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The Case Against Hugo Chávez

By Gustavo Coronel

April 2, 2005 | I believe that a well-documented case can be constructed to show domestic and international public opinion that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez:

* Is no longer a legitimate president;

* Is not a democratic president;

* Is not a true defender of the Venezuelan poor;

* Is not an anti-corruption fighter;

* Is not a leader for all Venezuelans;

* Is neglecting his duties as Venezuelan President to lead a "holy war" against the United States.

I believe that this case should be made, to serve as the basis of a coherent opposition to Mr. Chávez. Today Venezuelans are going through a passive, resigned stage. They go to work every day, those who still have jobs, refraining from speaking their minds and from sticking their necks out. This is what a repressive regime does to a society. I have lived through it twice before (Perez Jimenez and Sukarno) and, believe me, it is degrading. A vigorous and well-planned opposition to the Chávez regime is required before his hold on power becomes irreversible.

Hugo Chávez is no longer a legitimate president.

Those who still feel that elections are all that democracy requires to be legitimate are badly obsolete in their political thinking. Legitimacy of origin is only the first pre-requisite for true legitimacy. Political scientists in their works and the common people in their hearts know that it takes more than winning an election, or several elections, to be legitimate in the eyes of the country. Once you have won, you have to be true to the mandate you have received from voters. The mandate Hugo Chávez received in 1998 was to conduct change in the country, within the boundaries of the constitution and of democratic principles. In 1998 few voted for a socialist revolution or for an authoritarian government. Few voted for a regime in which political dissidents would be insulted and scorned. Few voted for an abandonment of Venezuelan sovereignty in the hands of Fidel Castro. If Venezuelan voters had known then what they know today, Chávez would not have been elected.

He did win. An electoral victory is a source of legitimacy. But equally required is legitimacy of performance, how the victor performs after victory. Will he, she be true to promises and ideas that made him/her win? The betrayal of those promises destructs legitimacy. Because of his betrayal, Chávez is as legitimate today as Castro is in Cuba and Mugabe in Zimbabwe. They arrived with full support of the people. Now, they are not governing for the people but ruling to satisfy their pathological desire for power.

Hugo Chávez is not a democratic president.

To be a democratic president requires governing with an ear for all citizens. How can a president who insults and harasses considerable sectors of the population be democratic? A democratic government respects dissidence but President Chávez persecutes dissidents. A democratic president governs with respect for the independence and autonomy of institutional powers. However, it is well known that no independent powers exist in Venezuela and that Chávez's unconditional followers hold all key positions within government institutions. The most notorious examples of this perversion are the Attorney General, the Ombudsman and the Comptroller General. These three positions are constitutionally designed to serve as counterbalance to potential abuses of power or corruption in the Executive and other state institutions. The holders of these posts are expected to be defenders of the common citizen against the excesses of the state. In fact, these persons today represent the interests of the President. The same applies to the new Supreme Tribunal of Justice and to the National Electoral Council, stacked with Chávez followers. A mere suspicion of partiality by these institutions would be enough to cast doubts on the democratic nature of the government but there are more than suspicions. There are strong indications that can be easily documented and which should be used to build a strong case against the current regime.

Hugo Chávez is not a true defender of the Venezuelan poor.

The main justification for the authoritarian and abusive nature of the Chávez regime has been the defense and upgrading of the Venezuelan poor. The main argument of the regime seems to be: We cannot lose time in talking with the opposition because we are too busy attending to the poor. In fact, they add, the opposition is the main culprit for the poverty in the country.

Instead of promoting the creation of new wealth, what the Chávez regime has done is to take away from the haves and the dissidents to give to the have-nots and the followers. This is why private lands and buildings are being invaded in an atmosphere of total impunity. This is why businessmen are harassed, exchange controls are used as a political tool and employment is not given to those who voted against the president in the last presidential referendum.

Instead of a plan to combat the structural roots of poverty the regime has gone into improvised social programs, starting with the Bolivar 2000 plan, run by the military, and continuing with the "missions." When we tabulate the volume of resources that have been put at the disposal of this regime: USD $120 billion in oil income and $24 billion in new national indebtness in just six years, and compare these resources with the results of the social programs mentioned above, it is inevitable to conclude that the inefficiency, waste, improvisation and corruption have been enormous. As a result and, in spite of this gigantic inflow of money, poverty has grown by 10% during the Chávez watch, as admitted by the Central Statistics Office of the regime. Unemployment, crime, inflation are all up. Street children are now more numerous than before. Squatters in private lands and buildings continue to live a miserable existence.

Where, then, is the defender of the poor?

I admit that Chávez has done something that had not been done before, at least with his intensity: he has given the poor hope and a strong sense of social inclusion. This I salute. This can and should always be done and, somehow, our previous presidents could not or would not do it. I recognize this as a positive attitude on Chávez's part. But why should it be done at the expense of the other sectors of the population? By excluding large portions of the population of his "new" society Chávez has managed to destroy the beneficial effects of including the poor. We cannot create new social capital at the expense of the destruction of the existing one.

Preaching of hope is ineffective if not accompanied by programs to help the poor become self-starters instead of beggars.

Hugo Chávez is not fighting corruption.

Although the fight against corruption was one of the pillars of his electoral campaign, the administration of the financial resources of the nation by the Chávez team during these six years has been disastrous. Inefficiency, waste, abuse of power, misuse of national property, handouts to followers, oil given to Cuba, expenditures outside the normal budgetary channels, siphoning of money away from PDVSA and the Central Bank for uses without transparency, all add up to a case of hyper corruption in government. Corruption is not only stealing. It is also managing the state in an incompetent and wasteful manner.

Hugo Chávez has not been a leader for all Venezuelans.

This is probably the worst charge than can be made against Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela. He had it in his power to become a powerful factor of national unity, an inspiring force behind a national drive to go forward. Instead he has become the strongest factor in the current polarization of Venezuelan society. Instead of inspiring citizens to work together, he has promoted hate and racial friction. Instead of trying to be a role model for the poor and the ignorant he has somehow suggested to the nation that poverty and ignorance are the only honest qualities man can have. The net result of this preaching is the creation of a mediocre Venezuelan society, where excellence and culture are suspect.

Hugo Chávez has neglected his duties as President of Venezuela to embark on a "holy war" against the United States.

Venezuela is a small country, with a largely poor and ignorant population. The priorities of a Venezuelan leader should be clear: the creation of a well-educated and productive society. To this main objective our leadership should direct all national resources, both material and spiritual. Instead of doing this, Hugo Chávez has dedicated much of our national resources and much of the time he should employ in solving our internal problems to the building of a global anti-U.S. coalition. To this effect he has spent more time abroad than any other Venezuelan president in history. The amount of Venezuelan money utilized by Chávez to accomplish this purpose is staggering, totally out of proportion with our geopolitical significance, money that should have been utilized in improving the situation of our population. In acting in this manner Chávez has brought Venezuela closer to violent confrontations with countries that might feel threatened by his actions and closer to being ostracized from the civilized community of nations.

© 2005 Gustavo Coronel

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