Tag: Hugo Chavez

Free the Colombia Trade Agreement

Thirty-nine members of Congress from both major parties sent a letter to President Obama this week urging him to seek passage of the long-stalled free trade agreement with our South American ally Colombia.

The agreement to eliminate trade barriers between our two countries was signed in November 2006, but under the influence of their trade-union allies, Democratic leaders in the House have refused to even allow a vote.

As signers of the letter point out (go here for a Cato analysis), the agreement would be good for our economy and good for U.S. foreign policy.  So far, the delay in passage has forced U.S. exporters to Colombia to pay $2.7 billion in extra duties that would have been eliminated if the agreement had become law.

The bipartisan supporters also rightly note that Colombia is a key ally, standing as a democratic alternative to both the Marxist FARC guerrillas and their authoritarian friend, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. As the letter correctly states:

Colombia has made remarkable progress on many fronts, emerging as a major growth market and leading center for Latin American business. In a region that has seen a disturbing increase in hostility to U.S. interests and values, Colombia has consistently proven itself to be an important friend, a reliable partner and a bulwark for democracy.

With Colombia in the process of electing a new president after eight years of progress under Alvaro Uribe, it is more important than ever that we strengthen our ties with Colombia through peaceful commerce.

The 20 House Democrats who signed the June 2 letter prove that this need not be a partisan issue. If President Obama is serious about boosting U.S. exports, building friendships abroad, and reaching across the aisle for the good of the country, he should heed the wise words of this letter.

Lessons From Venezuela’s 21st Century Socialism

The accomplishments of Venezuela’s “Socialism of the 21st Century” are looking very much like those of old-fashioned socialism with basic goods shortages, high inflation, negative growth, blackouts, water rationing, the persecution of Hugo Chávez’s critics, plus skyrocketing crime.

Now Chávez is accusing his enemies of sabotaging his TV and Radio program, “Alo Presidente” because it suffers from continuous technical problems on the air, including sound interruptions and the loss of the satellite signal.

An upset Chávez observes: ”The problems are very frequent here, almost every day. I don’t understand how you have so much equipment, so much technology…. By contrast, you see the private channels and that doesn’t happen…. And for me it’s almost every day that there is a problem here and there.”

Chávez’s 21st century solution? He has ordered his military intelligence to investigate.

A Disappointing Start in Piñera’s Chile

The presidential election in Chile that brought Sebastián Piñera to power last month was good news for Chile and the region. It confirmed once again that Chile is Latin America’s most modern country, one in which Chileans chose a center-right candidate to lead the country after 20 years of center-left governments that by and large stuck to the free-market model set in place in the 1970s and 1980s and that has made the country one of the most economically free in the world. In Chile, what’s at stake in presidential contests is not a radical change of the rules of the game, but rather policies that build on or depend on high growth. Chile’s mature democracy and economy serve as a model for Latin America.

But in just over a month of being in office, Piñera has made two decisions that disappointed his supporters both inside and outside of Chile who believed that he would reinvigorate the Chilean economy and stand firmly against the populist-authoritarian model that Hugo Chávez has exported to the region. Piñera backed the re-election of José Miguel Insulza to head the Organization of American States and has proposed a tax increase on large companies. Insulza and the OAS are widely and correctly viewed as having been silent, incompetent or complicit in the face of repeated violations of basic democratic and civil rights by populist governments in the region. Whatever the domestic political reasons for Piñera’s decision, countless Latin Americans who cherish their rights—not the least of whom are Venezuelans, Hondurans, Bolivians and Ecuadoreans—were disillusioned by the endorsement of Insulza.

On Friday, Piñera proposed to “temporarily” raise taxes on large companies from 17% to 20% (and to increase mining royalties and to permanently increase tobacco taxes) to finance Chile’s post-earthquake reconstruction needs. But a number of Chile’s leading economists are criticizing the tax increase and point to other sources of revenue that would be less damaging to growth. Hernán Büchi, a finance minister in the 1980s, and Luis Larraín, head of Chile’s free-market think tank, Libertad y Desarrollo, have both written op-eds in recent weeks pointing out that one of the country’s main problems has been the steady drop in productivity in recent years. Piñera was elected on a platform to increase productivity. A tax increase would aggravate the problem. According to Büchi, 20 years of center-left governments reduced Chile’s ability to eliminate poverty and followed a path that was politically easy and consistent with their ideology: “It would be a bad omen if the first measures of a government that should represent change in this regard, went down the same path.” Larraín adds that the tax decision will reveal Piñera’s governing approach, in which there is a real danger of avoiding necessary reforms and a president content with simply being a better administrator. We shall see.

