The United States isn’t the only country suffering a lame-duck power grab. On Friday, Venezuela’s outgoing socialist-dominated parliament granted President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree for 18 months. If democracy is not already dead in Venezuela, it’s about to breathe its last breath.
Chavez’s drive for dictatorship comes in the wake of an unexpected electoral reverse. In September’s parliamentary elections, the rulingUnited Socialist Party of Venezuela, which had controlled 83 percent of the legislative seats, dropped to 59 percent control, while the opposition Coalition for Democratic Unity surged from 4 percent to 40 percent. More troubling to Chavez was that his party attracted only 48 percent of the popular vote against the opposition’s 47 percent. Had the election been more free and fair, the opposition likely would have found itself in the majority.
The new parliament doesn’t sit until Jan. 5 so the old majority took a page from the Pelosi-Reid playbook and decided to ram through as much of its unpopular agenda as possible while their supermajority lasted. The crowning achievement was the grant of dictatorial powers to Chavez, who – like President Obama – will face the electorate in 2012, if there is a Venezuelan electorate to face. The legislation was nominally intended to give Chavez authority to respond to flooding that has displaced thousands, but it’s clearly a means of bolstering his authoritarian rule. If there were any doubt about this, the authoritarian removed it at the signing ceremony when he mocked the opposition as “little Yankees” and said laughingly, “Let’s see how they are going to make laws now.”
Dictators often have consolidated total power by subverting democracies from within. In 1933, the German Reichstag gave Chancellor Adolf Hitler a four-year grant of extraordinary power that lasted until he resigned his office by suicide in a Berlin bunker 12 years later. Italy’s parliament granted Benito Mussolini 12 months of dictatorial powers in 1922 that wound up continuing for 21 years. In both cases, the totalitarian rulers retained the husk of a democratic system as a veneer of legitimacy.
The State Department condemned Chavez’s move as “subverting the will of the Venezuelan people,” but Washington has done little else to respond. The Obama administration has dealt with Venezuela as a minor irritant as Chavez consolidates power at home and spreads the anti-American venom of his Bolivarian Alliance abroad. Chavez also is pursuing new and creative ways to challenge U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere. According to a recent article in Die Welt, Tehran signed a deal with Caracas to build an Iranian-manned medium-range missile facility in Venezuela. This, coupled withChavez’s desire to achieve the same nuclear capability Iran is pursuing, should be cause for more concern, if not alarm.
Chavez’s assumption of dictatorial powers offers a perfect opportunity for America to rally world opinion against the destruction of democracy in Venezuela. The Chavez regime represents a significant and growing threat to U.S. interests in the hemisphere and beyond. However, the Obama administration lacks a coherent strategy for dealing with this challenge, and neglecting the problem will only make it worse. In the meantime, Venezuelan voters have learned the true worth of their ballots – nothing.
Source: The Washington Times