Venezuela's Hugo Chavez Militarist Vision
by Pompeyo Marquez, Sept. 3, 2004*
I have argued that we are facing an authoritarian and militarist autocracy. A chavista friend has told me that it's an exageration, so I want to expose my reasons.
First, the meaning of autocracy is all power concentrated in one man. If we examine the way the state works today, there is no denying the way Chavez interferes with every part of it, at times publicly and harshly. This fact is underlined by the virtual liquidation of the judicial branch with the approval of the amendments to the Framework Law of the Supreme Tribunal which, a chavista leader told me, doesn't worry them at all, since the Nominations' Committee will be headed by [chavista die-hard] Pedro Carreņo, meaning that ultimately it'll be Chavez who chooses all 32 TSJ magistrates.
When I say the president's actions are "authoritarian", it's enough to watch his TV-show "Alo presidente" to find the most varied evidence of the way he leads the country in every field. He doesn't coordinate a team, he has underlings. A former minister tells me that, when he was in office, he could not control his own schedule, because the president could call him to Miraflores at any time and he might have to wait two or three hours for an audience, or he might call him at 5 a.m. to go on a trip that day, which would wreck his work plan. It's worth pointing out that he has no notion of laws such as the Budget, the Salvaguarda [anti-corruption] or Comptrollership laws. In a recent meeting broadcast nationally [cadena] with a group of entrepreneurs, you saw him turn to Merentes: "how much money do you have?" He replies, " Bs.1.3 billion." "Well, lets take 600 and give them to these people." Chavez really does act as though he owned the country and the national treasury.
On militarism, everyone can see the people he has chosen to stand for state governorship - 14 officers - leaving aside the civilian leadership in the government camp. All this does is generate anger in those states. I'll take two examples of the sorts of provocations these communities have been subjected to: in Carabobo, he has chosen "General Burp", Acosta Carles, and in Zulia, General Gutierrez, who barely knows the main avenues in Maracaibo. And lets not mention the numerous civilian posts held today by Armed Forces officers. Not even during the Perez Jimenez dictatorship had there been so many military men holding public office. And the latest stunt just tops it all off: the government has ordered the army to make a register of idle lands, since apparently the National Lands Institute and the Agriculture Ministry are entirely useless.
In 1956, I was in Russia when Kruschev published his report condemning Stalin's crimes and his cult of personality. Then and there, I swore that I would never participate in the cult of a strongman, which remains the explanation I give to chavistas for my position today. At the same time, I remind you that in 1998 I said electing Chavez was a jump in the dark.
Me? I learned to participate in democratic give-and-take, to understand pluralism and to oppose all enforced thought [pensamiento unico], all monolithic thinking, like the one Chavez wants to establish. I learned the value of tolerance, of respect for your adversaries and for divergent opinions, as I show daily. I learned that Venezuela needs its institutions to function democratically, and that democracy must have a social content for the majority.
And that's the struggle I'm in now, as more than half the country is victim of electoral fraud, of the insolent use of the resources of power in order to maintain that power. The struggle is ongoing until the objectives are met, and it should be carried out in every sphere, whether parliamentary, electoral, political, social or labor-related. We must not give up on any of the positions we've held to, quite the opposite: we must strengthen and broaden them. This is the course that experience recommends.
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