In his three-hour inaugural address — yet another characteristic he shares with his hero, Fidel Castro — Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez eliminated any remaining doubt about his plans to rule as a socialist dictator. Yet some journalists still can't bring themselves to speak truth about power.
Take the Washington Post, for instance. Reporter Juan Forero's story is headlined "Chavez Would Abolish Presidential Term Limit." He notes Chavez's stirring mantra, borrowed from Castro: "Socialism or death!" He reports:
All week in Caracas, Chavez has shaken markets and angered the Bush administration by promising to nationalize utilities, seek broader constitutional powers and increase the state's control of the economy. He has also frequently referred to the new, more radical phase in what he calls his revolution — drawing comparisons with Castro's famous declaration on Dec. 2, 1961: "I am a Marxist-Leninist and will be one until the day I die."
But then in the next paragraph Forero cautions:
If the theatrics are similar, however, the apparent goal is not. Chavez stresses that Venezuela will remain a democracy, and analysts do not believe his government will embark on a wholesale expropriation of companies, as Castro's government set out to do soon after taking power in 1959.
Remain a democracy, eh? Well, that's good news.
At the end of his article, Forero does note:
He has installed military officers in all levels of government and packed the Supreme Court, and now says he will end the autonomy of the Central Bank.
Good thing Venezuela is going to remain a democracy, or those actions could be worrisome.
In his 1,000-word story, Forero failed to note a key point that other journalists pointed out: Chavez said he would ask the National Assembly, all 167 of whose members are his supporters, for special powers allowing him to enact a series of "revolutionary laws" by decree.
What more would it take for a journalist to conclude that Chavez's "apparent goal" is the same as Castro's and that, of course, he does not intend for Venezuela to "remain a democracy"?
Even people usually thought of as on the left have viewed Chavez's consolidation of power with alarm. Human Rights Watch yesterday issued a report saying that Chavez and his supporters "have sought to consolidate power by undermining the independence of the judiciary and the press, institutions that are essential for promoting the protection of human rights."
In a recent study for the Cato Institute, Gustavo Coronel, former Venezuelan representative to Transparency International, shows that "corruption has exploded to unprecedented levels...and Chávez has created new state-run financial institutions, whose operations are also opaque, that spend funds at the discretion of the executive."
We know from theory and history that socialism — state ownership of the means of production and the attempt to eliminate for-profit economic activity — leads inevitably to tyranny. We saw it in Russia, China, and Cuba. We know that Cuba is one of the poorest countries in the world after almost 50 years of Castro and that its people daily risk their lives in rickety boats to escape.
Chavez has promised to bring socialism to Venezuela. If he succeeds, we know that the result will be tyranny. But meanwhile, he's not waiting for the advent of socialism. He has packed Congress and the Supreme Court with his supporters. He has installed his military officers in all levels of government. He is trying to end the autonomy of the Central Bank, nationalize major industries, abolish constitutional limits on presidential tenure, and perhaps most clearly, get his followers in Congress to give him the power to rule by decree.
"Remain a democracy" indeed.