Chavez Takes Charge

A Venezuelan chronicles his president's evolution from democrat to dictator.

As a Venezuelan, I am often asked what I think of my president, Hugo Chávez. What the questioner really means to ask is whether I think my president is a dictator or a democrat. It can be difficult to answer this question, given Chavez’s repeated legitimate electoral victories. Lately, however, it has become much easier. The recent indictment brought against Venezuelan opposition leader Manuel Rosales is a good example of why, despite his unrelenting popularity, El Comandante will ultimately be remembered as another addition to Latin America’s long list of bombastic dictators.

In the oil-rich state of Zulia, on October 20, 2008, President Chávez gave a speech in which he declared to the assembled business community that he was “determined to jail Manuel Rosales.” Rosales is a social democrat who managed to unite the opposition under the banner of his candidacy during the 2006 general elections, which Chávez won. In November, Rosales was elected to serve as mayor of Zulia's capital, Maracaibo. President Chávez probably chose to deliver his harangue in Rosales’ home state in order to appear more intimidating. During his speech, Chávez predicted that Rosales would end up in prison. The audience responded to this declamation with joyous and fervent applause. During a party ceremony in December the president made his intentions even clearer, calling Rosales a wretch and assuring the multitude of adoring, red-clad followers that he would “erase [Rosales] from the Venezuelan political scene.” Both scenes, which I would not hesitate to call televised records of despotism, demonstrate how Chávez gives Venezuela's public institutions orders.

Dutifully, on March 19, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, filed a perfectly phrased indictment against Rosales, whom her office accuses of embezzlement. The self-abasing way Díaz rushed to manufacture a legal justification for this thuggish attack is thoroughly shameful.

In Venezuela today, it is uncontroversial—even boring—to argue that our public institutions fulfill different responsibilities within the president’s party. A typical Chavista would probably not even contest this point, but would hasten to add that it's a good thing; a sign that our “revolution” is progressing. Fearing his verdict had been decided in advance of his trial, Rosales fled the country on April 21. In doing so he abdicated his position as mayor of Maracaibo, but also avoided becoming the most recent victim of our partisan courts and the ideological justice they dispense. He is currently in Peru, where he was recently granted political asylum. Chávez responded by recalling the Venezuelan ambassador from Lima.

Another prominent dissident in whom the president has taken a special interest is Raúl Isaías Baduel, a retired general and ex-Minister of Defense under Chávez. Baduel played an instrumental role in returning Chávez to power after a muddle of a coup in April 2002 briefly ousted him from power. Baduel later won the epithet of "traitor to the revolution" in late 2007 when, having resigned as Defense Minister, he came out publicly against the Constitutional Reform Referendum and exhorted Venezuelans to vote against it.

The proposed reforms, which included abolishing presidential term limits and giving the president the authority to establish regional vice-presidents, were rejected by a slight margin (In February, the president submitted the presidential term limit question to the people once more, calling it an amendment referendum instead of a reform referendum, and won). On April 2, agents of the Dirección de Inteligencia Militar arrested Baduel near his home. He is currently being held at Ramo Verde prison, and Baduel’s lawyer has declared that he fears for his client’s life. Mayor General Ernesto Cedeño, the Military Attorney General, stated that he would be filing a complaint against Baduel in the next 30 days. 

The Venezuelan courts are unlikely to rein in the president’s abuse of executive power, because it is simply not in their nature to strike down a decision made by the president. During the official ceremony marking the start of the Venezuelan judicial year in 2006, our venerable Tribunal Supremo de Justicia presided over the event in self-satisfaction while a chorus of new judges shamelessly repeated the familiar Chavista slogan: “¡Uh, Ah, Chávez no se va!” or "Chávez is not leaving." The chief justice of the Tribunal Supremo, Omar Mora, did not think the partisan outburst was unethical. The episode was, in his words, merely the result of the atmosphere of joy that reigned during the ceremony.

It is obvious that Venezuelan public bodies operate, and will continue to operate, as the disciplinary arm of the president. These latest instances of swift judicial vengeance against Rosales and Baduel, two highly regarded opposition leaders, reveal the true nature of our dismembered republic and the manner in which the president will continue to suppress dissent and take care of potential challengers in the future. These indictments and arrests are as unsurprising as they are representative of the government’s style. El Comandante makes a sustained accusation against a political opponent, denouncing them as an accomplice of imperialism, and the courts and appropriate officials then turn the president’s demagogic bluster into punitive discipline. The same narrative was employed to shut down the independent television station RCTV, and it is recurrently used to threaten Globovisión, the only remaining non-Chavista channel, as well as the small group of opposition leaders and politicians—of whom Rosales is one.

These disgraceful episodes also foreshadow the legal basis upon which the legitimacy of an even harsher regime will likely come to rest. And you can be sure that that regime will also be a popularly elected one, which gives me the opportunity to end on an ironic note: When the onset of President Chávez’ dictatorship is finally complete and obvious to even the most disinterested observer, Venezuelans will have to take comfort in the fact that we have only gotten what we deserve.

Antonio Rumbos was born and raised in Caracas. He is currently a graduate student at The New School for General Studies.

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  • joe\'s ghost||

    Chavez is a freely elected democrat

  • Another fake joe||

    The opposition leaders arrested are guilty of the charges that are or will be levied against them, and thus this is not an abuse of power. Any citizen lacking common sense or a sense of self-preservation is free to run against Chavez and try to unseat him in a free, fair election that will be decided despotically in a democratic manner.

  • Warty||

    I did see joe post as "joe from Lowell" a few days ago, correct? I'm pretty sure that wasn't a hallucination, but the DTs make it pretty hard to tell.

  • ||

    joe's ghost -
    The phrase is "Trust Democracy".

  • spambot||

    joe has to be the biggest wuss I have EVER experienced in my life. He had strong convictions and had a lot to say, and said it well, but when it came down to having to put those convictions to the test defending Obama after the election he couldn't get out of here fast enough. What a tool. Come back joe and man up!

  • Paul||

    Come on, guys. We should let Joe and his ideas rest in peace.

  • Xeones||

    joe's gone, but his ideas live on... in the White House. FUCK!

  • ||

    I love that picture. I begs a caption contest.

  • ||

    Or, you know, *It* begs....

  • ||

    Great Article!!

    Death to Chavez!!

  • ||

    "It's pronounced 'Ooogo.'"

    "Hugo?"

    "No, no. Stretch it out: 'Ooooooogo.'"

  • Guess My Bra Size||

    That picture is great. I looks like the wood tick farted and Castro caught a whiff.

  • ||

    Looks like Castro got caught in Hugo's vice-like ass grip.

  • ||

    OK, I'll say it:

    Caption Contest!

    "Do you like it there? No? How about...therrrrre?"

  • ||

    Beat it, sage. I already said it.

    "She already killed one donkey today with her appetites and now she beckons another? Say, isn't that your wife, Hugo?"

    "Oooo, look, now she's *juggling* the ping-pong balls!"

  • ||

    I already said it.

    No, you said "I begs a caption contest." I made it official for you. YOU SHOULD BE THANKING ME!

    "Blow harder. These windmills don't turn by themselves."

  • ||

    I love that picture. I begs a caption contest.

    Works either way. RC'z Law!

  • Guess My Bra Size||

    "You know how to whistle don't you. You just pucker your lips and blow!"

  • ||

    I fought RC'z law and the law won... I'm going to have to get my own law one of these days.

  • ||

    "You wan' me to switch to the right ear?"

  • lunchstealer||

    One thing I haven't seen is a clear analysis of how brazen these charges are. I mean did they at least try to give it an air of respectability, or was it like "We have this bank reciept for a deposit into the 'Rosales Bribe Account - For Bribes' from 'The CIA'.

  • Paul||

    Caption:

    You know, Oooooogo, that fauxhawk doesn't suit you.


    Feh...I give my own caption a b-

  • Paul||

    Don' even theenk about asking for a reacharound...

