Chavez's Holy War

Article excerpt


It is not often we have the opportunity to watch a dictatorship being established. But few question this is now under way in Venezuela.

Following his 2006 re-election, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made no secret of his intention to remove whatever remaining restraints exist upon his power. Mr. Chavez has asked, for example, for constitutional changes eliminating term-limits on the presidency. He also wants to abolish the central bank's independence as part of his socialist Venezuela agenda.

Mr. Chavez also intends to ask Venezuela's legislature controlled by his allies for the power to impose several "revolutionary laws" by decree. This proposal will remind those conscious of historical analogies of the infamous "Enabling Act" passed by Germany's Reichstag in 1933, establishing the legal foundations for the National Socialist dictatorship.

No one seeking to build socialism, however, has ever been content with totally controlling the state apparatus. Invariably their attention turns to other spheres of society. For several years, Mr. Chavez has been reducing the size and independence of Venezuela's private sector, most recently by nationalizing power and telecommunications companies. He has also stated his intention to close private media outlets critical of his policies.

This recent decision produced polite but firm objections from the leaders of Venezuela's Catholic Church. Mr. Chavez's response was to publicly attack the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, and to issue veiled threats of aggression against the Church.

Such behavior should not surprise us. There are three things all aspiring dictatorships seek to control or destroy. The first is private property. Undermining this institution encourages economic dependency on the state while simultaneously stripping people of private resources they might use to support political opposition. Thus we see Mr. Chavez nationalizing various industries, confiscating land, and attempting to control private companies, especially in the oil industry.

A second target of dictatorships is the family. Most such regimes seek to weaken family loyalties by turning children and parents against each other and encouraging everyone to regard the state as an alternative parent. Here Mr. Chavez's moves have involved attempting to militarize as many young people as possible, and his education law which will, Cardinal Urosa Savino believes, result in the "politicization and ideologizing of education" and diminish parents' ability to control their children's education especially their religious education.

This brings us to the third objective of any dictatorship: suppression of religious liberty. …