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For Much of Brazil’s Intelligentsia Caudillo Chavez Is a Symbol of Democracy

Hugo ChavezSince some intellectuals in Brazil have little or no respect for the liberal-democratic traditions and legal institutions of the most developed countries in the world, one can therefore understand why many of them – including Bishop Tomas Balduíno, Emir Sader (professor) Leonardo Boff (theologian), Chico Buarque (musician), Celso Furtado (economist), and Oscar Niemeyer (architect) – signed in August 2004 a political manifesto in support of colonel Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela.

Handed to him by writer Fernando Morais, along with bishops and other representatives of the country’s Catholic Church, this political manifesto denounces the existence of a certain “disinformation campaign” that is supposedly “orchestrated by the major media and that attempts to characterize as a tyrant, a president who [so they say] has consistently respected the rule of law and the country’s Constitution.”

They still need to explain how a president who swore in his oath of office in 1998 that he would do away with the Venezuelan Constitution can possibly respect the rule of law and the country’s constitution.

Hence, Chavez used a constitutional amendment to promulgate, in December 1999, a new constitution that has dramatically increased his power; dissolved the senate; extended the presidential term from five to six years; and provided greater discretionary powers to the military. His new constitution for Venezuela also includes a “truthful information” provision that can be used to curtail TV and radio stations critical to the government.

Whereas these Brazilian intellectuals hold the Venezuelan president in the highest esteem, Human Rights Watch has a markedly different opinion. The organization accuses his government of widespread human rights violations, including the restriction of free speech and the independent press, the killing of political opponents, police torture and politicization of the courts.

Under President Chavez, explains Dr. Thomas A. Shannon, a senior U.S. official, an assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, Venezuela has sheltered groups with ties to Islamic terrorism and allowed weapons from its official stockpiles to reach Colombian drug guerrillas.

Similarly, Stephen Johnson, a policy analyst for Latin America at the Davis Institute for International Studies, points out: “President Chavez sees himself taking over Fidel Castro’s leadership of the Latin American left and strengthening hemispheric ties to such rogue nations as Iran and North Korea.

“Emboldened by defeating an August 2004 recall vote by padding the electoral rolls and intimidating opponents, Chavez has consolidated his single-party rule, eliminating internal checks on his powers. A new ‘social responsibility’ law permits the government to close radio and television stations for airing content ‘contrary to national security.’

A strengthened criminal code imposes jail sentences for even mildly protesting the actions of public officials. Meanwhile, prosecutors are rounding up opposition leaders for show trials conducted by provisional, handpicked judges”.

Following his 1999 electoral victory, President Chavez signed a decree allowing the National Assembly to investigate all members of the Venezuelan judiciary, including high court judges. The president of this Assembly, Luis Miquilena, warned: “Anybody who opposes the decisions [of the government] will be eliminated. If the Supreme Court of Justice were to take any measure, and it is likely it will do so, you may be certain that we shall not hesitate for a moment to suppress the Supreme Court of Justice”.

As can be seen, what such intellectuals in Brazil regard as an example of “democratic” leader one does much better to classify as a typical Latin-American authoritarian ruler. As with several other leaders of the region, Colonel Chavez, the author of two failed coups against democratically elected governments, is applauded by these intellectuals because of his demagogical claims to stand up against the United States (Venezuela’s main oil exporter), notwithstanding his “great admiration” to notorious dictators such as Muammar Gadhafi and even Saddam Hussein.

Even so, explains the political scientist Fareed Zakaria: “Chavez represents a persistent hope in Latin America that constructive change will come not through a pluralist political system, in which an array of political parties and interests grind away at the tedious work of incremental [constitutional] reform, but in the form of some new, messianic leader who can sweep away the debris of the past and start anew”.

In conclusion, all those intellectuals who signed the Pro-Chavez manifesto should be ashamed of themselves. They have supported a ruthless caudillo and are therefore in urgent need of understanding what democracy and the rule of law really mean.

A true democracy under the rule of law, in contrast to what such ‘great’ intellectuals might think, is utterly opposed to their ‘revolutionary superstition’ that ‘social justice’ depends on the actions of ‘generous’ leaders who they think ought to make all decisions in the name of a passive plural entity called ‘the people’.

Augusto Zimmermann is a Brazilian Law Professor and the author of the well-known books Teoria Geral do Federalismo Democrático (General Theory of Democratic Federalism – Second Edition, 2005) and Curso de Direito Constitutional (Course on Constitutional Law, Fourth Edition – 2005). His e-mail is: augzimmer@hotmail.com

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