Much of the written arguments in favor of Hugo Chávez, especially abroad, are connected to the legitimacy of his presidency. The arguments are repeated incessantly: Chávez won the presidential elections in December 1998 and, therefore, he is a legitimate president. Furthermore, the arguments go, he has been re-legitimated in several other elections since 1998. The fact that every one of those other elections has shown numerous irregularities and some will be tainted forever does not seem to make an impression on the advocates of legitimacy. In their favor, they cite Jimmy Carter's approval of the presidential recall referendum of 2004. Although the jury is still out on the role of Jimmy Carter in this event and new evidence will surely emerge in this connection, his opinion at the time was determinant in the rapid recognition that the countries of the hemisphere gave to the Venezuelan process. Venezuelans have not forgotten this Carter related tragic episode and the nation would do well to return to it as soon as political circumstances allow.
Legitimacy is not the sole product of an electoral victory. A candidate becomes president as the result of a set of promises that, in turn, form the basis of a popular mandate. As in marriage, promises are exchanged which, if broken, legally and morally justify a separation. A civil or religious ceremony cannot be the only requirement for marriage to survive. In the same manner, when a president fails to behave according to promises and to the mandate received by the electorate he, he loses legitimacy. This is the case with Hugo Chávez.
Some of the reasons for his illegitimacy
The main reasons for the growing illegitimacy of the Hugo Chávez presidency can be grouped as follows: (1), Violations to the Venezuelan Constitution and to the laws of the country; (2), inept and/or corrupt use of national resources; (3), surrendering of Venezuelan sovereignty; (4), promotion of domestic political and social tensions at the expense of social harmony; (5), significant departure from basic democratic principles and, (6) repeated electoral irregularities. Documenting these reasons is not a particularly difficult job and would only need six months or so of patient work by a couple of good, full time researchers. For a modest amount of effort and money, Venezuelan public opinion could have a formidable document put together, to be utilized before their own courts of law or international organizations such as the O.A.S., the U.N. or the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
Violations to the Venezuelan Constitution and to Venezuelan laws
A few examples of these violations can be summarized as follows:
- The first day of his inauguration he refused to take the oath of office.
- Asdrúbal Aguiar, expert in Constitutional Law listed 34 specific cases of violations to the Constitution ("34 golpes a la Constitucionalidad en Venezuela," A. Aguiar, Universidad Católica, Enero 3, 2003) in areas related to the appointment of the members of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the dissolution of Congress, the manner in which the Constituent Assembly came into existence and the appointment of the National Electoral Council Board (that, to this day, remains illegal and provisional). See also the PDF document "The Crisis in Venezuela: Top Five Myths."
- The enacting of a telecommunications law that violates constitutional articles concerning freedom of speech.
- The exclusion of groups having received donations or grants from abroad or made up of clerics or foreigners from the definition of non government organizations, NGO's, an exclusion which violates the constitutional articles related to freedom of association.
- Receiving funds from foreign organizations for his presidential campaign and even after being president. These funds were not reported as they should have been.
- Instructing military commanders in national TV hookup (December 15, 2002) to "disobey any court orders that might contradict his presidential decrees."
- Passing a Gag Law that severely restricts the constitutional rights to freedom of expression.
- The public statement made by Chávez that "not one single dollar would be given to the 'enemies' of the regime." Since there is total government (Chávez) control of foreign exchange, this act of political retaliation openly violates the constitutional right of citizens to equality under the law.
- The creation of a paramilitary force, directly under Chávez's command, which violates the constitutional provisions regarding the armed forces.
- The imprisonment of dozens of Venezuelans due to their political beliefs, most without proper indictment or trial.
Inept and/or corrupt use of our national resources
Venezuela has obtained about US$140 billion from oil sales in the seven years under the Chávez regime. In addition, national debt has doubled during this time and is now some US$42 billion. In addition, about US$6 billion of the international reserves deposited by law at the Venezuelan Central Bank are now being used by the regime without controls. This immense mass of money, some US$190 billion, has coexisted with a chronic fiscal deficit and has been and is being mostly wasted, as illustrated below:
The Bolivar Program 2000, run by military officers, spent about US$3 billion in 2000 and 2001, without controls or tangible results before it folded. High-ranking military officers used the money with total discretionary power in a massive program of handouts that did not solve the problems of the poor but made a new group of millionaires.
About US$2 billion were illegally diverted from the Venezuelan Macro Economic Stabilization Fund, in violation of laws and regulations, to be used in Christmas bonuses and other unspecified expenses for public employees. Hugo Chávez and his employee Nelson Merentes publicly admitted this.
Chavez acquired a US$65 million Airbus A319CJ without money being in the budget for this purpose. For a similar deviation of public funds Venezuelan Attorney General impeached President Carlos Andres Perez and ousted him from the presidency.
Subsidies to Cuba in oil supplies amount to US$0.5-$1 billion per year. This transaction violates the norms of Petróleos de Venezuela and represents money that is being taken away from their rightful owners, the Venezuelans.
Subsidies to the Caribbean nations under the Petrocaribe scheme can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and have been decided without consultation with Venezuelans.
A Communist Youth Festival recently held in Caracas, totally financed by Chávez, employed US$20 million of national money in a convention designed to promote totalitarian regimes and ideologies which run contrary to the constitutional definition of Venezuela as a democratic state. Cuba and North Korea actively participated in this event.
Petroleos de Venezuela has been converted into an appendix of the Chávez regime, especially oriented towards the financing of Chávez political propaganda schemes. About US$3.5 billion that should have been used in this company's maintenance and capital investments during the last two years have been diverted illegally by Chávez for use in social programs that have not been transparent or effective or much less efficient.
