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Cracking down on Caracas

By Mortimer B. Zuckerman | USNews.com

06.02.05 | While we have our eyes on the Middle East and the recent good news out of there, a danger to democracy is brewing right here in our backyard. Venezuela, long one of Latin America's strongest democracies, is now under siege by its president, Hugo Chavez. Thanks to an ill-judged intervention by former President Jimmy Carter, Chavez narrowly survived a recall election and has now accelerated his subversion of Venezuela's democracy by a scummy deal with Fidel Castro.

According to Miami's El Nuevo Herald, Chavez has granted Cuban judicial and security forces extensive police powers within Venezuela. Cubans are already running the intelligence services and indoctrinating and training the military. They will effectively bypass what is left of Venezuela's judicial system when they exercise new powers to investigate, seize, detain, and interrogate Venezuelans and Cubans living in Venezuela, with the right to extradite them to Cuba and try them there. This threatens the safety of some 30,000 Cubans in Venezuela.

All this is a culmination of Chavez's frontal attack on civil society, reducing state institutions to mere shadows with only ceremonial powers. Just for starters, Chavez has rewritten Venezuela's Constitution to enhance his powers, purged critics in the military, set up legislation to pack the Supreme Court, intimidated the media by threatening the expropriation of the licenses of private television stations that supported the opposition, and given succor to thousands of Castro's military and intelligence officers, along with many social and medical workers, while tens of thousands of young Venezuelans have been sent to Cuba for indoctrination.

Spots and pans. havez, in turn, provides Castro with 80,000 barrels a day of essential oil. Venezuela's rich flow of oil revenues has enabled Chavez to buy the support of sectors of Venezuelan society and assert himself as the leader of what he calls a "jihad" against American imperialism. Chavez's sense of moral justice is manifest in his alliance with the worst criminal organizations in Latin America, especially the narcoterrorists in Colombia. Just recently, he denounced Colombian authorities because they arrested a senior member of the narcoterrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who had been given sanctuary in Venezuela.

To get a sense of the degree to which Chavez is intimidating his opponents and harassing dissidents, just read the language of a new criminal law that he pushed through the legislature: "Any individual who creates panic in the community or makes it restless by disseminating false information via print media, radio, TV, phone, electronic mail, or pamphlets will be punished with two to five years in prison." Even the most popular form of political protest, banging pots and pans, done in the presence of members of his government, now carries with it up to a three-month jail sentence.

A distinguished international coalition, including former Czech President Vaclav Havel, Sen. John McCain, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, wrote to Chavez expressing concern that his actions are "a grave threat to democracy."

Alas, our own President Carter compromised the hopes of Venezuelans in the recall election by prematurely endorsing the vote that Chavez did not earn or deserve. Carter's people counted fewer than 1 percent of the polling stations, which, instead of being selected at random, as originally anticipated, were selected by Venezuelan officials. Even then, only 76 of the previously agreed 192 ballot boxes were counted, with either opposition witnesses or international observers present at only 26 out of the 76 boxes reviewed. The Chavez-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE) forbade access to the tallying centers, not only to Carter's people but to the representatives of the opposition, and even to the two members of the CNE who opposed Chavez. Two professors from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report concluding that there was at least a 99 percent chance the election was a fraud. The audited sample (Carter's) was simply not a random sample, the professors concluded. Various independent exit polls showed that Chavez had lost the vote by 59 percent to 41 percent, instead of Chavez's contention that he had won by that margin.

Jimmy Carter, in effect, provided a seal of approval for a left-wing demagogue intent on destroying democracy in Venezuela even as he seeks to extend his ideology to other parts of Latin America. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was correct when she pointed out that Chavez is a danger not just to Venezuela but to much of Latin America. Very soon, we must translate those wise words into an effective policy.



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