Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has clearly decided to set aside any pretense of democracy as it intensified a campaign against opposition leaders, apparently aimed at isolating and removing anyone that could become a visible head of the country’s opposition. While earlier Chavez had used more subtle ways of neutralizing opponents, such as the disqualification of candidates from the opposition from running for office, this time the subtlety has been left aside and the Government has displayed a ferocious attack against opposition leaders.
The first victim of this wave was former Presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, who was investigated by the National Assembly and in the end was charged with corruption by an examination by the Comptroller of Rosales’ own statements throughout the years of his personal assets, which the Comptroller deemed to not be justifiable based on his salary.
Rosales has been accused in the media by Chavismo leaders and in the last few days has been treated as if he is avoiding an order to be captured, while in reality no arrest warrant has been issued.
I am told that the Judge that was supposed to sign such an order declared herself to be ill and the Government has not found anyone that would sign the order for Rosales’ arrest. Rosales has been in hiding and has an audience with the Prosecutor on April 20th., where charges will be presented against him. Adding to that, today he was denounced for attempted homicide by some workers injured in a riot in front of the office of the Maracaibo Mayor, which Rosales heads.
The second victim today was retired General Raul Baduel, a member of Chavez’ inner circle for many years and the man that single handedly brought Chavez back to power in 2002. Baduel retired in 2007 as Minister of Defense and opposed Chavez Constitutional referendum that year, helping the drive to defeat that proposal. He was charged with corruption, accusing him of administrative irregularities as Minister.
Baduel was arrested forecfully today by military police and there was no arrest order as required. According to his son, the path of his car was blocked and he was placed in a station wagon at gunpoint. Baduel had been to all audiences in which he was charged and had been allowed to be tried while in freedom. It is unclear why this was reversed and his lawyer says there will be an audience tomorrow.
Finally, today a pro-Chavez Deputy Iris Varela, called for an investigation of Teodoro Petkoff’s mother, who died in 1974. Petkoff, a vocal and forceful opponent of the Chavez administration, said it was unbelievable that the Government was bringing up his mother’s probate tax statement, saying the only objective was to disqualify opposition leaders.
The Chavez administration has also been very aggressive taking away responsibilities from opposition Governors and Mayors, which are assigned to them by the Constitution. Last month, the Government removed all ports and airports from their administration and today the National Assembly approved a new Bill for the Capital District of Caracas. In the words of some of the Deputies proposing this Bill, it is needed to limit the action of the opposition Mayor of the Metropolitan Mayor of Caracas if we are to have a “socialist city”. Clearly, this Bill violates the will of yhose that voted for Mayor Ledezma in November, a victory that Chavez went out of his way to avoid. Previously he had disqualified Leopoldo Lopez who was leading the polls by having the Comptroller find him guilty of administrative irregularities and banning him from running for office for seven years.
Thus, Chavez’ anti-democratic roots have surfaced clearly as he represses dissent, creating fear in those that oppose his now dictatorial regime. His total control over the institutional framework of the country attempts to disguise his true intentions, but there is no longer an attempt to even maintain the pretense of legality, it is an all out media campaign to hide the facts and find opposition leaders guilty of corruption even before they have been tried.
Curiously, as has been the case during his cowardly regime, this all fronts attack is made as Chavez is traveling and his loyal cronies follow his orders, allowing him to distance himself from the fray.
Expect this attack to continue against the media and other opposition figures as the economy deteriorates and Chavez continues his only real project: The preservation of Hugo Chavez in power forever.