by Stephen Gowans
Hours after Venezuela’s President
Hugo Chavez had been ushered from his office into military
detention, his successor, Pedor Carmona Estanga, a former oil
executive and head of the country’s largest business organization,
committed a series of monumentally authoritarian acts. With the
stroke of a pen, without a mandate from the public, backed only by
the authority vested in him by the country’s generals, Carmona
dissolved the congress, disbanded the Supreme Court, closed the
Attorney-General’s and comptroller's offices, repealed 48 laws that
shifted some of the country’s wealth from the elite and oligarchs to
the country’s poor, and ripped up the constitution. Were there ever
a model for autocratic rule, this was it.
President George W. Bush remarked, "Now
the situation will be one of tranquility and democracy." The New York
Times, doing its best to mimic the Newspeak of George Orwell’s 1984,
declared, "With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chavez,
Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be-dictator."
No one can threaten Venezuela’s
democracy anymore. Not Chavez. Not a would-be dictator (whatever a
"would-be" dictator is). There is no longer any democracy to be
It’s been cancelled.
By a dictator.
In November, the US foreign policy
establishment convoked a meeting to decide what to do about Chavez. He had
chastised Washington for fighting terrorism with terrorism, cozied up to
Cuba, refused to cooperate in the US war on Colombian guerillas, and
committed a monumental heresy: He resisted the IMF, and wondered why a
country with the Western hemisphere’s largest oil reserves, should be
teeming with poor.
The IMF let it be known that it would
support a transitional government.
Soon after, high-ranking officers
starting demanding Chavez’s resignation.
Now Chavez’s overthrow is called a
resignation, the President, elected by the largest majority in the
country’s history, is dismissed as a would-be dictator, and the people who
crushed Venezuelan democracy when it encroached on their privileges and
upset Washington, are celebrated as democracy’s champions.
With the stroke of a pen, Carmona, a
man no one elected, cancelled land reform, cancelled free health care and
education up to university, and cancelled a constitution that had taken
away the oligarchs’ power to dominate the country at the expense of the
majority, 80 percent of whom live in poverty, the country’s massive oil
wealth beyond their reach.
Democracy, it seems, is tolerated, so
long as it doesn’t encroach on the privileges -- and profits -- of the
elite, domestic and imperial.
But if democracy is overthrown whenever
its results are displeasing to Washington and domestic oligarchs, is it
Before the generals ousted Chavez, US
Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded Chavez correct "his understanding
of what a democracy is."
Apparently, democracy isn’t rule by the
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.