Academic journal article Military Review

The Venezuelan Crisis: What the United States and the Region Can Do

Academic journal article Military Review

The Venezuelan Crisis: What the United States and the Region Can Do

Article excerpt

Venezuela is a failed state. A humanitarian crisis already exists there and is at imminent risk of becoming a major regional tragedy. For several years, the Venezuelan political, economic, and social situation has been deteriorating under the essentially passive eyes of the United States and most of the Latin American states. Such passivity has served to intensify a crisis that can no longer be ignored. Further delay in regional action to restore democracy and political and social stability in Venezuela would represent an act of collective irresponsibility. This article describes how Venezuela ended up as a failed state and analyzes the potential role the United States and the rest of the countries in the region can play in restoring democracy and stability to the country.

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1999-2007: From Imperfect Democracy to Dictatorship

In December 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela. Seven years earlier, in 1992, he had unsuccessfully tried to reach power through a bloody military coup that had been years in the planning. Once in power by electoral means, Chavez rode very efficiently the wave of discontent with the previous administrations in order to dismantle existing democratic institutions and replace them with new ones loyal to him. During the initial period of his presidency, he was given unconditional support by most of the country, which he utilized adroitly to convert Venezuela into a dictatorship. How he succeeded can be summarized as follows:

14 December 1994. After being released from prison, where he was incarcerated as a result of his failed coup d'etat, Chavez visited Fidel Castro in Havana. This visit marked the start of Castro's political mentoring of Chavez. His older brother Adan had already converted to Marxism.

6 November 1998. Legislative and state governor elections were held in Venezuela. Candidates endorsed by Chavez obtained eight governorships and eighty-seven seats in Congress, but non-Chavez followers obtained a clear majority, fifteen governorships and 168 seats in Congress.

6 December 1998. Chavez was elected president.

2 February 1999. During his presidential inauguration ceremony, Chavez violated the traditional oath of office. When asked, "Do you swear before God and the fatherland to fulill the duties of Constitutional President, to obey and promote obedience to our Constitution?" he replied [author's translation], "I swear before God and the Fatherland, before my people and over this moribund constitution, that I will promote the transformations required for the new republic to have a new constitution adequate to the times" (1)

Immediately after his inauguration, he issued a presidential decree to convene a Constituent Assembly that not only would draft a new constitution but also would "transform the state and create a newjudicial order based on a different model of government to the existing one" (2)

10 March 1999. To elect the representatives to the Constituent Assembly, the rules for proportional representation of minorities were replaced by Chavez in favor of a winner-take-all type of election. This arbitrary change in the rules made it possible for Chavez to obtain 96 percent of the seats in the assembly with the support of only 30 percent of the registered voters.

April 1999. In a letter to the Supreme Court of Justice, Chavez claimed, "Only the President had exclusive authority over the management of State affairs" and threatened the magistrates with popular retaliation if they did not rule in line with his wishes. (3)

August to September 1999. The Constituent Assembly, under control of Chavez, established its own bylaws, which included supraconstitutional powers. On 8 September, the assembly designated an "Emergency Commission for the Judicial Power" that summarily dismissed all national judges and named provisional replacements, many of whom are still provisional seventeen years later. …

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