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Miguel Perez
Miguel Perez
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Say Adios to Venezuelan Democracy

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Until now, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been able to claim that he rules over a democracy. But that is about to change.

You can't have a democracy if opposing the government becomes a crime, if the media is censored and only one political party is allowed to flourish.

Chavez's ambition to become a dictator should not take anyone by surprise. Over the last eight years, through a series of pseudo-juridical institutional transformations, he has progressively turned his democratically elected government into a communist, authoritarian regime.

He makes no secret of his admiration for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and has already emulated the Cuban totalitarian system in many ways.

Yet Chavez had been able to claim to be democratic because, although reluctantly, he allowed the opposition to challenge him in elections and in the media.

However, after his December reelection, apparently he now feels ready to take more dramatic steps toward what he calls the "construction of socialism" in Venezuela.

As he begins a new six-year presidential term this week, Chavez is vowing to shut down Radio Caracas Television, Venezuela's largest and oldest network, because it allows the expression of political ideas opposing the Chavez regime.

Since the TV station was among many media outlets that supported the bungled coup against Chavez in 2002 and a general strike against his government in 2003, the dictator-elect apparently feels he has consolidated enough power to retaliate.

"Go and turn off the equipment," Chavez said as he vowed to deny renewal of the network's license, which expires in May. In one more of his many bombastic speeches, Chavez said the network is "at the service of coups against the people, against the nation, against national independence, against the dignity of the republic."

Of course, this threat of totalitarian censorship has been condemned as a grave violation of freedom of expression by many concerned observers, from press freedom groups like Reporters Without Borders and the Inter-American Press Association to the Organization of American States.

"The closing of a mass communications outlet is a rare step in the history of our hemisphere and has no precedent in the recent decades of democracy," said OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza, in a statement that also noted that the measure "serves as a warning against other news organizations, leading them to limit their actions at the risk of facing the same fate."

Insulza said he hoped "this decision will be revised."

But the dictator-elect is undaunted.

In a radio interview, he said the decision is "irrevocable" because RCTV "didn't pass the test to receive a renewal of a concession from a state that is serious, responsible, committed and respectful of the people."

Of course, the Venezuelan people know that if RCTV is "a coupist TV channel," as Chavez describes it, then Chavez is a coupist president.

Although he was elected when he took office eight years ago, in 1992 he had tried to gain power through an ill-fated military coup.

The man is a huge hypocrite.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry even demanded that the OAS retract its remarks because Insulza supposedly "improperly meddled" in Venezuelan affairs. The Ministry noted that the OAS revealed an "unfortunate ignorance of reality in Venezuela."

But for suggesting the OAS has no right to comment on something as basic as the violation of freedom of expression in Latin America, the "unfortunate ignorance" actually belongs to the Chavez regime.

As if censoring the opposition in the media wasn't enough, the dictator-elect has just reshuffled his cabinet, replacing even Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, and surrounding himself with even more faithful followers of his authoritarian style of ruling. He even appointed his brother to an important government post — yet another sign that he is emulating Cuba's model. But just like a good dictator, he declined to comment on the reasons for his moves.

Chavez apparently sees his 23 percent margin of victory in December as a mandate to finally become the dictator he has always aspired to be.

In a speech to his supporters after his reelection, Chavez formally announced plans to merge some 20 leftist political parties that currently support him into one single political party, called the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. And since he already controls the Venezuelan courts and the National Assembly, what's to stop him from making that party the only legal party in Venezuela?

These latest moves toward becoming Latin America's next Castro have created concern even among many of his supporters.

But it's really too late.

They saw the writing on the wall, they ignored the warnings against creating a repressive dictator, and they kept giving him more authority to squash their civil liberties.

It's very unfortunate for the minority who opposed him. But for the majority of the Venezuelan people, whatever they get, they deserve.

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.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.



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