I too mourn for Latin America — a region with immense economic potential, cultural diversity and a rich history that was home to my parents and grandparents. But for Chavismo and democradura, I do not mourn.
The Venezuela left by Hugo Chavez is not a democracy. I admit that I was one of those people clamoring, “¡Viva Venezuela Libre!” after reading that the demagogue was dead. But my reaction was not rooted in myopia — it was rooted in the realities created by terrible state planning and a quasi-democratic dictatorial regime. ¡Viva Venezuela Libre! does not “dance on the dictator’s grave.” The phrase serves as a message of hope to my Venezuelan brethren, whose families left the country when Chavez permanently altered their world to create his vision of what the country should look like.
My sentiment was also partly selfish. The Chavez regime was a crucial ally to the Castro brother — whose disastrous utopia my family left in the 1960s. Chavez kept a great number of other “democratically” elected leaders in his midst.
Chavez’s closest ally throughout his term was the Cuban regime — a regime his oil kept afloat — that was known to repress dissent on the island. Chavez supposedly lauded the Assad regime in Syria, which has murdered thousands of civilian protestors in the last year alone. Chavez talked extensively with Ahmadinejad to increase trade with Iran, whose government violently repressed dissent two years ago. And Chavez also counted among his closest allies Robert Mugabe, whose brutal regime in Zimbabwe has scored lowest on human rights indicators since the late 1980s.
The Venezuela Chavez leaves today has made great strides toward ameliorating poverty, but the economy lies in absolute shambles. Venezuela today recalls Cuba, which benefitted from a boon in the 1960s as it attempted its experiment with socialism. Like Cuba’s, Venezuela’s paradisiacal bubble has burst.
Since Chavez came to power in 1998, Venezuelans have been leaving their county by the tens of thousands. They leave behind a country where mass nationalization stymies innovation in industries that had been previously performing at market levels. They leave a Caracas that now considered the most dangerous city in the world, its crime rates higher than Kabul and Baghdad. They leave behind a country whose leader abolished term limits to be “elected” to a fourth term.
Chavez gutted Venezuela’s democratic system. In 2004, he added 12 seats to a Supreme Court tribunal, which previously had just 20, and filled them with his cronies. The justices advocated his political agenda, and thus that branch of government no longer checked Chavez’s power. The lower courts have since been discouraged from handing out rulings that would displease the government, which has prevented investigating human rights abuses perpetrated by Chavez supporters and the military.
Let’s also look at Chavez’s treatment of the press. His government passed laws that penalized speech that “offended” government officials and prohibited messages that “fomented anxiety in the public” from being broadcasted. The regime also sought to censor stations by suspending them arbitrarily; anything critical of the regime meant suspended broadcasting licenses. The Chavez regime even prevented RCTV — the nation’s oldest private television channel — from renewing its license after the station covered the Bolivian government in a negative light. By 2010, the only major channel left still critical of the president was Globovisión, but the government continues to pressure it with threats of suspension or closure. Conversely, Chavez’s attempts to “democratize” the airwaves increased the number of government-run TV channels from one to six — all clearly puppets.
A dictator is a dictator, and with a 14-year track record, it’s safe to say that Chavez was a terrible one. Venezuela faces a turbulent future, but at least now it has the promise of leaving behind the deadlock caused by Chavismo over the course of the last 14 years.
Christian Vazquez is a senior in Branford College and a former production and design editor for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .