A history, and a warning—my friend Gustavo R. Coronel documents Venezuela’s path from democracy to tyranny and failure. It’s happened many times in many countries, abuse of power, undermining a constitution, violence in the streets . . . violence we are now witnessing here in the United States. These violent “protests’ are never a spontaneous reaction to an event, but are planned and organized by terrorists such as Obama’s friend, the Castro mentored Bill Ayers following the Alinsky model, to create chaos and destabalize lawful governance.
The Venezuelan Crisis
What the United States and the Region Can Do
Gustavo R. Coronel
Venezuela is a failed state. A humanitarian crisis already exists there and is at imminent risk of becoming a major regional tragedy. For several years, the Venezuelan political, economic, and social situation has been deteriorating under the essentially passive eyes of the United States and most of the Latin American states. Such passivity has served to intensify a crisis that can no longer be ignored. Further delay in regional action to restore democracy and political and social stability in Venezuela would represent an act of collective irresponsibility. This article describes how Venezuela ended up as a failed state and analyzes the potential role the United States and the rest of the countries in the region can play in restoring democracy and stability to the country.
1999–2007: From Imperfect Democracy to Dictatorship
In December 1998, Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. Seven years earlier, in 1992, he had unsuccessfully tried to reach power through a bloody military coup that had been years in the planning. Once in power by electoral means, Chávez rode very efficiently the wave of discontent with the previous administrations in order to dismantle existing democratic institutions and replace them with new ones loyal to him. During the initial period of his presidency, he was given unconditional support by most of the country, which he utilized adroitly to convert Venezuela into a dictatorship. How he succeeded can be summarized as follows:
14 December 1994. After being released from prison, where he was incarcerated as a result of his failed coup d’état, Chávez visited Fidel Castro in Havana. This visit marked the start of Castro’s political mentoring of Chávez. His older brother Adan had already converted to Marxism.
6 November 1998. Legislative and state governor elections were held in Venezuela. Candidates endorsed by Chávez obtained eight governorships and eighty-seven seats in Congress, but non-Chávez followers obtained a clear majority, fifteen governorships and 168 seats in Congress.
6 December 1998. Chávez was elected president.
2 February 1999. During his presidential inauguration ceremony, Chávez violated the traditional oath of office. When asked, “Do you swear before God and the fatherland to fulfill the duties of Constitutional President, to obey and promote obedience to our Constitution?” he replied [author’s translation], “I swear before God and the Fatherland, before my people and over this moribund constitution, that I will promote the transformations required for the new republic to have a new constitution adequate to the times.”1
Immediately after his inauguration, he issued a presidential decree to convene a Constituent Assembly that not only would draft a new constitution but also would “transform the state and create a new judicial order based on a different model of government to the existing one.”2
10 March 1999. To elect the representatives to the Constituent Assembly, the rules for proportional representation of minorities were replaced by Chávez in favor of a winner-take-all type of election. This arbitrary change in the rules made it possible for Chávez to obtain 96 percent of the seats in the assembly with the support of only 30 percent of the registered voters.
April 1999. In a letter to the Supreme Court of Justice, Chávez claimed, “Only the President had exclusive authority over the management of State affairs,” and threatened the magistrates with popular retaliation if they did not rule in line with his wishes.3
August to September 1999. The Constituent Assembly, under control of Chávez, established its own bylaws, which included supraconstitutional powers. On 8 September, the assembly designated an “Emergency Commission for the Judicial Power” that summarily dismissed all national judges and named provisional replacements, many of whom are still provisional seventeen years later.
22 December 1999. The Constituent Assembly decreed the elimination of all existing public powers: the National Congress, the Supreme Court of Justice, the National Electoral Council, the attorney general, and the general comptroller. A report by the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded that this measure “weakened the validity of the constitution and prevented the proper constitutional designation of the proper authorities of the Venezuelan powers.”4
30 December 1999. A new Venezuelan constitution was approved by the Constituent Assembly, written by Chávez’s followers and giving him inordinate powers.
25 February 2001. The Inter American Press Association and the Committee to Protect Journalists denounced Chávez for the lack of freedom of expression in Venezuela, claiming he was violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.5
8 November 2001. The Military High Command made public its support to the Chávez revolution, in violation of the constitution that did not allow political pronouncements by the military.
12 December 2002. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urgently requested that the Organization of American States (OAS) act against the deterioration of the rule of law in Venezuela.6
15 December 2002. In his television program Alo Presidente, Chávez instructed military members, governors, and public employees to ignore judicial rulings that would contravene his presidential decrees.
February to March 2003. Chávez fired about eighteen thousand managers and technicians of the state-owned petroleum company who had gone on strike to protest the politicization of the management of the company.
14 May 2004. The Venezuelan National Assembly, by simple majority, which was in violation of the law, revised the structure of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, expanding it from twenty to thirty-two members to guarantee a Chávez majority. Human Rights Watch claimed that this move eliminated the autonomy of the judicial power.7
June 2005. The Venezuelan National Assembly changed the rules of the Venezuelan Central Bank, allowing Chávez to use up to $5 billion of the country’s international reserves for current government expenditures.
January 2007. By this time Chávez had nationalized telecommunications and power utilities, taken over foreign oil company activities, ended the autonomy of the Venezuelan Central Bank, and disbanded all government political parties to form one single party.