
Venezuelans know what Chavez aims to achieve: “It is a brutal attack, without anesthetics, against democratic life,” said Venezuela editor Teodoro Petkoff. It is a “totalitarian ambush … a Christmas ambush!” He added “Chavez has begun to take the path of dictatorship.”
Even the Obama Administration shows signs of tiring of Chavez’s anti-democratic behavior.
[Chavez] seems to be finding new and creative ways to justify autocratic powers. What he is doing here, we believe, is subverting the will of the Venezuelan people. As the Inter-American Democratic Charter underscores, the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government are an essential element of representative democracy. An independent legislature has an essential role to play in the political system in order to meet the principles laid out in this charter.
In September, millions of Venezuelans exercised their democratic right to vote in legislative elections. … The new legislature will be seated January 5 and should have the ability to contribute to the political process in Venezuela.
When the State Department said it would press forward with sending Ambassador Larry Palmer to Caracas once his nomination is approved by the U.S. Senate, Chavez delivered a public slap to Palmer, the Obama Administration, and the U.S.
Give Mr. Palmer a coffee from me, and then bye-bye. He cannot, he cannot enter the country.
Venezuela followed-up with a formal withdrawal of its previous acceptance of Palmer as ambassador.
Next year will witness the democratic opposition growing in strength despite Chavez’s usurpations of legislative power. Eleven years in power have worn Venezuela down as a nation, but they have not extinguished the democratic flame. Rallying domestic and international support behind democratic governance and political freedom in Venezuela must become a serious priority for U.S. policy and our new Congress.