Running for Dictator
Imagine what would happen if President Barack Obama started campaigning to end presidential term limits and if he told us we should amend the Constitution so he could run for re-election indefinitely.
We would think he went crazy, right?
Then imagine that because of his popularity, he managed to organize a national referendum and that we soundly rejected his greedy power grab.
You would think it would be all over, right? But what if the president insisted on yearly referendums until he got his way? Would we be worried about the state of our democracy?
To us Americans, this scenario sounds too hypothetical. Most of us would dismiss it as incredible and far-fetched fiction.
But it is very real to the people of Venezuela. On Sunday, Feb. 15, they will vote on the second such referendum in less than two years. In December 2007, they rejected President Hugo Chavez's efforts to prolong his stay in power beyond 2013, when his current six-year term expires, but now they have to vote on the same question again!
Chavez says he doesn't know how much time he will need to finish the "socialist revolution" he started 10 years ago. In 2013, he will have been in power for 14 years. Not surprisingly, he says that's not enough, especially because he has been trying to build a Venezuela in the image of socialist Cuba, where the Castro brothers have ruled for 50 years.
While driving Cuba into economic devastation, Fidel and Raul Castro also argued that they needed time to finish the work of their misguided revolution. Because they had limited natural resources with which to buy the loyalty of the masses, they had to stay in power through repression — a one-party system in which "elections" are a mockery to human intelligence and civil and human rights are nonexistent.
Amazingly, until Chavez's efforts to become president for life were rejected in the 2007 referendum, he had been taking Venezuela down Cuba's destructive path, and he had been doing it with voter approval. Using Venezuela's oil wealth to buy voter support, for a while it seemed as if he was bound to become the world's first democratically elected dictator!
His referendum defeat 14 months ago showed that Venezuelans finally were rejecting the Cuban model and signaled that Chavez's days in power finally were numbered.
But not so fast! Although tens of thousands of opposition protesters marched against the referendum in Caracas Saturday, next Sunday, polls say, Chavez still could pull it off.
"No is no," the protesters chanted in an effort to make Chavez understand that they already rejected the notion that he is the only person who can rule Venezuela. Some protesters wore shirts proclaiming that they, too, want to be president.
But if he doesn't succeed Sunday, Chavez says he intends to keep asking that referendum question again and again. He makes no bones about all his unconventional maneuvers to stay in power, and because he already controls a good portion of the media — as well as every political institution, from the National Assembly to the Supreme Court — no one doubts that he will keep trying.
But what happens when all his democratic options are gone? Will he stop holding elections and impose himself as dictator, or will he go away peacefully? Obviously, the latter is not likely, especially considering Chavez's dictatorial tendencies and his government's frequently violent methods for dealing with the opposition.
Following the path of Cuba, where mobs of government-propped vigilantes beat up on political opponents, Chavez's followers often resort to destruction and violence. In the weeks leading up to Sunday's referendum, pro-Chavez vigilantes have attacked the Caracas mayor's office, the headquarters of a leading opposition party, the Vatican's diplomatic mission, and Caracas' oldest synagogue.
Incredibly, Chavez's hatred of the United States has led him to align himself with Iran and against Israel and to conduct a campaign of anti-Semitism against the 15,000 Venezuelan Jews.
Yet instead of condemning Chavez's anti-Semitic propaganda, his violent ways of dealing with opponents, his unquenched thirst for power, and his persistence on imposing himself as Venezuela's president for life, other democratically elected Latin American leaders — seemingly afraid of Chavez's sharp tongue — have been reluctant to criticize him.
And what about Obama? We know he would not dare try to stay in power beyond a second term in office. But will he condemn those who do? Will the American president stand up for democracy and against anti-Semitism in our hemisphere? His silence could send the wrong message!
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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