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Oohhh! Aahhh! Chavez No Se Va!

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Originally from Gus Van Horn,

How would you like it if the President increased the number of Supreme Court justices in order to undercut the independence of the judiciary, and, at the beginning of the new term for the court, the new appointees shouted "Oohhh! Aahhh! [Fill in Bush, Clinton, or worse here.] will not leave!" thus demonstrating the seriousness with which they regard their constitutional duties, the likely quality of their future opinions, and the high regard they have for your rights?

Well, if you live in Venezuela, you do not have to imagine this. This is exactly what happened this year after Hugo "El Loco" Chavez increased the membership of Venezuela's high court from 20 to 32. Two articles at RealClear Politics paint a damning portrait of "The Man Who Controls Venezuela" as the title of the better of them puts it. Imagine any our Supreme Court justices saying, in an official capacity, "Oohhh! Aahhh!'' anything, and count your blessings that that is so hard to do.

The two articles do a good job cataloguing the abuses of power of which Chavez is guilty in Venezuela, and the first even brings up some I wasn't even aware of despite my own interest in events down there. Here is just a sampling.

(1) The article opens with what seems to represent the typical demeanor of Venezuela's leader during his frequent and interminable television appearances.

He stood in front of the television cameras and cracked a whip in a fury. "This is what I am going to do to my opponents!" he declared as he drew back the whip and threw it forward once again. The air snapped loudly making the message of intimidation clear.

(2) But if he issues threats to his opponents, he also makes a big deal out of doling out favors to his supporters.

[N]ot only does Chavez set up government programs for the poor, but if you are lucky enough to be one of the calls he takes on his weekly Sunday television show, Alo Presidente, he will personally change your life. Callers who describe serious medical problems are told that they will be flown to Cuba for treatment, often in the President's own plane. Others who are unemployed but have an interest in maybe budgeting or math, are told that the president of their government bank, Banco del Pueblo Soberano, is always in need of people and will immediately be calling to offer them a job. Chavez is Santa Claus and Jerry Springer all rolled into one and many people in the country love him for it.

I find it interesting that Chavez has a Sunday television show. While the author of this piece compares Chavez to a "professional wrestler", I see him as more like some sort of televangelist with actual political power.

(3) And, in case anyone is confused about how someone can both issue threats and pass out favors on television, the following vignette should make it clear that these aren't two conflicting sides of a complex personality, but simply parts of a well-integrated one.

Chavez panders to those in his audience foolish enough to believe him when he implies that loyalty to him will always be rewarded, while methodically ruining whoever is in his way at the moment.

Yet, despite all these humorous antics, one quickly realizes that this comic relief can reach the point of absurdity. Such was the case in 2002 when Chavez decided to terminate employees of the state oil company who were helping to organize a strike. No, they were not sent letters by the government letting them know they would be dismissed. Instead they were given notice live on national television by Chavez who read each of their names off a list. After reading some of their names he would sarcastically thank them for their service, while for others he blew a soccer whistle and screamed "Offsides!!!" to let them know they had been fired.

Um. Wasn't Chavez supposed to be some sort of champion of "the little guy"? Oh. That's only if said little guy pretends to be happy with whatever crumbs Chavez tosses him, it seems. He gets fired, and then humilated to boot, on national television otherwise.

(4) It is interesting to note that Chavez should have already been out of office for two years by now, had he not altered his country's constitution. And, unsurprisingly for a court-packer, he may be here much longer.

[H]is possible presidential term has been extended to 2013 with talks of extending this date to 2030. Prior to his arrival, presidents could only sit for one 5-year term without the possibility a second term for 10 years. This would have forced Chavez to relinquish his office in February 2004.

(5) His mercurial handing out of favors extends even to elected officials.

[O]n his show he has publicly taunted governors of opposition parties who he has denied or delayed funds to run their provinces (unlike the U.S. all tax revenue flows through the Federal government before making its way back to the states). In places like Zulia, Carabobo, and Miranda when the money was eventually sent a good part of it did not go to the provincial government, but instead to generals allied with Chavez who thereafter acted like elected governors. Under such circumstances people quickly learned that it literally didn't pay to vote for an opposition candidate.

(6) And then he shows his contempt for property rights...

While Chavez continued putting forth the idea that land should be expropriated from large owners, he suddenly declared that next week's Alo Presidente would be filmed from one of these large ranches he wanted to confiscate. Military soldiers quickly invaded a portion of one large estate, cleared an area for a makeshift set, and the following Sunday Chavez indeed broadcast his show live from the ranch... all without permission of the owner.

