The following article was written by Asdrubal Aguiar and published in local newspaper El Universal on December 28th. Dr. Aguiar is a Professor and former judge of the Interamerican Human Rights Commission. The article is quite long, but it gives a summary of Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan crisis which I think many readers from abroad will like. I will only put the first part in the Home page and a link at the end to the full article.
About Chavez’ dictatorship
The shortsightedness of the European left
By Asdrubal Aguiar
“The weakness and greatness of democracy is that those that reach power thanks to a set of democratic rules may change them”
(Antonio Tabucchi, apud. Domenico Chiappe, Golpe a Golpe,
Caracas, Diario El Universal, 21-12-02)
It is not easy for foreigners living beyond our borders to have all of the elements, which are very complex and grave, that have impacted the severe crisis facing Venezuela today. The truth is that even we, Venezuelans, used to a lifestyle signed by tolerance and also educated in the practice of freedom-so much that our democracy was one of the most recognized and prestigious of the world-are confused by the mistaken and absurd circumstances which are currently governing us.
Certain strata of European public opinion and even, North American, find it unacceptable that sectors of the opposition, no matter how representative they may be, are asking Hugo Chávez to abandon the Presidency without completing his mandate. He, in effect, is exercising it on the basis of democratic elections. And it thus irritates them, that supposedly privileged sectors, encouraged by the media may question an official , who beyond his defects or conflictive personality, is concerned by the lot of the poor and the excluded and whose leadership is being exercised with a capacity never seen before in Latin America.
This posture, that 80% of Venezuelans, not a few times judge as insensible and reductionist, has its source in the simplicity with which we are observed from the outside and under the light of some paradigms that have little to do with the large cultural and political changes that have taken place among us during the course of the last few decades. Latin America, in general, is still being seen as the continent of social injustice. In other words and at the rhythm of a very worn out literature and tied to the ideological boiling of the 60’s and even from before, we are still supposed to be the slavist territory of large agricultural states: White dominating blacks and Indians; and also space fertilized by the “necessary gendarmes” and the gross contradictions: countries fed by enormous natural wealth and tied by Dante-like belts of misery and illiteracy.
Thus, if a Latin American military ex-coupster, transforms like Chavez into President and has autocratic sparks, that would appropriate- according to the restful judgment of some industrialized nations-of our sociological condition of underdeveloped province. And if the man himself, moreover, happens to be elected by the majority vote of his people and assumes the compromise to defend the poor, before being a “gorilla” or a “milico” it would be a revelation: a sort of Messiah, who would have redeemed the sins of his primitive and corrupted fellow citizens.
Thus, when the opposition asks Chávez to resign or that he accept advanced elections, in the face of the dangerous crisis that-due to his actions or omissions- maintains the country at the edge of a possible civil war and when to that effect that opposition argues that such an alternative is proper of democracy, far abroad people only think and conclude what we have said earlier. Those nations do neither notice nor their public opinion, what has been part of their own realities in very similar situations: Richard Nixon, is good to remember, resigned under the pressure of the North American media and in a framework that nobody labeled as antidemocratic. An in the parliamentary Europe specifically, its political and Governing crisis are overcome through early elections, so as to avoid a general crisis of democratic government.
Hugo Chávez Frías has, as President of Venezuela, an unquestionable legitimacy of origin. He was elected, despite his illegal swearing in, according to the constitutional rules of the so-called “puntofijismo” (1958-1998), which he has despised and against which he rebelled through the use of weapons. It was a time of errors, but also a time of enormous achievements. The average life span of a Venezuelan was 52 years in 1958, while in 1998 it had reached 73 years, a time when the networks of clean water and sewage which feed the whole country consolidated. Venezuela had in 1955, 3 universities, while at the moment of Hugo Chavez’ election, there were a couple of hundred institutions of higher learning. At the same time the number of hospital beds were 20,100 in 1955 and of the 228 hospitals then in existence opened the way for having 242 medical doctors for each 10,000 inhabitants. General hospitals were elevated to 340 and the strengthening of primary medical assistance gave place to 4,000 walk-in clinics both urban and rural.
Chavez, thus, in the manner of “caudillo” extracted from the pages of our ill-fated XIX century, filled the vacuum of leadership that – in the zero hour- the old political parties were not able to fill or could not fulfill with efficiency. But he was not able to identify and understand, besides the profound political changes that he had to lead and was asked to lead, those assets that the Venezuelan people made inalienable their own, beyond the deviations of the precedent Governments: Its vocation and disposition towards “consensual” decisions and the sacred recognition of its plurality in common mestization.
