Venezuela: The Modern Face of Dictatorship

By: Trino Márquez - Dec 5, 2013, 9:22 pm

EspañolThe return of traditional dictators like Fidel Castro, Augusto Pinochet, Anastasio Somoza, and several other autocrats — that trampled on liberty and democracy for decades — seems unlikely. For military governments — juntas like the one led by Rafael Videla in Argentina — to take power once again also seems improbable.

Those characters belong to an era in world geopolitics marked by the Cold War and Latin America’s lag in development, whose dominant features were the deep inequalities between the country and the city, the unrestrained power of the state over society, and the absence of intermediate institutions to enable a refined and fertile base for regional progress. These dictators — tolerated by the United States and the former Soviet Union — were part of a Latin America in which military forces could take power and exercise it, repudiate international considerations, and have no fear of any sanctions or repercussions applied by other countries.

The decline of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War suggested the unsustainable nature of military dictatorships and classic autocracies in the modern era. Further, the approval of the statutes of the International Criminal Court in 2000, the Rome Statute — which codified crimes against humanity and genocide, among others, and declares them indefensible — has discouraged far-right military gorilas and power-hungry leftists from promoting coups to stay in power.

Last November, Maduro accused the media of promoting a coup, similar to the one in 2002. Source: Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Información y la Comunicación.

The Latin-American Left and the Venezuelan Regime

An important sector of Latin America’s collectivist left insists then that in Venezuela there is a solid and exemplary democracy. This is the same group, however, that considers Fidel and Raúl Castro to be two accomplished democrats, while they condemn Augusto Pinochet for being a cruel tyrant. For that antiquated coalition, the strategy of putting on the mask of Marxism and talking in the plight of the exploited and oppressed turns into a cover that allows rulers to run over human rights, destroy the rule of law, persecute the opposition, militarize the society, and take over the media — with seemingly no fear of being categorized as despots.

For that same group, there are dictators from the right and never from the left, even though these presidents are either active in the military or have simply retired from it. For example, General Juan F. Velasco Alvarado — who applied a strongman regime of control and domination in Peru, between 1968 and 1975 — held the reputation of a progressive military ruler who governed in favor of the oppressed, in spite of sinking the nation into a deep economic and social crisis. For that left, there are different rules applied to the same authoritarian regimes. Left-wing regimes are good, right-wing ones are bad.

The current regime in Venezuela is supposedly democratic because: (1) it originates from popular and universal elections; (2) there’s freedom of speech and information; (3) there are the typical powers of a republic, and (4) there’s the right to free association that allows an operating system of multiple parties, unions, and other independent civil associations.

From the formal point of view, the governments of Chávez and Maduro have covered the basic requirements that have allowed them to portray themselves as democratic in front of the international community. However, when we examine thoroughly the functioning of the model, it shows a wide gap between the form and the content. Through a deeper examination, the system built as a Cuban-Venezuelan tandem constitutes a dictatorship with a new face.

The Features of the Venezuelan Neo-Dictatorship

Elections as a Legitimizing Mechanism

In Venezuela, there have been numerous electoral shows since Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999. All of them have developed in an environment filled with abusive use of public resources to favor the government’s side. The regime, therefore, makes the opposite candidates and their views invisible. It denies them any space in state-owned media and allows its own candidates to use government bodies and the state to promote its programmed positions. The financial resources that belong to every Venezuelan are also invested shamelessly to transport supporters, carry out big rallies, and pay for governmental publicity. Yet in practice, the elections remain an instrument to legitimize the authoritarian regime.

Handcuffed Freedom of Expression

The right to information and freedom of expression haven’t been fully suppressed, but they have certainly been encroached. Independently printed or radio and cable media are harassed through restraining measures and red tape that impede access to advertisers. They are, therefore, strangled through less-visible, financial ways. All the while, the state-owned media builds its strength.

All State Authority in to the Executive

In Venezuela, the independent branches of government and the balance of powers have disappeared. The entire state structure is subordinated to the will of the president. There’s no court or independent entity to which an individual can go to, or organization to settle an issue of political nature. This subordination will increase with the Enabling Law, that the National Assembly approved for Nicolás Maduro in early November.

Growing Militarization of the State and Society

The military have been acquiring a growing presence in every public sphere. In the economy, the media, culture, and public entities, the military — whether they are active or retired — have ever more discretionary power, while the spheres of civil society are decreasing at an accelerated rate.

Too-Governmental Organizations

Independent civil groups, such as political parties and unions, along with professional, business, and student associations are under siege from the government. State officials, seeing them as a threat to their monopoly on power, seek to substitute them for organizations aligned with their official interests.

These are some of the most significant aspects of the neo-dictatorship installed in Venezuela since 1999. We will return to this topic in future columns.

