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In Venezuela, we spell 'HE' with a 'T' and a 'Y'
Reading the daily news reports and editorials that are appearing the northern hemisphere, and seeing the comments of United States political leaders from President Bush on down, one gets the feeling that the people of Venezuela have thrown out their traditional Apostle’s Creed to begin praying a new one that starts: 'I believe in Hugo Chavez, President Almighty, who is about to create a new heaven and earth.'
It seems Venezuela has lost all semblance of sanity and has given a madman dictator the power to legally do whatever he wants to do.
1) There seems to be more hullabaloos about this in the USA than here.
2) Powers like these have been given to Venezuelan presidents six times before Chavez ever came to power. Was there any rumble in the USA at those times?
3) If lawmaking were to follow its normal course here, it could take 50 years to get things moving. That’s Charlie Hardy’s estimate. Maybe I’m wrong and it could take a hundred. We’re talking about committee meetings, and committee meetings, and more committee meetings, hearings, and hearings, and hearings, and first readings, and second readings, and votes, and votes, and, and, and… If you want to get in touch with the reality in the southern hemisphere, read The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando de Soto. You can agree or disagreed with his thesis, but you only have to read a few chapters to see that it can take hundreds of steps for a person to simply get a title for their property. That’s just for a title; what about laws governing a country?
Almost daily I get e-mails questioning what is happening here in regard to Congress giving President Chavez power to enact new laws. I must admit that I am no expert on the matter--but neither are those who are writing the editorials and articles in the newspapers in the US and those who are pontificating from their political positions. So, let me share my thoughts on the matter.
4) Congress has not given Chavez unlimited powers. There are certain areas in which he can legislate, and all laws have to be able to withstand constitutional tests.
5) Many of the problems that have to be faced rapidly are those within the government itself: corruption, inefficiency, lack of accountability. There is a need to get more power to the local communities. In the city of Barquisimeto there is a community complex with a radio station, TV station, info center, etc. The governor (or the state government), who is a supporter of Chavez, appointed a directress for the center. The community feels they can run the place themselves and run it better. They locked her out a couple of weeks ago and are demanding that they be the ones to decide who will co-ordinate the activities there. This is the kind of situation that needs to be addressed for local people have to have more power in running their communities.
Venezuela 2006: 'The brave people. Women with Chavez for the socialist homeland'
Don’t think Chavez is going to sit in his office drawing up the laws himself. He will get help—but things will move along faster.
7) Stop thinking about 'he'. I tell people that we spell 'he' in Venezuela with a 't' and a 'y.' That is: t-he-y. The majority of the people want change and they want things to get moving. Chavez only has power because he represents what the majority thinks and feels. That may not be what’s in the mind of the elite and the owners of the mass media, but they have been making decisions from the top down for centuries, without any special powers given to them from congress. They simply bought and ruled the lawmakers.
8) The newspaper articles that I have seen from the US and Britain often include mention of the possibility of unlimited presidential terms with that of the law-enacting powers given to Chavez. They are different matters. The change in the presidential term would require a change in the constitution and that could only be brought about by a referendum—as well as other possible changes in the constitution. Possible constitutional changes are being considered by a special committee that is inviting broad participation in the matter.
9) Another item that often enters newspaper articles is Chavez’s idea of a unified party, one supporting the idea of the 21st Century socialism. He’s talking about a unified party, not about only one party in Venezuela. The opposition is trying to form something of a unified party also. In both cases, it’s a struggle. But in any case, what’s the big deal if Venezuela should end up with two major parties once again? In the U.S. there are only two parties that control the power. At least in Venezuela there is now a difference between the two groups.
10) Some months ago a very wealthy visitor to Venezuela wanted to hand several hundred dollars to a community leader in an area where the community’s houses were being torn down by the Venezuelan government because they were unsafe. The community leader rejected the money, said that the government was taking care of the inhabitants very well, and suggested that maybe people in the US were more in need of his handout in light of what they had heard about Katrina.
I see some similarity in US citizens trying to tell Venezuela how laws should be made here. There is a big mess in the lawmaking processes of the USA. Let’s face it. Consider this quote of the year in The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2007: “We are cleaning up Congress the way teenagers clean up their bedrooms, and the result will be the same mess.” That was Representative Brian Baird of Washington State on the weakness of the congressional lobby reform bill that was passed May 3 last year. It seems to me to be a huge act of hypocrisy that US newspapers and politicians are judging Venezuela when the US lawmaking process is in such sad shape.
What power does the ordinary person have in the United States? In congress here there are people who have risen from having been community leaders in the barrios. Contrast that with what it takes to become a member of congress in the United States. Contrast Chavez’s origins with those of Bush. Contrast those of the vice-president here, whose father was tortured to death because of his political beliefs, with those of Dick Cheney.
11) In the past week I have received letters from two well-known and respected writers who have not been able to get their vision of what is happening in Venezuela into op-ed pages or letters-to-the-editor pages. Isn’t that interesting? It reminds me of a quote from Howard Zinn in his Passionate Declarations: “If those in charge of our society—politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television—can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves.” I don’t fully agree with Zinn in this regard because that would cause a reduction in the military budget in the US—something not very likely to happen. There would still be soldiers in the streets. But it is of importance to realize that significant voices not in agreement with US government ideas are not being heard.
Again, I am no expert on law-making matters in Venezuela but I hope these thoughts will be of some help to you as you read about Venezuela in your daily papers.
Charles Hardy ©
Charles Hardy is author of a forthcoming book on Venezuela to be published by Curbstone Press http://www.curbstone.org. Other essays by Hardy can be found on his personal blog at http://www.cowboyincaracas.com. You may write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.