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.