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Dark days for Venezuela

By A.M. Mora y Leon | The American Thinker

13.12.04 | As bad as Venezuela's vile media law is, dictator Hugo Chavez's rubber-stamp parliament has passed an even worse law along with it, known as 'the Penal Law.' This MercoPress item cuts right to the chase. This law would make it a crime to protest with pots and pans against politicians, lower penalties for stealing food, and forbid "slander" against public figures. Not only has freedom of the press been severely curtailed in Venezuela since Chavez consolidated his power last Oct. 31, so has freedom of expression. You can't even express how you feel about the dictator's odious regime.

Pot-banging is sort of an institution in Latin America. Except for Cubans, Latin Americans all do it. Known as cacerolazo (from the word 'casserole') it's a way of protesting a very oppressive or very corrupt political leader by banging on pots and pans. Usually, it's housewives who do it, and it has a very powerful effect. It symbolically says that things have gotten so bad that even housewives in their kitchens are upset. It's a citizen's last means of saying 'enough' to something intolerable. And it often portends change.

The practice has its roots in the resistance to communism. It was first invented by housewives angry at the confiscatory practices of the communist Salvador Allende regime in Chile in the early 1970s. Powerless women found their voice by banging on pots and pans as a cry in the wilderness. It was a great nuisance to corrupt leftist politicians.

The practice of pot banging spread to the rest of Latin America and became a popular form of people's protest, done by both right and left. When Jimmy Carter was in Venezuela during Chavez's August recall referendum, playing the dictator's friend, and saying all was free and fair in that fraudulent vote, angry desperate cacerolazeros followed him into restaurants, banging on pots to protest his despicable claims.

I saw it done to great effect in Argentina a couple years ago - a stream of mostly women would march through the streets banging on pots and pans, would attract a crowd, and grow it to huge size, accented by people at their balconies and windows, their sidewalk cafe tables and storefronts - all banging on pots and pans together as the cacerolazeros passed by.

Well, no more in increasingly Cubanized Venezuela. People who can't take it anymore and bang pots will serve three months' jail time. The crackdown - interestingly by a communist regime eager to avoid Allende's mistakes, will bottle up anger, setting the stage for worse things. Worse yet, it will blind the government into thinking there are no limits on what it can do. Until now, only Castro's regime forbade cacerolazo protests. This law will make increasingly sad Venezuela even gloomier. Until Chavez came along, Nationmaster polls showed it was the happiest country in the world.

Another aspect of the law is a ban on 'slander' and 'libel' - with no distinction between public and private figures. Anyone who says anything that a chavista court (Chavez has stacked the courts) can construe as slander or libel faces stiff penalties. This is a convenient means of driving off all criticism of the increasingly hated regime. This also signals that they plan worse things to come and are attempting to head off criticism through intimidation well before it comes.

And just as nefarious, the penalties for theft of food or medicine have been lowered. As a supposed humanitarian gesture. It is the near-legalization of theft. And when theft is legalized, no other laws can possibly be respected. It's already obvious that the rule of law is gone in Venezuela for other reasons but this institutionalization of theft will guarantee there's a lot of it. The likely impact will be organized crime connected with the communist regime moving in on the food supply, always being able to leverage the opportunity when the cost is small. The result? Food shortages, something that always happens in a communist regime anyway, and this will accelerate it. Which may be Chavez's intention. As Chavez's close friend Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe probably tells him, food shortages are an instrument of state control.

These are dark days ahead for Venezuela.

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