Chavez, that he did, started his mandate openly and shamelessly violating the rules of Constitutional order that allowed him to gain power. And he has exercised that mandate, with his back and in open contraposition to the rules of the 1999 Constitution: his magnum opus. “The best Constitution in the world”, as he himself usually qualifies it.
It is not by chance that Chavez said once, publicly and textually, in front of the attendees of the International Congress of Agrarian Law last November: “I am the Law, I am the State”
When he was sworn in as President and in express declaration that he made in a moment of such solemnity, Hugo Chávez accused the “dying Constitution of 1961” and immediately summoned a popular “consultative” referendum to install a binding Constituent Assembly. He asked the people, in the mentioned decree, to give him full powers to legislate- much like a Dictator- on electoral matters.
His Constituent Assembly, composed without the proportionate representation of minorities, not only wrote the current Constitution, rather, dissolved all constituted powers-including the Congress that was elected together with Chavez in 1998- and he appointed directly as its provisional officers, followers of his “process”: later known under the name “Bolivarian revolution”. It is true that this caused little worries in public opinion, that the Assembly sanctioned a Constitution different than the one he presented for its approval, or that it was voted favorably by less than 30% of Venezuelans. They were even surprised less by the fact that the text was different from that Published in two versions in the Official Gazette in December 1999 and March 2000.
They were not uncomfortable either, in a manifest manner, that the “controlling powers” ended in the hands of the partisans of the regime, especially the Attorney General, occupied today by the ex Vice President of Hugo Chávez. And the people did not protest either when he made a point of honor to include in the constituent debate the deliberation and right to vote of the military; the consecration of civil disobedience and, and if these were not enough, establishing the civic-military corresponsability in the conduction of the new born institutionalism of “participative democracy”, all of that under the principle of adhering all of it under the supreme Commander in Chief and “supreme leader of the revolution”
Alter all, and within the best Hispanic and popular tradition, the Constitution, as the text which orders the social and political life, was accepted but was not fulfilled. Libertarianism and egalitarianism, as guidelines for spontaneous behavior had always been the values, beyond legal formalities, that had been governing the life of Venezuelans.
Since and due to the events of April 11th, when the wonton murders and injuries of almost 120 demonstrators under fire by “Bolivarian Circles” a sort of Popular Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, promoted and organized from the Government and given the subsequent exit of Hugo Chávez from power at the request of the Armed Forces, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) noticed all of the absurd and dramatic reality that Venezuela lives today: little appreciated or understood at the time in its true dimensions outside the national scene. The text of this report was a revelation:
“4. The CIDH expresses its concern for the polarization of Venezuelan society that had its most tragic and grave expression in the events of April. 5. With respect to the Constitution, the CIDH evaluated a number of important innovating dispositiojns.6. The CIDH added that without prejudice to the reforms, the Constitution includes various elements that could block the effective validity of legality. The Constitutional gearing does not anticipate, in important instances, the mechanisms of weights and counterweights as a way of controlling the exercise of public power and guarantee of human rights. The main legislative functions were derived under the regime of an Enabling Law without defined limits for its exercise. 62. The main source of democratic legitimacy is that given by the popular will expressed in free, universal and periodic elections. Without any prejudice towards them, elections on themselves do not constitute sufficient elements to insure the full validity of democracy. 64. If periodic elections do not constitute necessary elements but not sufficient for democracy, nothing justifies a constitutional rupture. 66. The CIDH considers that the lack of independence of the Judicial Power, the limitations of freedom of speech, the deliberating state in which the Armed Forces find themselves, the extreme degree of polarization of society , the actions of paramilitary murdering groups, the little of credibility of the control institutions due to the uncertainty over the constitutionality of their appointment and the partiality of its actions , the lack of coordination between security forces, represent a clear weakness of the fundamental pillars for the existence of the rule of law in a democratic system under the terms of the American Convention and the Democratic Interamerican Charter. Because of this, the Commission urges the strengthening of the rule of law in Venezuela as soon as possible”
It was under the pressure of an uncontrollable truth: The massive awakening of a collective consciousness over the reduction of the space for liberty and peaceful coexistence in Venezuela and the imminence of a violent popular ebullience, when the national and international actors and the media took note of the inexhaustible antidemocratic deviations that had taken place during Chávez’ mandate. And today they try to explain abroad , perhaps with delay and without an exact memory over the events of the last four years, the recent “constitutional coups” executed by the regime: the order to militarize the Venezuelan capital, without the mediation of a “state of emergency” and affecting real state property of foreigners, the military intervention of the municipal police core of Caracas, the removal by a simple majority of the national Assembly –under the public petition of Chávez- of the Vice-President of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, the transmission, through the Government’s TV channel of the private conversation of opposition leaders, the instruction by Chavez to the military commanders, to disobey any judicial decision that goes against any of his Presidential decrees, the order given through the Superintendent of Banks to all financials institutions, without any Court order, to give the intelligence police (DISIP) all of the information related to assets and financial transactions of the opposition leaders; And at the end, the assault by the Bolivarian Circles under the auspices of the Minister of the Interior and Justice, off all of the private radio and TV stations, some of which were destroyed.