Corruption within Petróleos de Venezuela in the employment of personnel and in the sale of oil seems to be significant. High-ranking officers and advisors to the company have recently been engaged in scandals related to kickbacks and acquisition of property without the government taking appropriate actions ("Pagos cuestionables a dos funcionarios de Venezuela," Gerardo Reyes, El Nuevo Herald, Agosto 30, 2005).
The misuse of national resources is dramatic and has provoked the ruin of Venezuelan physical infrastructure: Highways are collapsing, new housing is not being built, and hospitals lack the most essential equipment and supplies. The amount of evidence in this regard is overwhelming.
Surrendering of Venezuelan sovereignty
The alignment of Hugo Chávez with Fidel Castro cannot be confused with a simple process of integration between the two nations. This is a political and military fusion through which Chávez obtains the protection and political patronage of Castro, while giving Castro the oil and money that belong to the Venezuelan people. In the process of this perverse alliance Chavez has given up considerable Venezuelan national sovereignty by letting Cuban nationals handle sensitive areas of Venezuelan military and political intelligence, by letting Cubans act as police in Venezuelan territory, by letting some 50,000 Cubans invade Venezuela to indoctrinate Venezuelans with their failed political ideologies. Hugo Chávez is handing Venezuela over to Fidel Castro. This alone would be enough to take all legitimacy away from Hugo Chávez since he did not receive a mandate to handout vital components of our country to a totalitarian foreign state.
The promotion of hate and social tensions
The mandate Hugo Chávez received from Venezuelans was to bring the nation together in order to progress, to use all available social capital to build a better nation. Instead, this man has been a promoter of social resentment, of class tensions and racial hate. This man has converted a nation of friends into a nation of enemies. Whatever trust existed before his coming is now gone, replaced by hostility and aggression. In a speech before the National Assembly, in January 2004, he boasted of creating a management crisis in Petróleos de Venezuela, in order to take it over for his political purposes. This was a crime of the highest magnitude, one that does not have to be further documented due to his impudent confession. Today Venezuela is a battlefield due to his irresponsible presidency.
Abandonment of democratic norms and procedures
The elimination of independent institutions that could serve as check and balances to the executive power, the militarization of public administration, the virtual elimination of career diplomats (Foreign Minister Alí Rodríguez demands that all diplomats be soldiers of the revolution); the disdain for the opposition and the vulgarity with which he talks about his political opponents; his violent attacks on the church; the restrictions imposed on the media, his systematic abuses of power and of public assets and equipment; the violence that he has unleashed on public protests by the opposition, when women are dragged on the streets by the National Guard for the enjoyment of dictators like Robert Mugabe; the alignment of the regime with the most backward and violent tyrannies in the planet, all of these elements represent a clear divorce from democracy. Chávez has not denied it. He proudly flaunts his authoritarian nature and openly challenges civic protesters, since he knows that he controls all institutions and that no one member of the offices that should control his abuses will dare to speak up against him.
Repeated electoral irregularities
Of all the reasons for the growing illegitimacy of Hugo Chávez this is one of the strongest. After an unquestionable electoral victory in 1998, Hugo Chávez rapidly converted the National Electoral Council into a club of friends of his revolution. The illegal nature of the current board is well documented. The irregularities, which accompanied the process of collection of signatures for the presidential recall referendum and the referendum itself, have also been amply documented. There is no doubt that the abuses by the Chávez controlled council and the repeated violations to the rules before, during and after the electoral processes of 2004 and 2005 have rendered them essentially invalid. The behavior of Jimmy Carter and his small group of collaborators following the presidential recall referendum of 2004 is still being the object of investigation by Venezuelans interested in seeing to the bottom of this shameful affair.
Would this effort serve any purpose?
In a country where violations to the rule of law by the regime and where abuses of presidential power have become common occurrences, where trust in the institutions have virtually disappeared, not many citizens are thinking strategically but most, even the best, are in a survival mode. Inertia and hopelessness are taking hold in many Venezuelans. In parallel, money from oil is flowing freely in the streets of Caracas and the city restaurants are full of wheeler-dealers selling wild projects and vague promises of instant wealth. The Venezuela of the corrupt liaisons between government bureaucrats and fraudulent industrialists or "businessmen," which existed during the "Great Venezuela" of Carlos Andres Perez and the days of Jaime Lusinchi is back with great force. After this orgy of corruption and massive waste is over, Venezuela will be poorer than ever. The Venezuelan tragedy requires an acceleration of Chávez's ousting. I do not advocate his assassination, just his impeachment. The Venezuelan situation is now ripe for a strong denouncement of Chávez's abuses, based on an effort like the one I have briefly described above. Democratic countries in our region should pay attention to the Chávez threat. So far, he has been able to buy much silence and tolerance in many places but some countries, notably the U.S., already see exactly the nature of the danger he presents to political stability and democracy in the hemisphere. In this connection, I have recently read a speech given by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Mr. Rogelio Pardo-Maurer to the Hudson Institute (in U.S. Cuba Policy Report, July 36, 2005, published by the Institute for U.S. Cuba Relations). Mr. Pardo-Maurer is the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense on regional affairs. He says: "Cuba and Venezuela are working on a joint project . . . Bolivia." And he adds: "Cubans have latched onto the Venezuelan embassies abroad" and they are the ones talking while the Venezuelans keep silent. Mr. Pardo-Maurer warns about the armed militia Chávez is putting together and calls the Cuba-Venezuela alliance a "huge project" and "an exact replica of what the Cubans tried to foist in Nicaragua in the 80's." In Nicaragua "this project failed," he adds, "but in Venezuela it is ongoing."
This threat has to be answered both inside and outside Venezuela. To do this, Venezuelans who love democracy need all the help they can get from the democracies of the hemisphere.