Chavez Arrests the President of Globovision Television

Today, the Venezuelan government arrested Guillermo Zuloaga, president of Globovision Television, the only remaining television on public airwaves critical of Hugo Chavez. According to the government, Zuloaga made offensive comments about Chavez (which is against the law in Venezuela) while speaking at a conference of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in Aruba, where media representatives criticized the Venezuelan regime’s crackdown on freedom of speech.

Globovision and Zuloaga have been under constant harassment from the government, and Chavez has promised to close the station. Last July, Cato held a forum in Washington on “Venezuela’s Assault on Freedom of the Press and Other Liberties,” which was to feature Zuloaga. After the event was announced, however, a politically directed court prohibited him from leaving the country. So Zuloaga taped this 3 minute video address to the Cato audience and sent his son and vice president of Globovision, Carlos, to take his place.

Robert Rivard of the IAPA also spoke at the forum. You may also see various short videos prepared by Globovision for the forum starting here.

“It is becoming a crime to have an opinion.” That’s how Carlos Zuloaga summed it up this afternoon when he referred to this incident and the recent arrest of former Venezuelan state governor Oswaldo Alvarez Paz for having said during a Globovision interview that Venezuela has become a drug-trafficking haven.

How will hemispheric leaders and the Organization of American States react to this renewed attack on free speech in Venezuela?

The Violation of Human Rights in Venezuela and Cuba

A report (PDF) released today by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemns in well documented form the growing violation of human rights under the regime of Hugo Chavez. The 302-page study is yet another confirmation of the multitude of ways in which individuals, NGOs, union leaders, politicians, activists, businessmen, students, judges, the media and others who disagree with Venezuelan government policies are targeted by the government and its supporters through intimidation, arbitrary use of administrative and criminal law, and sometimes violence and homicide.

Among the many cases it documents, the report describes how the government last year shut down a publicity campaign in defense of private property run by our colleagues at the free-market think tank CEDICE. The government claimed that it did so to safeguard public order and the mental health of the population.

Particularly interesting is that the commission issuing this report (produced in December but for some reason only made public today) is part of the Organization of American States, which has proven itself useless at best and counterproductive at worst, in the face of blatant rights violations by the Venezuelan and other populist Latin American governments in the last decade. Will the same OAS that invited Cuba to rejoin the organization last year now debate the new report or will it and its head, Mr. Insulza, remain silent as they have for so many years?

Meanwhile in Cuba, the country Chavez holds as a model, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died yesterday after going on a hunger strike, suffering beatings and having been denied water by prison authorities for 18 days. The mistreatment led to kidney failure. According to Cuba Archive, an NGO that documents deaths attributable to the Cuban regime, Zapata “was then held naked over a powerful air conditioner and developed pneumonia.” What will the Permanent Council of the OAS have to say about that?

Tuesday Links

  • What we can learn from Hugo Chavez: “The lesson for all of us, north and south of the border, is watch our presidents closely, and check them when they try to slip their constitutional bonds.”

Lula’s Diplomatic Embarrassment in Honduras

One of the big losers from yesterday’s successful election in Honduras has been Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who demonstrated that under his presidency, Brazil is not ready to play a positive leadership role in the hemisphere.

Not only did Lula seem to be complicit in smuggling deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya into the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa—an irresponsible move that risked the possibility of major confrontations and bloodshed in that country—but he stubbornly refuses to recognize yesterday’s election as legitimate.

Lula’s grandstanding has nothing to do with a supposed commitment to democracy, of course. After all he continues to lavish praise on the Castro brothers’ dictatorship in Cuba, has said that Hugo Chávez is the best president Venezuela has had “in one hundred years” and was one of the first world leaders in congratulating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s blatant rigged election in Iran. Indeed, the same week he announced his refusal to recognize the elections in Honduras, he gave Ahmadinejad a warm welcoming in Brasilia.

Some had hoped that due to its size and recent assertiveness in world affairs, Brazil could play a constructive role in Latin American affairs. It’s quite clear that this won’t happen under Lula’s watch.

Instead, Lula continues to be much more responsible on domestic matters—supporting market democracy in Brazil—and reckless in foreign affairs. Or, as Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner says, a sort of Dr. Jekyll y Mr. Hyde.