In the end, the true reason for the uncomfortably social opposition, militant and a majority against the Chavez regime is born, in essence, of the circumstances noted above: the insolvable contradiction that is given and exists between the culture of confrontation and annihilation of the adversary which is innate to the President, given his military training and the culture of dialogue and consensus that shone in the democratic spirit of the Venezuelan people during the last half century. And it has been the absence of internal institutional counterweights, given the adherence –still present- of the constituted public powers to the current President, which has blocked the democratic channeling of the discussions and political conflicts stoking polarization and violence.
Chavez‘ attempts to impose by the way of facts, without the mediation of the various national sectors and without respect for minorities, his project of a “Bolivarian revolution” which he recognizes is inspired in the Cuban and Libyan models and which is not mentioned in any line of the Constitutional text, lies in the origin of its lack of common points with any of the social organizations of the country. These are pointed out by the President himself and in front of his followers as “counterrevolutionaries” and their leaders are accused as enemies of the people. They have been identified as “objectives’ of the revolutionary popular action and later as “couspters” and “fascists”.
In the list of “enemies” the President added, without any continuity, his own comrades in his adventurous coup attempt on February 4 1992; the man who was his political mentor and organizer of the “process” Luis Miquilena and even the First Lady. This was followed by “all” of the private media and its reporters, the Catholic Church, the private sector, university movements, unions, oil workers, new and old political parties, non-Government organizations, the Governors and Mayors not elected under his Movimiento Quinta República. (MVR).
Even more, the gravity of these deviations has been that in the sphere of the expectations that his mandate created: the exemplary sanctions to acts of corruption and the redistribution of wealth have ended in a tremendous collective frustration that has no historical precedent
There has not been a single act executed by the Government or the controlling powers in the course of the last four years that shows a clear will to fight against corruption. There are innumerable and very grave accusations that have been introduced: corruption in the civic-military Plan Bolivar 2000, the irregular use of the FIEM; receiving illegal campaign contributions, the irregular supplies to Cuba in the name of cooperation; the illegal assignment of public debt bonds, the use of public funds for political activities. And in the sphere of pedagogical symbols, the accusations that Chavez made against past regimes for the use of official airplanes and the lack of austerity in public expenditures derived in the inconvenient acquisition of a modern and luxurious presidential airplane at a time marked by an economic contraction and an exponential increase in poverty.
The country has exhibit manageable indices in the macroeconomic stage (external debt within manageable levels, prudent international reserve: US$ 14.9 billion, the Venezuelan oil basket at US$ 24.86, fiscal income during the last three years of US$ 100 billion) that without being optimal, they are far from the negative indices that characterize most of Latin American economies.
However, the economic and social panorama in Venezuela is desolate. It is found dominated by dangerous disequilibria: Social programs were suspended from the beginning and they have gone in the opposite direction, with an exponential growth of internal debt without precedent in the country’s internal debt: from 2.5 trillion Bolivars to 10.5 trillion. The devaluation of the currency has been sustained 100% in the last three years and the systematic drop in international reserves and inflation was repressed artificially and is estimated closet o 40%, with a weighted unemployment of 22%, it is equivalent to one third of the active population.
