You can call Venezuela many things — a political circus, an upcoming dictatorship, the world's most effective government vote-manipulating machine, a melodramatic Latin American telenovela — but please don't call it a democracy.
Whatever trace they had left of their once-democratic system of government was totally lost when the Chavista government of Nicolas Maduro clearly stole the presidential election of April 14.
It's gone. Democracy has left the country — much like so many Venezuelans who have been fleeing their homeland in search of freedom in the United States.
In spite of clearly evident fraud and widespread government manipulation of voters, Venezuela has "elected" Hugo Chavez's handpicked successor by less than 300,000 votes out of more than 14.7 million cast — all with the stamp of approval of the Chavista-controlled election commission, military, courts and legislature.
And in spite of opposition tantrums — calling for recounts, boycotts, Supreme Court appeals and new elections — in spite of the U.S. and other countries' reluctance to recognize the Maduro government, in spite of how many people believe that opposition candidate Henrique Capriles actually won the election, Maduro is staying in power.
You may want to call him "President Maduro."
I say he is a dictator.
If the two candidates had competed on a leveled field, if the Chavista machine had not pulled so many blatant violations of the democratic process, Maduro would have lost and the dark ages of Chavismo would have ended.
"You stole this electoral process," Capriles accused Maduro, "and you have to explain that to this country and to the world."
While Capriles has demanded a new election and threatened a Supreme Court appeal, election officials have vowed to conduct only an audit that everyone knows will be a farce.
But to see the extent of the blatant voter manipulation of the Venezuelan government, we didn't have to go to Venezuela. Thousands of South Florida Venezuelans were forced to travel to New Orleans in order to cast their presidential election ballots, because Hugo Chavez had closed the Venezuelan consulate in Miami, where most opposition exiles live.
Venezuela is so politically fragmented, so influenced by Cuban socialism, so close to totalitarian rule, that opposition activists are often forced to flee the country, fearing for their own safety. Is that a democracy or a dictatorship?
For protesting over the stolen election, and for the nine people who already have died in post-election protests, the government already is threatening to throw Capriles in jail.
A commission of the government-controlled National Assembly already has announced plans to investigate whether Capriles instigated violence. At least two of the commission members already have labeled Capriles a "murderer" and the prisons minister said she is preparing a cell for Capriles.
They are threatening to imprison the man many believe actually won the presidential election! Does that happen in a real democracy? Or are they closer to a dictatorship?
You would have to be a blindly fanatic Chavista — and there are many — not to see that your government leaders and even your elections are totally manipulated by Cuba, the world's oldest dictatorship.
But that's where oil-rich Venezuela stands — on the edge of a crisis that could send many more Venezuelans into exile, cause violent clashes in Caracas and destabilize the world's oil economy.
Yet, except for the popular vote, the Chavistas control everything — and they are not about to give up their power.
With this stolen election, the Venezuelan dictatorship started by Hugo Chavez finally has been authenticated. Please don't call it a democracy.
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.