Atlantic: Venezuelan election won’t be fair.
For 14 years Chavez has embodied the “Bolivarian” revolution. If chavismo is to survive Chavez it will have to choose between three paths: radicalization of the current hardline competitive authoritarian model into a fully authoritarian regime (a dictatorship), mere continuation of competitive authoritarianism or, the most unlikely scenario, dismantling chavismo little by little to turn Venezuela into some semblance of a real democracy.
[C] onsequences could be profound if the opposition became government. Corruption in Venezuela during the Chavez era has reached levels that would make many of the world’s oil autocrats blush. So, first off, the heirs of Chavez must prevent the dozens or hundreds of investigations and prosecutions that would follow a democratic transition. It is believed that tens of billions of petro-dollars have been siphoned off by those in government. The new oligarchs know all too well that Chavez’s abrupt exit threatens their ability to retain and enjoy their wealth.
Chavez’s successors must also worry about accountability for the escalating scale of human rights violations — none of which have been punished–over the course of his rule. These include such iconic events as the killing of nineteen protestors and the wounding of hundreds more on April 11, 2002. The heirs to Chavez know that at some point they will have to answer for their share of the bloodshed — and for other serious crimes. Under Chavez, Venezuela became a veritable narco-state, affording military protection and safe passage to the Colombo-Venezuelan cartels and their protectors in the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a left-wing insurgency that has long been implicated in the drug trade). The U.S. has formally designated some of Venezuela’s most senior politicians and military officials as “drug kingpins,” including the current defense minister. The European Union is also clear that Venezuela is a narco-state. Lacking the protection of high office, the chavistasknow they would be sitting ducks for international prosecution on drug charges.
For nearly 14 years, Hugo Chavez labored with tireless energy, undeniable charisma, and ruthless design to destroy the opposition, silence critics, and intimidate skeptics, all while leaving the Potemkin façade of a “democracy”. These conditions have made Venezuelan elections under Chavez utterly unfair. Judges who ruled against Chavez were imprisoned. Those that remain openly declared their fealty to him. The previous opposition presidential candidate is in exile. Businessmen who supported opposition candidates were investigated and expropriated. Labor leaders who opposed the government were imprisoned. Opposition radio and TV stations were shut down, denied permits, and fined. Those that survived engaged in self-censorship. Since Chavez’s death, the only remaining independent television channel was purchased by partisans of the Chavez party and is unlikely to maintain editorial independence beyond April. The electoral council is demonstrably biased in favor of the government. And every so often, elections have been held in which the opposition wins enough seats in parliament, governorships, mayor’s offices, and a high enough percentage of the presidential vote for superficial observers to declare, “Well, we may not like it, but this is the people’s will.”
(Space below reserved for Dollar Bill and his crowd to comment, though I can do it for them: “Blame Bush! – Thatcher sucks! Cheney Cheney Cheney!”)