Tuesday, December 13, 2005

With an opposition like this how are we ever going to get anything done. 

There were a couple of important editorials from U.S. newspapers on the Venezuelan elections that I thought were interesting. The first is from the New York Times and the second from the Washington Post. From the Times:

Hugo Chávez and His Helpers

The kind of lucky breaks President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has been getting lately could tempt even a modest man - and Mr. Chávez is no modest man - to dream grandiose dreams. High oil prices, a terminally inept opposition and the Bush administration's scandalous neglect of its Western Hemisphere neighbors have left the field wide open for Mr. Chávez to bully people at home, buy friends abroad and annoy Washington at every turn.

Since first taking office in 1999, Mr. Chávez has pushed through a new Constitution that lets him rule as a quasi dictator. He has marginalized Congress, undermined judicial independence and prosecuted political opponents. By tightening control of the national oil company, he has been able to use high world oil prices to increase funds for popular social programs for the poor, making him electorally unassailable. That dangerous concentration of power will most likely worsen after last Sunday's Congressional election, in which parties allied to Mr. Chávez won every one of the 167 seats. The opposition can blame only itself because it boycotted the polls even after its demands for stricter ballot secrecy were met.
That petulant idiocy frustrated regional diplomats who had pressed the secrecy demand on the opposition's behalf, and it mystified and disenfranchised Venezuelan voters who had wanted a choice at the polls. Even without the boycott, pro-Chávez parties would have won a majority. But now not a single opposition voice will be heard in Congress, and Mr. Chávez is free to do whatever he likes.

A month earlier, at the Summit of the Americas in Argentina, Mr. Chávez cavorted before crowds of anti-Washington protesters and networked with his fellow Latin American presidents. He is hoping that either Argentina or Brazil will sell him a nuclear reactor, a step that would be a very bad idea considering Venezuela's burgeoning friendship with Iran and the excessive indulgence Caracas has shown toward Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Meanwhile, Washington's hemispheric influence continues to dwindle, partly because President Bush has not been attentive enough to Mexico on immigration, Brazil on agricultural subsidies and Argentina on debt restructuring.

The United States should not further feed Mr. Chávez's ego and give him more excuses for demagogy by treating him as clumsily as it has treated his hero and role model, Fidel Castro, for the past four and a half decades. Instead, Washington needs to compete more deftly and actively with Mr. Chávez for regional influence, and look for ways to work with the hemisphere's other democracies to revive the multiparty competitive democracy that has now just about ceased to exist in Venezuela.

Is it just me or does this editorial very much have the tone of "with as stupid an opposition as there is in Venezuela how are we going to over get rid of Chavez?" The editorial certainly makes it clear the Times has no use for Chavez but they are clearly fustrated by the "petulant idiocy" of the opposition. Can't say I blame them.

Then we have the Washington Post chime in asking if the opposition really believes itself in democracy:

Mr. Chavez's Rubber Stamp

Monday, December 12, 2005; A24

VENEZUELA'S democratic system, which has been crumbling under pressure from President Hugo Chavez, has taken another lurch toward collapse. In elections for the National Assembly held Dec. 4, at least 75 percent of voters chose not to go to the polls, despite threats from government officials that state workers would lose their jobs if they did not. A fifth of those who did turn out cast blank ballots rather than support pro-government candidates; opposition parties withdrew from the election days before it occurred. The result is that Mr. Chavez's supporters, with a mandate from 20 percent of the electorate, will occupy all 167 seats in the assembly. The legislature, like the court system before it, will be converted from a check on Mr. Chavez's power to a rubber stamp. Its top priority, National Assembly President Nicolas Maduro said after the vote, would be "to legislate so that Chavez rules not until 2021, but until 2030."

Responsibility for this grievous development lies in part with the Venezuelan opposition, which according to polls stood no chance of defeating Mr. Chavez's party when it chose to boycott the election. Opposition leaders pointed to flaws in the voting system that might have prevented secret balloting, but this seemed a pretext after election authorities agreed to make changes. By withdrawing, the opposition made it impossible to challenge Mr. Chavez through a democratic legislature and renewed questions about whether its commitment to democracy is any greater than that of the president. Like Mr. Chavez, some opposition leaders once backed a military coup. Its disastrous failure ought to have established the principle that only a movement clearly committed to democracy can hope to defeat Mr. Chavez's plans for a "21st-century socialist revolution."

It is those plans that have been the main cause of Venezuela's turmoil and the disintegration of a flawed but free political system. Mr. Chavez's supporters control the national election authority, and missions from both the European Union and the Organization of American States found that much of the public distrusts the electoral system. Mr. Chavez has cowed the privately owned opposition press with a draconian anti-slander law and charged the leaders of the independent election-monitoring group Sumate with treason for accepting $31,000 in funding from the National Endowment for Democracy. Other criminal cases have been brought against prominent opposition politicians, trade unionists and human rights activists.

The OAS mission suggested that Venezuelan democracy might still be rescued through "a frank, inclusive and good-faith dialogue" between Mr. Chavez and the opposition that, among other things, would be aimed at "strengthening of the principle of separation, independence and balance of powers -- a basic principle of all presidential democracies." For now, such a democratic balance is utterly absent in Venezuela; and judging from Mr. Chavez's conduct, that is exactly what he wants.

Its interesting to see that the Washington Post, who have consistently slammed the Chavez government, are finally starting to see that the current opposition is a complete joke. I guess they are getting a little fustrated with an opposition which, in spite of tens of millions of dollars invested in them by the U.S. government, is so clownish that they pull out of elections after their demands are met. Its further good to see that this paper which has not hesitated to use crude and inaccurate propaganda against the Venezuelan government in the past acknowledges what the boycott was really all about - that it had nothing to do with the integrity of the voting process and resulted from the opposition knowing it was going to lose big anyways.

It is clear that the U.S. leadership is waking up to the realization that the first problem they need to deal with in Venezuela is the complete stupidity and incompetance of the people who currently make up the opposition. It will be interesting to see if the U.S. embassy in Caracas starts taking a much more pro-active roll in disposing of the current opposition and trying to build a new one. I think U.S. ambassador Brownfield is going to be a very busy man for the next couple of years.


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