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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Chavez Jumps Shark 

South America's favourite reality-TV show, the government of Venezuela, has granted President Hugo Chavez the power to enact laws by decree.

I don't post about politics [or anything else -Ed.] very often here. But some bright lines deserve to be noted.

I can do no better than the prescient Mr. Cosh, who posted this just over a year ago:

I will give Chavez supporters the same advice that their Maoist fathers and Stalinist grandfathers ignored: you can save yourselves a couple of decades by being ashamed of yourselves right this minute.

[The link is in the original -RjC.]

Comments:
"Enabling" a False Perception

What's more, this "enabling law" is not new to the current constitution. Venezuela's previous constitution allowed for similar powers shifts to the executive, and you can be sure that past presidents took advantage of this authority on multiple occasions throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's.

[...]

So why all the finger-wagging, hand-wringing and label-slinging this time around? In short: because it's Chavez.


It just came up in my reading tonight right before I came across your post in my Bloglines reading, so...

Speaking of despotic powers, what would you say about an executive who proposed to put a political appointee to run every regulatory agency? Or is do the bright lines move a bit when that executive isn't Chavez?
 
0) I can't open the first link. Maybe just a temporary thing.

1) Did the previous uses of the enabling do anything to improve democracy in Venezuela? Were they accompanied by cries of "Fatherland, socialism, or death!" by the president of the National Assembly?

It would be extremely ahistoric to ignore the ramifications of such a phrase.

2) Get back to me when W. proposes to suspend term limits so he can run again and again. Note that those term limits were set by the new Venezuelan constitution, which Mr. Chavez had ratified in 1999.

The question is why Chavez would need such unilateral powers, especially given his high personal popularity and support from the legislative branch. This is not unprecedented behaviour by democratically elected politicians, but I can't think of an example where it ended well.

The concern is that Mr. Chavez might take his admiration for Fidel Castro a bit too far, and so far his every change to Venezuela's governance has been aimed in that direction.

Andrew, you're too much of a student of history to think this is anything good.
 
1) Did the previous uses of the enabling do anything to improve democracy in Venezuela?

Why, yes! For example, from the article:

In 1974, Congress gave President Carlos Andres Perez the right to "rule by decree" on a number of economic matters, which he used to pass a slew of new regulations-instituting a minimum wage increase, freezing the market price of "necessary" goods, instating tax relief on agricultural activities, increasing government pensions, and even establishing new state institutions, including the National Institute of Housing and an Industrial Development Fund.

And I am sure a devoted free-market capitalist like you will see the difference between a socialist like Chavez and what Perez did.


2) Get back to me when W. proposes to suspend term limits so he can run again and again.

I don't get it. Is the "bright line" about expanding executive power or not? I mean, does installing commissars at every agency cross it? How about seeking warrantless wiretaps, or warrantless extraordinary rendition, or denying the right of habeas corpus exists?
 
Or for that matter, declaring that his Constitutional powers enable him to ignore any law or any part of any law that Congress passes that he doesn't like?

Like I said, where is this bright line?

(and if you're worried about the historic implications of words like "Fatherland", welcome to the club! Some of us were here years ago when Bush started up this "Homeland" stuff. But again, I suppose that ol' bright line does wander around.)
 
Well Andrew, mercifully, neither you nor I are (to a first order) able to either influence or be influenced by the state of Venezuela. But I suspect, having read your points, that Mr. Chavez and his ilk continue to point in the wrong direction in a big way.

If I may summarize:

-whatever I make of "Fatherland," it is the third-scariest word in that phrase. "Socialism or death" is a catchphrase of Cuba's current government. Which Mr. Chavez openly admires. And which wil not leave.

-I must concede that Perez' behaviour in 1978 did not lead directly to undemocratic disaster, but, well . . . you read the entry and tell me if you can nominate Perez as a good guy or a bad guy--he faced popular protests, a criminal investigation, and was nearly deposed by a coup attempt...by Hugo Chavez!

The bright line is mostly about the strong suspicion that Mr. Chavez has arranged his government in such a way as to ensure he will not be leaving.

Mr. Chavez has expressed open admiration of Fidel Castro's Cuba. He has proposed elminating the term limits that he himself enacted with the new constitution. He has aggressively acted to centralize governmental authority in his own office. And he and his political allies openly espouse the least democratic political ideology of the twentieth century.

Is this stuff wrong because it is Chavez? No. Lula (as one example among many) causes no such concerns. Heck, I'll even give Daniel Ortega a free ride for a term. My . . . interest is largely based on taking Mr. Chavez' own statements seriously.

Good comments, though: you keep me on my toes!
 
The bright line is mostly about the strong suspicion that Mr. Chavez has arranged his government in such a way as to ensure he will not be leaving.

Shades of FDR?
 
You're just trying to bait me now, aren't you? :)

As an evil cynic, I would point out that however laudable and important FDR's prosecution of the war was, only death ended his tenure as president.

And the 22nd Amendment was enacted not long after.
 
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