The poor have increased by a number close to 2 million during the last three years, the purchasing power of Venezuelans dropped between 1999-2001 between 10 and 12%.Moreover the percentage of the population that subsists with less than one dollar a day went from 18.7% to 23% and 47% lives with less than two dollars a day. Capital flight is growing, 50% of the children population has some form of anemia and there is, a drop in GDP between 6 and 6.5% with lending rates which oscillate between 32 and 50%
This being the case, the Government of Hugo Chávez, far from being a left wing progressive Government compromised with the neediest classes has been nothing less than inefficient, populist, dominated in its managing structure by active or retired military, whom, due to their internal divisions and contradictions , have been fractured in two dominating blocks: one in the Government and another one, insurgent, without weapons and with microphones who are present in Plaza Francia in the country’s capital
The Interamerican Democratic Charter, approved by the member status on September 11th. 2001, introduces a change in the direction of what is perceived as democracy and the implementation it has had in the hemisphere. Having overcome the antagonism between the old Dictatorships and the Governments elected by the people, the region warns about a new and more perverse threat for the effectiveness of representative democracy
In the face of the Fujimori experience in Peru, the Chiefs of State and Presidents of the Continent meeting in the Summit of the Americas in Québec (2001), made it known that the legitimacy of origin, that is, the popular election of a ruler was and would continue to be the basic condition for the exercise of democracy. However, it could cease being sufficient if the governments born out of a popular will, lose legitimacy in their performance. Democracy stops being, in the light of the Charter mentioned, a mere technique or form of Government and is transformed in a right for the people and an ethical requirement for the social and political life of the people..
According to the definitions of the Charter thus, today we observe that Chavez has not responded to the requirement of democratic “performance”. The impunity that reigns about the criminal events of April 11th. and those that took place last December 6th. in the Plaza Francia of Caracas, with the net result of three dead and more than twenty injured in the side of the opposition, evidences a systematic disrespect for human rights and basic fundamental freedom; the omission of investigations which would lead to the sanctions of such violations on the part of the Attorney General and the People’s Defender, has shown the noted subordination to the directions of the regime, with disregard to the principle of separation of public powers; the recent assault of the media by street gangs, following public orders that the Minister of the Interior gave them, makes it certain and once again the lack of guarantees for freedom of expression and the press; Ignoring and blocking the popular initiative of the consultative referendum adopted by two million Venezuelans, that would determine if whether the President should or not be asked to resign, proves the lack of will to put himself under the wishes of popular sovereignty; the insubordination of military chiefs to any judicial decisions that goes against the decrees of the Head of State and the express instruction by him, reveals the absence of submission of the military to the rule of law and the civil authority legitimately constituted
In this order, the establishing of a Negotiating table presided by the Secretary General and Colombian ex President Cesar Gaviria, is today the best denial in front of the rotten thesis that in Venezuela the Government of Hugo Chávez Frías is being confronted by coupster, professional fascists or managers that refuse to accept the supposed loss of their privileges. It is the unquestionable proof that in the present hour that the Republic lacks the institutional counterweights that would manage to distill peacefully the political disagreements that are proper to democratic life.
And that this is so is shown by the fact that on December 16th. The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, after verifying the evident and dangerous social polarization that has grabbed the Venezuelan people, recognized that the Democratic Coordinator of the opposition counts with sufficient legitimacy to discuss and negotiate with parity with the Chavez Government the constitutional, democratic, peaceful and electoral constitutional solution that would put an end to the grave alterations that democracy is suffering and is affecting the spirit of coexistence in Venezuela. As a consequence, it has urged the parts to “negotiate in good faith” to reach a solution within the negotiation table that has as its facilitator Cesar Gaviria.
The coupster and fascists point out that Chavez points out as the enemies of his democratic regime, after all are only asking for early elections. Meanwhile the one time-coupster denies the electoral way, and grabs, desperately the theory of his legitimacy of origin, making himself eco of the phantoms of a supposed conspiracy and the attempts to kill him that are being plotted against him.
It is this, summing up, the truth that has to be assimilated and weighed in with their sharpest shrewdness by our friends and international observers, particularly those that, located themselves in the ranks of the European democratic and progressive left, mistake their perceptions about this primitive military: Hugo Chávez Frías, who has kidnapped in his hands one of the democracies with the longest tradition in America and who is just a victim of his narcissism, of the dramatic division of his “military party” and the scandalous loss of the extraordinary popular fervor that took him to the Presidency of Venezuela.
Hitler, riding the Weimar Constitution and Mussolini, manipulating the famous Albertine statute, are live examples and testimony of some Europeans leaders that having emerged from the emotion and popular adhesion, reached similar conclusions making their electors the first victims of their dictatorial insanity. It is this, summing up, the not so simple truth.