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Carmona dissolved the congress, disbanded the Supreme Court, closed the Attorney-General’s and comptroller’s offices, repealed 48 laws that shifted some of the country’s wealth from the elite and oligarchs to the country’s poor, and ripped up the constitution.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 threatened.
It’s been cancelled.
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 really democracy?
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 people.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.