False Hope

Chavez Faces US But Bullies His People

Opinion | Nayeli Urquiza | December 2006 / January 2007

In a recent article British journalist Tariq Ali praised the socialist governments of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Evo Morales as the "Axis of Hope." But to some Venezuelans, hope is the last thing they feel under their recently re-elected president.

Confronted with evidence of Chavez anti-democratic tendencies, Ali’s defense is shaky.

"Well, they’ve been saying this from the first time he won the election," Ali said in an interview with independent news outlet Democracy Now! "You know, if he were increasingly authoritarian, how come that not a single private television station or newspaper, who denounce him day in and day out, has been touched?"

In fact, Chavez has touched, more like groped, journalists who don’t agree with his ideas. Last year, the Venezuelan president tightened his grip on the media through harsher libel and defamation laws, a broadcasting regime that dramatically curtailed freedom of expression in the mass media, and sanctioned/launched/sponsored physical attacks and harassment of some journalists in the hands of Chavez’ civil militia, known as "Circulos Bolivarianos,"

What Chavez has done since the 2002 failed coup is a systematic attempt to silence those who disagree with him. His tactics include government officials suing journalists, (who could face up to 40 months in jail under the 2005 amendments to the criminal code), sky-rocketing taxes, or even revoking broadcasting licenses for defamation of the president or any high-ranking officials.

Human Rights Watch and numerous press freedom NGOs have raised their eyebrows at the country’s declining freedom. In the wake of the 2006 elections, Chavez might even succeed in reforming the constitution so as to allow him to remain president through the year 2027, an intention he expressed in an address to the Venezuelan General Assembly at the beginning of the year.

Is this the hope for Latin America? A return to the era of dictatorships?

Reuters reported in October that Chavez is arming a "peoples’" militia, allegedly "to repel a US invasion." But is such an invasion likely? The US has its hands, as well as mind, full trying to patch things up in Iraq and prepare even a graceless exit.

So, if an invasion from the "devil," is not likely, what are these Circulos Bolivarianos for? Already deployed to harass dissident journalists, this special force threatens the safety of all citizens in Chavez’ "Socialist Project for the XXIst Century." Hope, not even in the name of equality, is possible, regardless of apparently democratic elections, when the 38% of the population who voted against Chavez live in fear.

The saying "a dog that barks, won’t bite," is half true for Chavez. His publicly acclaimed speech at this year’s opening of the UN General Assembly, which coincidently sent sales of  Noam Chomsky book Imperialism sky-rocketing, put Chavez in the enviable position of being the only one standing up to the United States. But this David against Goliath image shifts the attention away from the reality that the US itself is fueling the Venezuelan social revolution by purchasing its oil.

A dog barking at the hand that feeds is probably only barking. But the same dog can definitely bite those who don’t feed him enough, in this case, the voters.

Unfortunately, Tariq Ali’s "Axis of Hope" only reflects the wishful thinking of a Marxist academic, mislead by Chavez’ rhetoric of defiance to the United States.

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    the vienna review December 2006 / January 2007