  • jtuf||

    Paul | April 30, 2009, 3:40pm | #

    Come on, guys. We should let Joe and his ideas rest in peace.



    True, especially when we consider that it's possible he is missing due to an untimely end instead of cowardice.

  • ||

    "Look, when I said you had a pretty mouth, I meant it as a compliement! You *do* have a pretty mouth! The full lips, the bow-like shape. Please, Oogo, don' be mad at me."

  • ||

    True, especially when we consider that it's possible he is missing due to an untimely end instead of cowardice.

    Nah. He hangs out over at Unqualified Offerings these days as Joe From Lowell. Still Joe Boyle though.

  • ||

    I love that picture. I begs a caption contest.

    My entry: Fidel with his new Chia Pet pig.

  • ||

    Unite my comrades! We must follow the lead of the great Oooogo and charge all mangy dog republicans. The Baaama will cleanse the nation of all capitalist pigs.
    Reverend Wright for Attorney General!

  • ||

    Caption:

    I see a monkey hair on your beautiful Red Shirt. I will blow it off gently.

  • ||

    While I don't like a lot of things that Chavez has done, he's not a dictator. Each election, he won. In 2003 Bush tried to saboutage that election. Get the facts straight. Chavez is a socialist. He isn't a dictator.

    Yes, his buddy Castro is.

  • B||

    "joe has to be the biggest wuss I have EVER experienced in my life. He had strong convictions and had a lot to say, and said it well, but when it came down to having to put those convictions to the test defending Obama after the election he couldn't get out of here fast enough. What a tool. Come back joe and man up."

    Please. Joe was an arrogant piece of shit, who constantly derided others as partisan hacks while steadfastly refusing to criticize anyone from his side of the political spectrum. As the commenters on this thread make clear, that even meant defending anti-democratic thugs like Chavez and Castro.

    Good riddance to that pathetic asshole, and let him never darken our online doorstep again.

  • B||

    "While I don't like a lot of things that Chavez has done, he's not a dictator. Each election, he won. In 2003 Bush tried to saboutage that election. Get the facts straight. Chavez is a socialist. He isn't a dictator."

    It is fucking hard to believe that in this day and age, people are this fucking naive. He has made it illegal to criticize him. He has shut down TV stations that utter less than glowing praise. He has confiscated private property at the barrel of a gun. He dispatches his thugs to beat the shit out of anyone who dares protest him. Explain to me again how he is not a dictator?

    And the "elections" that he wins are about as legitimate as those "won" by Arafat in the Palestinian territories. Honestly, how much fucking evidence of vote rigging has to be produced before ignorant fuckers quit telling us this piece of shit wins elections. Seriously, pricks on the left tell us the 2000 election was "stolen" because some old people were too fucking dumb not to vote for Pat Buchanan, but when you produce reams of evidence detailing voter fraud in Venezuala you get "lalalalalalalala, I can't hear you lalalalalalalalalala"

  • ||

    Globovision is alive and well (and lies even worse than FauxNews and spins even more than Weapons Contractor General Electric, er, I mean MSNBC). Go back and look at the fake-footage they showed during the coup which made it look like the Chavez people were shooting innocents - the other camera angle revealed the truth and exposed that psy-op for the lie it was.

    Dispatches thugs? You mean like the "right wing death squads" which protect corporate assets? Like what all of the right-wing pro-transnational governments have done en-masse south of the border? I haven't seen any evidence Chavez has done this. Please provide the list of the thousands of disappeared, tortured and dead like those which Death Squad John Negroponte helped murder?

    Right wing logic: "Vote rigging" = "poor people voted". In Florida, it was "people (only in 'poor' zip codes) with the same last name as a criminal can't vote" - Greg Palast showed the document where Jeb Bush approved that policy - it is a fact. Not that Corporate-Gore would have been any better; it was just time for the statist monster to crush some more liberty with the "right" foot instead of Clinton's "left".

  • B||

    "In 2003 Bush tried to saboutage that election. Get the facts straight."

