The crisis of Venezuela’s “democracy”
Venezuela's "new democracy" is simply a way for part of the population to impose its will, through the force of the state, on the other part
One of the first measures taken by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías, in establishing his Bolivarian revolution, was the replacement of constitutional democracy with an authentic “participatory democracy.” Since the fraudulent election of Chávez’s successor, the inept and brutal Nicolás Maduro, the world is now getting a closer look at this new type of democracy.
Following the presidential election, which the government-packed National Election Commission (CNE) declared Maduro won by 50.66 percent of the vote, the presumptive president himself suggested a recount of all the votes. The next day, the chavista-controlled Supreme Court Justice rejected any recount. Then, after promoting its own victory rally, the Maduro government banned any street demonstrations by the opposition.
In the following days, small street protests were brutally put down by police and the chavista Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). Numerous beatings by chavista crowds, reminiscent of SS shock troops, have been uploaded to websites. Almost immediately, several citizen videos showing the murders of unarmed civilians by the GNB were posted on YouTube and elsewhere across the social media sphere. One such video demonstrates police and GNB firing into private homes and intimidating any sign of opposition. Another shows chavista groups lighting the local headquarters of the governing party on fire while trying to blame the opposition for the crime.
The supposed reason for this violence, as reported by Al-Jazeera, is that “the opposition – supported by the US – refuses to concede defeat in the election.” Sounds simple. Meanwhile, supporters of the regime point out that the slim majority by which George W. Bush defeated Al Gore was almost identical to the margin of victory by Mr. Maduro.
But that’s where the comparison ends. In Venezuela, chavistas control the CNE, the GNB, the police, the Supreme Court and the resources of the state-owned oil company. And, unlike in any constitutional democracy, the head of the armed forces declared himself “an anti-imperialist defender of the socialist revolution” before the election.
Non-chavistas need not apply.
The “new democracy” has several unique features. For one thing, the essential meaning of the system is that part of the population imposes its will, through the force of the state, on the other part. Opposition newspapers, television and radio stations are censored or simply shut down. Non-supporters of the regime are fired from government jobs, and as more of the economy falls under state control, the situation becomes widespread.
Secondly, non-chavistas have no role to play in government decision-making. This week, for example, the National Assembly forbade opposition members from heading any legislative committees or commissions.
In 2009 the government also set up an estimated 20,000 “communal councils” to receive billions in state funding and to circumvent the power of local officials, mostly part of the opposition, to govern at the municipal and block levels to which they were elected. Like Cuba’s committees for the defense of the revolution (CDRs), the communal councils are open to supporters of the government, report on the activities of opponents to police, and can withhold resources from those poorer Venezuelans disaffected with the regime.
People are considered to be “participating” to the extent that they go along with government projects and contribute labour or moral support. Questioning the “socialist project” is not allowed.
The dynamic in Venezuela is one of division by political confession. Supposedly democracy is meant for the supporters of the revolution and its projects only. All others are sidelined from the public square. In a “participatory democracy”, opposition has two options: silence or migration. In fact, in the revolution, all opposition is “disloyal.”
In the regime’s own bellicose language, a true revolution must destroy all vestiges of capitalism, including those who are sympathetic to capitalism. The repressive measures that have reached the streets in Caracas and elsewhere are the result of attitudes, including the executing of enemies of the revolution, cultivated for the last 14 years.
In this context, it is disheartening when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, under Mr, William Hague, declares “the UK Government looks forward to working with the Government and people of Venezuela to strengthen our relationship and deepen cooperation in areas of mutual interest.” What, pray tell, can the mutual interests be between a constitutional democracy respecting individual rights and a plundering mob led by demagogues to beat and repress their fellow citizens?
Fernando Menendez is an economist and principal of the Cordoba Group International, a strategic consulting firm providing clients with political and economic analysis
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