Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another salami slice: Chavez regime buys stake in opposition TV network, Venezuela moves closer to total authoritarian rule

Readers of this blog, or who are otherwise familiar with my writing, will know that I detest Hugo Chavez, the Tyrant of Caracas. Whether it's of the left or right, or any other kind, I abhor tyranny, and Chavez has shown over the years that he is very much the tyrant, however much he may spin his authoritarianism as revolutionary populism.

I have written extensively on Chavez's tyranny in Venezuela -- see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here -- describing his devious methods of aquiring ever more centralized power as "salami tactics," that is, slice-by-slice. Here's how I put it back in September '07:

[I]t is clear that Hugo Chavez is using salami tactics in his drive to establish so-called "Bolivarean" socialism -- that is, his own national-socialist autocratic rule -- in that country... Sometimes revolution can be achieved without sudden, dramatic bloodletting. There are a number of different prongs to Chavez's continuing revolution, a number of slices. They may be examined individually, but they are best understood as variations of the same, as components of a single overarching plan. The nationalization of industry, the seizure of private property, repression of dissent and opposition, control of the media, one-party rule, rule by decree, and, soon, the removal of constitutional impediments to the permanent and perpetual rule of the leader himself.

The pattern is clear. One slice, then another, and another, and another, with no one slice so grave as to compel anyone to act (although there are courageous opponents of Chavez's tyranny in Venezuela, and there was a coup, if not one worthy of much admiration, in 2002). 

Chavez has a long history of seeking to repress, salami-slice-style, any and all dissent and opposition to his rule, and specifically of seeking to control the outlets of dissent and opposition, particularly private industry and the media. And he's at it again. As the BBC is reporting:

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has said his government is due to take control of a minority stake in the country's main anti-Chavez television channel, Globovision.

The government would then be entitled to appoint a member of the channel's board of directors, Mr Chavez said.

His government has been in conflict with Globovision for several years.

It accuses the broadcaster of supporting a failed coup attempt against Mr Chavez in 2002.

If the plan goes through, the Venezuelan government could be on the verge of becoming an important shareholder in a television company dedicated to criticising its policies. 

To be fair, there is much to dislike about some of Chavez's opponents, many of whom are not democrats but oligarchs who would likely move the country far to the right -- and, of course, most of Latin America has had a long and bloody history of right-wing politics.

But there is really no excuse for what Chavez is doing, even if what he is doing lacks the heavy-handedness of the common tyrant. He knows, I'm sure, that he can't just crack down on, and censor, opposition media. That would look bad and undermine whatever pseudo-democratic credibility he has. Instead, he's worming his way into the key opposition media outlet by buying into it. Once in place, he will seek to control it, or at least to do enough to undermine it as a viable and influential voice for the opposition.

In this case, the Chavez government recently took over two companies, including a bank, owned by Globovision co-founder Nelson Mezerhane. As the two companies together own 25.8% of Globovision, Chavez is claiming that the state (i.e., Chavez himself) now controls that much of Globovision and should be allowed to appoint a board member. See? Another slice. On its own, it's an egregious move but hardly one that will likely arouse much popular outrage -- indeed, Chavez's supporters and government-run media will celebrate it as yet another step in the right Bolivarean direction. After all, it's just a minority stake and all he seems to want is a single board member. What's so wrong with that?

Well, other than the fact that the state is taking over private industry, the move can't be taken on its own. It's part of a larger pattern, of a larger effort on Chavez's part to suppress his opposition and rule Venezuela with an authoritarian hand. And so if it's just 25.8% now, who's to say it won't eventually be 50.1%? And if it's just one board member now, who's to say Globovision won't eventually be fully under Chavez's control? And with that, a significant slice would have been made, all for the sake of the tyranny of Hugo Chavez, which is all that this is really about.

With such salami tactics, there is a tendency to ignore them, or to downplay them, to make light of them, and to fail to connect the dots. But take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Hugo Chavez is a tyrant who is actively seeking to acquire ever more control over his country and to remove any and all obstacles to his authoritarian rule. He certainly seems to be smart enough to go about it in a rather under-the-radar sort of way, and it's disturbing that so many on the left refuse to acknowledge what's going on and continue to give him the benefit of the doubt (if they doubt him at all), but, if you're paying attention, what he's doing is clear and should be of great concern, to say the least, to anyone who cares about liberty, democracy, and the welfare of the Venezuelan people.

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