EspañolFrom the moment Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, he devoted himself to methodically and persistently destroying democracy in Venezuela. That should not be a surprise, since he never actually believed in the virtues of democracy as a form of government. In his hands, it was only ever a way to reach his true objective: total control.
In Venezuela, democracy is still a relatively young idea. Throughout its history, as a general rule, the country has been run by military dictators. However, once the idea materialized, it took deep root. There is evidence of this in its history between 1959 and 1989 — a period of cruel dictatorships in most Latin-American countries — while Venezuela proved to be an exception.
In “pre-Chávez” Venezuela, governments may have been bad, with corrupt politicians and a prosperous elite, but democracy itself worked. Elections in Venezuela were once clean — the results not known well in advance. People voted under the premise of fixing things “from the inside,” with new leadership, abiding by the rules of democracy.
When speaking of democracy, one does well to remember that voting is only one of the many elements within the system. It is necessary, but not sufficient. Democracy is a system of government with delicate checks and balances, designed with care to avoid a concentration of power.
The premise here is that “power checks power,” and the center and end of political life in this form of government is the individual — never the government. The goals that matter are those of the individual, not the ruling elite. This is the essence of human rights — to protect and guarantee the rights of the individual. It is the only truly effective way to respect the inherent dignity of each person.
Democracy is majority rule while respecting the rights of minority, or at least it is supposed to be. If it were all left up to the popular vote, the mechanisms in place designed to prevent the accumulation of power would be much too easily shifted in the opposite direction toward totalitarianism.
When a country is centered around a single political figure, when a cult of personality is born that borders on insanity, there are no clean elections, no separation of powers, and no freedom of the press, assembly, or speech. When a state power controls the entire food supply, or is the only chief employer (directly or indirectly), when it expropriates arbitrarily for its own benefit or that of its relatives, when it says unabashedly, “I am the state” — then we can say with certainty that we are faced with totalitarianism.
It is against all of this that two weeks ago the people mobilized in mass all over Venezuela. The fruits of totalitarianism have been economic insecurity, food shortages, and a general lack of individual freedom. Although led by students, people from all sectors of society have joined. Journalists, for example, have denounced the government for having failed for several months to deliver the dollars necessary to import their newsprint. One large rally poster summed it up best: “The press agonizes in Venezuela.”
Faced with these facts, only a phony, a cynic, or someone lacking all intellectual honesty could describe the current situation in Venezuela as “democratic.” The people are, in fact, rebelling against a great tyrannical force. Consequently, any group of individuals who declare publicly their solidarity with the government of Venezuela are revealing their authoritarian strains. They are now showing their true face and intentions.
Among these groups, there are two that deserve mention.
In Uruguay, the Broad Front (the ruling party) issued a unanimous resolution asserting their rejection of an “attempt to destabilize the constitutional government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, by the most conservative sectors of the political opposition.”
In addition, the Uruguayan Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement of support and solidarity with the government of Nicolás Maduro. Their letter expressed a repudiation of “all forms of violence and intolerance that attempt to cut away at democracy and its institutions.”
The statement issued by the University of Chile Student Federation (FECH) is also worth noting. This pressure group has spoken out against the student protesters of Venezuela, because — they contend — they defend the “old order.” FECH released a statement saying in part, “We reject any attempt at destabilization, food hoarding, or a coup looking to override the decisions of the sovereign Venezuelan people, and get in the way of the revolutionary path it has chosen.”
It’s important to compare the above statements with reality.
María is a Venezuelan who works for one of the ministries of the state. She is absolutely prohibited from attending any march organized by the opposition. In fact, she is required to attend demonstrations organized by the ruling party — or face dismissal. She has expressed with outrage that “ordinary people, working class people, they are fed up and are in the streets to protest.”
María believes that the government’s control “slipped through its hands” during the student marches. Therefore, it used its ties with armed groups calling themselves tupamaros to terrorize and intimidate. María considers them “terrorists, thugs, people who live very poorly, who got out and kill, steal, kidnap, and scare. This is the sort of information the government tries to hide, once it gets leaked heavily, especially when graphic.”
Totalitarianism is a monster that takes on different faces: Hitler, Mussolini, Czarism, Stalin, Fidel Castro, or Hugo Chávez. The groups mentioned above are revealing that the monster of totalitarianism, in itself, is not their concern. To them, some of its manifestations are acceptable — especially when they themselves occupy those positions of power.
EspañolAs is known around the world, the recent student protests held in Venezuela to demand government transparency and security netted multiple dead students and the arrests of several others. Repressive state forces attacked them on February 12, Venezuela's Youth Day. After this outrageous episode of violence and repression, many student movements around the world have shown their solidarity with the Venezuelan people. These events are already being called "the Venezuelan spring" — given that it's been a week of protests already — and they evidence the decline of "Socialism for the 21st Century." This system has been unable to meet the minimum demands of a large part of the Venezuelan population, with an incompetent and repressive bureaucracy that has resorted to terror in the streets to stop the protests generated by the high levels of social discontent. It is no surprise that this level of discontent and dissatisfaction exists. This failed model is responsible for the transformation of one of the richest countries in Latin America and an oil producer into an importer of gasoline. It has led to the country being among the most violent in the world, where food shortages and power outages are part of everyday life. Venezuela is also at the lowest levels on indexes that measure essential components of democracy: the rule of law, freedom of expression, separation of government powers, and respect for human rights. For us, the defenders of individual freedom and enemies of statism, it is unbelievable how these totalitarian regimes have survived — even after the 1989 fall of socialism and the Berlin Wall, the last structure holding together the failed system. The end of the state is each individual — at least it should be — and that means to ensure and protect freedom, not violate it by repressing citizens simply for disagreeing. The silence and indifference on the part of most Latin-American presidents towards Maduro's abuses is striking. The great crusade carried out by Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica in favor of freedom of expression, is a notable exception. As in Venezuela, the youth of the eastern side of the Berlin wall died trying to cross it to get to the western side, escaping the marginal conditions that prevailed in the communist side. While in Venezuela there is no physical wall, there is the even harder ideological wall, built in the minds of people and which has made it impossible for them to see and think outside what the state has dictated. At this point, breaking down the mental walls that separate the ruling party and the opposition is the great challenge for Venezuela. However, it is the only way that people will stand for all their individual freedoms in order to build a truly democratic country. As Churchill said, it's best to avoid predictions, because it is much easier to look back in time. What awaits Venezuela is a historic event, a turning point, and Maduro's political decisions will determine whether he remains the president of Venezuela or not. Despite having significant support from a share of the population — in my view out of fear rather than conviction — the actions he has taken to date are not the smartest, and do not guarantee at all his continuation in power. Far from seeking dialogue, as he claims, he has dedicated his underlings to repressing, killing, and even raiding the headquarters of the opposition. Then, when criticized, he decided to expel US diplomats, declaring each one a persona non grata "for interfering in the internal affairs of the country." So, again, with no intention to predict, I would like to assert the following: Venezuelan youth are tired of the status quo, and are restless and thirsty for freedom. The path to getting rid of this dictatorship will boil down to maintaining their presence on the streets, staying focused amid polarization, achieving unity, and breaking down the mental walls that separate the two Venezuelas — so we can finally say, "Goodbye, Maduro!" Translated by Alan Furth.