January 31, 2007
Two weeks after a preliminary vote, the National Assembly voted to definitively confer upon President Hugo Chavez almost unlimited powers to rule by decree for the next 18 months. The rationale is that such power is necessary to complete the transition to a "socialist" society, even though Chavez's party has had a virtual monopoly on legislative power ever since the opposition boycotted the 2005 elections. This surrender of power by the legislative branch exemplifies the common attitude in Latin America, on both the left and right, that the only way to get things done is for a strong leader to take charge. As a result of this grab for power and what it portends, thousands of middle and upper class Venezuelans are already fleeing to Spain, the United States, and other safe havens. Not to worry, though: "Officials say he has no intention of turning Venezuela into a communist state, arguing that freedom of speech and religion will all be safe." (Then why are they refusing to renew licenses to broadcasters who oppose Chavez?) Nationalization of oil properties owned by Exxon, BP, and Chevron is expected in coming months, and that will start a real firestorm as American stockholders get hit in the pocketbook. The new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, warned that Chavez's "behaviour is threatening to democracies in the region." That's putting it mildly. See BBC. I was a bit surprised to learn that they are actually calling the measure an "enabling law," harking back to Hitlerian Germany in 1933, as I noted on Jan. 18.
Randy Paul believes that Brazil's need for Bolivian natural gas will constrain Lula's objection to Chavez's assault on democracy in the region. He also blames the victims for the disgraceful turn of events in Venezuela: "The opposition to Chavez bears a fair share of the responsibility for the state of affairs. The opposition's boycott of the congressional elections in 2005 greased the skids for Chavez's consolidation of power." That is in part true as a factual statement, but represents a terrible moral judgement, in essence excusing evil.
Back in the Land of Liberty, meanwhile, Joe Kennedy keeps plugging the CITGO reduced-price heating oil program courtesy of "our friends in Venezuela." Columnist Froma Harrop (as published in today's News Virginian) opines that Kennedy "is to be praised" for promoting this scheme of Chavez, a transparent attempt to subvert our society. Now there's a contrarian pundit! She poo-poos the idea that Chavez poses a real threat to regional security, portraying him as nothing more than a buffoonish clown. Well, I too have noted that aspect of his bizarre personality, comparing him to Mussolini, but the instability he is already unleashing in nearby countries -- Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and possibly Mexico -- leave no doubt that he already is a serious threat. Ms. Harrop suggests that Chavez will lose power as soon as oil prices head back down. She does not know what she is talking about.