Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chavez defeated at the polls

People who despise George W. Bush and all his acts sometimes get satisfaction by praising President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela for defying him and the United States. I see this as a big mistake. He's a typical big-mouth, big-ego would-be dictator of a sort that the world, and Latin America in particular, has seen too many times. And he can afford to be brave because Venezuela has won (lost?) the oil-in-the-ground lottery.

In recent months Chavez has been promoting a huge omnibus constitutional referendum that would give him just about all the power he could ever want, for as long as he cared to be president. Millions of people who voted for Chavez for president not so long ago either voted against the constitutional amendents or sat on their hands.

To get an idea of why the bloom seems to be off the Chavez rose, even for people who have approved of many of his policies, or at least his promises, see this article in the Economist. It goes well beyond "the enemy of my enemy" rhetoric and does two more things. It shows that Chavez's "Bolivarian revolution" and socialism are just the same old baloney; and also how oil wealth is a dangerous thing.

Image: An inflatable Hugo Chavez doll, as referred to in the article, but this one's from November 2006. How many of these things are there?

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Councils in Venezuela (history of democracy thread)

Today's Washington post has a very interesting article on Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. It's about the founding of community councils to partially replace elected mayors and municipal councils. It's not exactly clear how these councils are constituted, but the article states that for "big decisions" the elected councillors have to go back to community assemblies for a final decision.

I don't know quite to think about it. I haven't bought into the official American propaganda about how evil and threatening Chavez is, since it's entirely self-interested, but neither do I trust Chavez. The danger sign for me is that his preferred political methodologies seem to be ranting at the population for hours on end about every subject imaginable, and throwing government money around like there's no tomorrow. He reminds me all too much of Castro the Omniscent, not to mention every 20th century dictator you've heard of and all of those you haven't.

Also, the use of "community councils" can be a mere mask for dictatorship. Khaddafi abolished all the government institutions of Libya in favor of assemblies supposedly inspired by Berber customs, but guess who still controls everything, notably the energy revenues that constitute practically the entire economy the country?

Going back a couple of centuries, there are also the "section assemblies" of Paris during the Revolution that gave democracy such a bad name in Europe during the 19th century. "Section assemblies" were grassroots neighborhood groups that elected an electoral college which elected members of the National Assembly. After they chose the electoral college -- by voice vote -- the people were supposed to go home and let their betters run the government and guide the revolution. Well, a lot of them came back the next day, and the next, and the day after that and in the name of the people continually critiqued the elected government.

Sounds all very democratic, yes? Unfortunately, the sections in Paris became dominated by people convinced that they knew what the people wanted, and that everyone who opposed the people were evil "aristocrats." Continual voice votes in each section allowed the local aristocratic stooges (not necessarily nobles or even rich) to be identified and expelled. The sections, full of zealots, set up a communication network, armed themselves, and eventually seized control of the capital. This was a further step to dictatorship and government by Terror.
(The awful flavor of the word "terrorists" comes in part from the open use of terror -- revolutionary justice dispensed by kangaroo courts leading to execution -- by the resulting regime.)

So these community councils could go nowhere or worse. On the other hand, according to the WP article, there's a lot of enthusiasm on the popular level for this experiment, even among opponents of Chavez. Some people think that the old institutions of local government, which go back to colonial times, are worthless and the new councils may provide a way for them to solve some of their own problems. I direct you for some relevant thoughts about the vital role of local government in real democracies in Phil Paine's blog (under Sept. 25).

Good luck, Venezuela!

Image: Chavez surrounded by "the people"(?).

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