Translated by Marcela Estrada.

Trino Márquez Trino Márquez

Doctor of social science, professor at the Central University of Venezuela, and academic director of Cedice-Libertad. Follow him on Twitter @trinomarquezc.

Time to Walk the Talk for Liberty: A Plan to Get the Numbers

By: Frank Worley-Lopez - Dec 5, 2013, 4:43 pm

If you talk the talk of liberty, how long will it take to walk the path? Libertarians and those seeking liberty talk a good game. We are excellent at rationalizing, arguing, and criticizing. Our plans are detailed and complex. Yet, we have accomplished so little. Despite dozens of attempts, no truly free country has been created, no major elections won, and even the lauded "Free State Project" has failed to garner enough to meet its original goal of 20,000 movers. Let’s face it, when we are talking about establishing a real home for personal liberty, we are not only an incredible minority, we are also asking a lot of people. What people want to give up their homes, jobs, and communities to go off on some "damn fool idealistic crusade," to paraphrase Obi-Wan from the original Star Wars. Sure, we are mad about seat belt laws and mandatory insurance laws, NSA spying, and silly anti-smoking laws that clearly violate the property rights of bar owners. We don’t like zoning, laws against drugs and prostitution, corruption in government, and obscene levels of taxation, coupled with even more obscene levels of spending. But what do we do about it? Argue? What does this liberty stuff even look like? Have you seen it? Establishing a free country, a place where liberty is the norm and not the exception, is tough business. Creating the coalition needed to establish it and the logistics for getting everyone in the same place or the right places and raising the money needed to make it happen often seems a mountain too high to climb. You may find people who agree that drugs and prostitution should be legal, who recognize the insanity of mandatory health insurance, or who rage against NSA spying, but who is really willing to offer their freedom, their fortunes, their lives, and their sacred honor? Apparently, not too many of us. We talk a good game. Yet, there seems to be a huge segment of the population that should be the first on the list of potential recruits that has been overlooked: non-violent criminals. Bear with me; this might actually make sense at some point. Across the United States, there are millions upon millions of people who are either in prison, on parole, or who in their backgrounds have a conviction for a nonviolent drug offense. These people were arrested for possession of a simple drug or possession with intent to distribute, or at one time they may have been proud owners of firearms and were thus considered "violent" — in a country that supposedly guarantees the right to keep and bear arms. Regardless, forever people will mark them as criminals. Many of them will never be able to get above low-wage labor jobs because of that conviction. Ex-cons are one step above sex offenders in the order of who gets the short end of the socioeconomic stick in the United States. Speaking of which, did you know most sex offenders are not child murderers or pedophiles? In some states you can be forced to register as a sex offender for engaging in prostitution or being one's client. In others, you can be forced to register for urinating in a dark alley behind a bar. Teenagers who take naked pictures of themselves to send to their boyfriends or girlfriends can be charged with producing child pornography or possessing it if they are on the receiving end of the "sext." Even worse, in some states you can be forced to register as a sex offender even if you were found "not guilty" of the crime for which you were charged. Then there are the statutory rapists who dated a boy or girl that society deemed too young for them. As a father, I think a good beating and a short prison sentence would be better — not a lifetime of wearing a scarlet letter. All of these sex offenders have lost everything and are being lumped in with child murderers. They can’t get a job and sometimes live out in the woods because of draconian residency restrictions. Even though they may not be a threat to society at all, they have already lost everything that society has to offer. My proposal for establishing a republic in Eastern Puerto Rico via a democratic process includes a plan to legalize drugs and prostitution, change the way we view and prosecute teenagers, and do away with a sex offender registry system. If someone is truly so dangerous they must be kept out of society, they should have been sentenced accordingly in the first place. Over time I’ve also considered a "five year and you’re clear" rule. In other words, if you’ve committed a crime, been convicted, sentenced, punished, and remained crime-free for five years, your record is expunged. We have forgiven plenty of politicians for their "youthful" indiscretions; why not everyone else? Puerto Rico offers a unique opportunity for those with past criminal records. Unlike many states, individuals with previous convictions can vote in Puerto Rico. In other words, they can be an active part of establishing the Republic of Eastern Puerto Rico. If we are successful, specifically under the plan I am proposing, those people would have their records expunged upon independence in exchange for having supported and actively participated in the push for independence. I believe we have a fair chance with just 25,000 committed supporters present, although I would prefer 200,000 supporters — in which case I believe I can almost guarantee independence in at least part of the island. I’ve always wondered why our government has been so obsessed with labels and why other independence and liberty movements have not seen this pool of millions of people as the most likely group to offer what little they have left in exchange for the liberty we envision.

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