When the people freely give away their freedom, as they have in Venezuela, can you really feel sorry for them?
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez gives the people every indication that he intends to gradually take away their liberties, and yet they keep voting for him — in free elections.
It doesn't make sense!
Are they masochistic? Or are they so fed up with the failures of Latin American democracies that they are willingly going back to authoritarian rule? Have they become so anti-American that they are willing to turn Venezuela into another Cuba, in spite of all the failures of the Fidel Castro regime?
The latest sign that Chavez is on his way to becoming a Cuba-style communist dictator is his refusal to renew the broadcasting license of Venezuela's oldest and most popular TV network, forcing the station off the air on May 27.
Why? Because Radio Caracas Television has been critical of the Chavez regime, and dictators don't tolerate freedom of expression.
The move has triggered massive protests in Venezuela and worldwide condemnation from those who defend the principles of a free press.
But that won't be enough to dissuade Chavez, who is determined to rule Venezuela with Castro's iron fist.
In order to turn Venezuela into another Cuba, Chavez needs to pull the plug on a few of the remaining vestiges of democracy in his oil-rich nation — and shutting down RCTV was the start of his final effort to consolidate his authoritarian regime.
Citing RCTV coverage of a failed 2002 coup against him, Chavez has accused the station of "coup-mongering." He claims the station is controlled by "oligarchs" who are opposed to his so-called Bolivarian revolution.
But he is already threatening to censor or shut down other major media outlets that fail to report the news with a pro-government slant. His objective is obviously to emulate Cuba's government-controlled media.
The only independent journalists in Cuba are dissidents who, while banned from publishing or broadcasting in the country, continue to work through media outlets abroad.
And the same thing is already happening to RCTV journalists, who have continued airing their newscasts on Colombia's Caracol cable TV signal and on youtube.com.
Amazingly, the censorship of RCTV came only one week before Sunday's annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States, which is meeting in Panama City and will be pressured to respond to Chavez' latest antics.
After all, the 34-nation OAS is expected to promote the democratic principles that Chavez is clearly violating.
Yet, although some delegates are expected to comment on the RCTV censorship in their speeches, OAS insiders are already warning that it is not likely that Venezuela will be formally reprimanded.
That's because, while the Bush administration continues to ignore Latin America, Chavez has been using Venezuela's oil wealth to buy the loyalty of many Latin American leaders who are not likely to condemn the censorship publicly — even if privately they find it abhorring.
It's all about having the fortitude to stand by the democratic principles you are expected to espouse. If the OAS fails to act on something so basic to its core mission, if it fails to formally condemn the Chavez regime, then the time has come to question the need for its existence.
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.