(7) ... and the privacy of his citizens (which would derive from property rights).

[H]e has also illegally recorded private phone conversations with a wire tap then broadcast them to the country on national television....

(8) And , not too surprisingly, you can be jailed because of his thin skin.

All the while the government continues to crack down on those who are critical of these acts. In 2005 a new law was passed that makes it a crime to "insult" the President of the Republic. This crime, which is not even definable, will land you in prison for 6 to 30 months. The punishment is increased by a third if the act was done publicly.

(9) Most damning of all is the article's blow-by-blow account of a referendum that should have removed Chavez from power despite what one might fear would be long odds against its passage. I merely quote the last few paragraphs of it here.

n the months between the signature drive and when signers were to reaffirm their signatures, Luis Tascon, a deputy in Chavez's party, published a database on the internet. This database, that would come to be known as the Tascon List and was accessible to anyone, documented who signed the petition to remove Chavez from power. It was subsequently used to fire referendum supporters who worked for the government, cancel government contracts, turn down requests to replace lost identification, and to deny government jobs for those seeking such employment. The government then made it clear that those who had originally signed the referendum could withdraw their signatures at the second signature drive. Many did to avoid further harassment.

Amazingly, enough signatures were still gathered, and while the now Chavez controlled CNE still tried to block the referendum, there were so many signatures that ultimately it could not refuse. It followed that on August 15th, 2004 Venezuelans headed to the polls to determine Chavez's fate.

Chavez was initially trailing heavily in the polls, but he began to gain ground as the election neared after heavy spending on social programs, pro-Chavez campaigning on the government's dime, and sometimes not-too-subtle reminders that those who voted against him might regret it (many feared that voting machines could be used to track their votes). [This fear turned out to be true. --ed]

The day of the election exit polls showed Chavez losing by 60% to 40% margin, but surprisingly he emerged victorious by a virtual mirror image of the predicted results. These totals were not accepted without controversy.

The OAS and the Carter Center were criticized for quickly giving the election their blessing without even a partial random audit of the paper ballots in front of opposition representatives as was agreed on prior to the elections. The opposition also complained that the voter's registrar had grown by leaps and bounds in the months before the vote, possibly by adding individuals near the Colombian border who were not citizens. This would have been facilitated through a new government identification program called Mission Identidad.

Even today the controversy still rages. Just this past November a group of academics disclosed the findings of a new study they had just completed with regards to the August 2004 vote. According to an interview in El Universal, they found that given the number of voting machines, to reach the total of 8.5 million votes cast polls would need to have been open for an additional six hours. Their study concluded that between 1.5 and 2 million votes had been inserted into voting machines, turning a 5 percentage point victory for the opposition into a 20 point defeat.

Although the finding of this study was released in the week that preceded the last election it was not the reason for the boycott. Instead, it was concerns over voting privacy and election gerrymandering that made it clear that voters were going to stay home the day of the election. This in turn led opposition candidates to withdraw. [bold added]

Thank you, failed President (and now, failed "champion" of "democracy") Jimmy Carter.

The article is very good, but it ends on the wrong note. While it is correct to note the tragedy that our nation's failure to do anything about Chavez is helping to, "condemn ... millions of Venezuelans to a life in the flames," this is not why we should end this regime. I have already blogged on the security threat posed by Chavez, which is the real reason we should be interested in regime change for Venezuela.

The second article on Chavez makes a few other worthwhile points, but its overall premise is completely wrong. Titled, "Why the Left Should Cringe at the Mention of Hugo Chavez", the article assumes that, if only more liberals knew what Chavez was really like, they'd quit showing him so much support. Aside from the fact that I think that the real problem is that most leftists could care less what Chavez is doing, its premise seems to be that Chavez is not enough of a leftist! Whatever its point, it is condemning Chavez for the wrong thing, is addressed to the wrong audience, and speaks to them for the wrong reason.

If the leftists really cared about such things as ending poverty, freedom of speech, and peace among nations, any of them could have long ago dug a little deeper than rhyming protest slogans or Democrat talking points, and looked into the requirements for any of these things. They would have found that all of them require a strong government that protects individual rights. And they would have found, furthermore, that such notions as environmentalism, government-owned industry, and a reflexive disdain of business are contradictory to respect for individual rights. Support for Chavez will not end if more leftists hold him up to higher leftist standards. It will end when more of them start questioning leftism.

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