Jackson Diehl takes note of the undiplomatic smackdown delivered by King Juan Carlos of Spain to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez last week, but turns the question around. Rather than just applaud the king’s public chastisement in asking Chavez, “Why don’t you just shut up?”, Diehl wants to know why more of the world’s leaders haven’t spoken up against Chavez’ scheme to transform Venezuela into a Cuba with oil. Chavez will accomplish that in less than a fortnight:
Crude and clownish, si, but also disturbingly effective. Borrowing the tried-and-true tactics of his mentor Fidel Castro, Chávez has found another way to energize his political base: by portraying himself as at war with foreign colonialists and imperialists. Even better, he has distracted the attention of the international press — or at least the fraction of it that bothers to cover Venezuela — from the real story in his country at a critical moment.
In 13 days, abetted by intimidation and overt violence that has included the gunning down of student protesters, Chávez will become the presumptive president-for-life of a new autocracy, created by a massive revision of his own constitution. Venezuela will join Cuba as one of two formally “socialist” nations in the Western hemisphere. This “revolution” will be ratified by a Dec. 2 referendum that Chávez fully expects to win despite multiple polls showing that only about a third of Venezuelans support it. Many people will abstain from voting rather than risk the retaliation of a regime that has systematically persecuted those who turned out against Chávez in the past.
Venezuelans are not giving up their freedom without a fight. Tens of thousands of students have been marching in the streets of Caracas, and the few independent media outlets that still exist have been trying to combat the unrelenting propaganda campaign being waged on state-controlled television. Some of Chávez’s longtime supporters have defected, including the recently retired defense minister, Gen. Raúl Isaías Baduel, who calls the constitutional rewrite “a coup d’etat.” The president’s response was to publicly lead a chant about Baduel that promised he “will end up before a firing squad.”
What will this referendum do that hasn’t already been done by Chavez and his handpicked parliament? After all, he already has the right to rule by decree. Chavez has wrested control of the main economic strut, the oil industry, away from those he sees as his competitors. Chavez also controls all of the media outlets. How much worse can it get?
Plenty. The new constitution would give Chavez control of the central bank and its reserves, making the entire Venezuelan economy his personal checkbook. He will have the power to unseat local governments and their elected representatives and replace them with whomever he sees fit. The Venezuelan Army will become his personal enforcers, superseding civilian law enforcement.
Where’s the outcry? Diehl says it’s nowhere to be found. Human Rights Watch has absorbed itself in the supposed abuses in nearby Colombia while completely ignoring the creation of a police state in Venezuela. The White House has distanced itself from Venezuela in an attempt to reduce Chavez’ influence in the region, and the Democrats appear completely uninterested.
Chavez has proven himself a shrewd analyst of global will to intercede on behalf of freedom and liberty. People may cheer King Juan Carlos, but they’re not prepared to follow his example.