    No, you get the facts straight numb nuts. The only person claiming Bush sabotaged anything in Venezuala is Chavez. Meanwhile, we get multiple bipartisan commissions in the US, one even chaired by friend of Latin American Communists Chris Dodd, finding that Bush had nothing to do with any malfeasance in Venezuala. Those findings are ignored while the musings of a psycho are taken as gospel by douchebags like you.

  • ||

    To the US GUSANOS! (you know who you are)

    NO VOL-VE-RAN-GOFU-CKYO-URSELF

    VIVAN CHAVEZ-FIDEL-EVO-RAFAEL-DANIEL.

    The US has been suffering from the GUSANO FLU for a long time! never mine the swine flu!, gusanos are ten times worse!

  • withoutpresident||

    First of all Chavez never won fairly, he was and he is a dirty rat, he do absoluly nothing moraly or fearly correct. If you think he is not a dictator go and live there and try to speack against the shameful revolution, poor Bolivar he must be so restles and sick of what Venezuela has become due to the sick phsyco dictador and his followers. I will copy what someone already said which I though it was so good and well put. Without the dirty words because I do not want people to think i'm just like chavez, though I understand the writer rage!

    "He has made it illegal to criticize him. He has shut down TV stations that utter less than glowing praise. He has confiscated private property at the barrel of a gun. He dispatches his thugs to beat the crub out of anyone who dares protest him. Explain to me again how he is not a dictator?

    And the "elections" that he wins are about as legitimate as those "won" by Arafat in the Palestinian territories. Honestly, how much more evidence of vote rigging has to be produced before ignorant idiots quit telling us this piece of crab wins elections. Seriously, morons on the left tell us the 2000 election was "stolen" because some old people were too dumb not to vote for Pat Buchanan, but when you produce reams of evidence detailing voter fraud in Venezuala you get "lalalalalalalala, I can't hear you lalalalalalalalalala"

  • withoutpresident||

    Ps: JOE HOW MUCH CHAVEZ IS PAYING YOU TO SAY THAT CHAVEZ FAIRLY WON THE ELECTIONS???
    BECAUSE THE ONLY PEOPLE THAT TALKS LIKE YOU ARE THE ONES THAT GET SOMETHING OUT OF THE "REVOLUTION"(MAYBE A BOX OF BEAR OR FEW BOTTLES OF RUM) YOU ARE SO IGNORANT LIKE THE REST THAT VOTED FOR HIM.
    AND HO! DID YOU FORGET ABOUT ALL THE ILLEGALS CUBANS THAT GHAVEZ GAVE CITIZENSHIP SO THEY CAN VOTE FOR HIM?

  • ||

    Chavez is a freely-elected president who established a dictatorship for life - something no one wanted.

    Chavez is busy taking away the rights of union workers in Venezuela - he is not for the people, but for his own aggrandizement.

    Obama and Chavez work together to take away the rights of Hondurans too. Chavez is the Commander in Chief of the U.S. now.

    Chavez is allies with Iran which is developing a network in South America.

    As Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media suggest, is Obama the agent of Venezuela and Iran in Honduras? Then our president is committing treason.

  • ||

    truth,,,,obama people have no idea of the extent to which they have to be gulled in order to be led."
    "The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one."
    "All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it."
    "Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise."pelosi don't see much future for the Americans ... it's a decayed country. And they have their racial problem, and the problem of social inequalities ...obama feelings against Americanism are feelings of hatred and deep repugnance ... everything about the behaviour of American society reveals that it's half Judaised, and the other half negrified. How can one expect a State like that to hold TOGTHER.They include the angry left wing bloggers who spread vicious lies and half-truths about their political adversaries... Those lies are then repeated by the duplicitous left wing media outlets who “discuss” the nonsense on air as if it has merit… The media's justification is apparently “because it's out there”, truth be damned. STOP THIS COMMUNIST OBAMA ,GOD HELP US ALL .THE COMMANDER ((GOD OPEN YOUR EYES)) stop the communist obama & pelosi.((open you eyes)) ,the commander

  • nike shox||

    is good

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