Yet such regimes today routinely use the trappings of democracy and the latest technology to stifle liberty. Finding it much harder to control information in a world of instant, decentralized communications, these regimes are using the Internet, elections, the media, and, to some extent, the market to consolidate their power. Those are the findings of a recent study by the London‐based Legatum Institute. The study looks at the experiences of China, Turkey, Syria, and Venezuela, but its findings are relevant in much of the developing world and emerging markets.
It is well known that Bolivarian Venezuela — first under the leadership of Hugo Chavez and now under Nicolas Maduro — has been a pioneer in employing democratic formalism to consolidate the state’s power and trample citizens’ fundamental rights. Elections, though often manipulated, have contributed to the government’s narrative of legitimacy. Daniel Lansberg‐Rodriguez, one of the study’s authors, documents the extent to which the regime has used this tool.
Hugo Chavez’s successful change of the Venezuelan constitution in 1999 was followed by a constant cycle of national elections — one a year on average. That put the country in a permanent campaign mode, in which the regime’s use of state resources put the opposition at a great disadvantage. As part of that “campaign,” Chavez made 2,000 television appearances during his first 11 years as president.
The Chavista regime has achieved near total control over the media, through direct state control, regulation, intimidation, and help from allies who buy media companies and then cease to criticize the government.