Democracy in Venezuela

The Carter Center hired you to write a report on the state of democracy in Venezuela. The main theme of your report is: Is President Hugo Chavez weakening or strengthening democracy in Venezuela? Please describe how Chavez has changed the political system of Venezuela…………

 

Introduction

Many are citizen in Venezuela wonder why there is no solid opposition party in the country. What is more perplexing is that there is a wider section of the society which advocates for the replacement of the elected Government. Very few citizens in Venezuela imagined of the depth of the societal transformation that Hugo Chavez and his political movement would bring to the country upon his victory in the presidential election in 1998.Chavez launched an aspiring project Bolivian Revolution which involved the re-founding of the Venezuelan republic. The question of the type of democracy to exist or not in Venezuela is not a mere abstract or theoretical matter but it perhaps brings out the most important social and political dynamics in Venezuela. Rising debates on the institutions and principles of Venezuelan democracy began upon the arrival of President Hugo Chavez to power. A lot has changed and since he was sworn in as president.

The political system has been compromised while amendments have been made without prior consent of the Governing Authority. Hugo was able to win his seat in 1998 after he attacked some of the key principles and institutions of representative democracy. He later on formulated a constitutional Assembly to draw a new constitution. In the light of the new constitution, the Bolivian Republic of Venezuela was known as a “democratic, participatory and protagonist society.” however many critics and observers of Venezuelan politics have questioned the democratic nature of Hugo’s regime. For some Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution have caused more harm than good to the democracy of Venezuela. His eight years under leadership have been symbolized by a drastic disregard for the rule of laws, breakdown of party system and weakening of government institutions.

This paper will explore on how President Chavez leadership has changed the political system of Venezuela with regards to its political parties, division of powers among branches and institutions and restrictions to liberties. Later on it will explore on how these changes impact on Venezuelan democracy. According to an NGO Human Rights Watch (2012) it opposed policies enacted by the Government of Venezuela to suppress the judiciary power and the independent media as a means of silencing the opposition. This move made the Venezuelan media to be “vulnerable” and the judicial authorities to be “supportive” to the interests of the Venezuelan Government. Enforcing laws and regulation was the key measure of destruction that Hugo Chavez’s administration imposed as a way of silencing the media. The Venezuelan Government has been accused of undermining the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression and freedom of association. Hugo Chavez has filled the judicial system with his supporters making it hard for opposition leaders to rally against him.  This move has weakened most Government institutions and has further violated the constitution.

Cases of violence and crime have been prevalent and rampant in Venezuela yet very few people are convicted or prosecuted as the law enforced seems unwilling to tackle crime cases and brutality effectively. Security agents participate in frequent extra judicial killings and justice for such acts of human right crimes remains untouched. Extrajudicial killings still remains a closed case with security agents going under cover for crimes committed. There seems to be no strict evaluation of performances of the police force and initiative that are geared towards non-abusive policing are yet to be enacted. Inmate violence rates are high making conditions of the prisons deplorable and unbearable for inmate. It has been estimated that in Latin America the most violent prisons are found in Venezuela. Armed gangs control prisons because of corruption, poorly trained guards, overcrowding, weak security and deteriorating infrastructure. However, the Government has remained silent about these issues and has failed to take imperative measures. In 2004, President Hugo Chavez and his legislative fanatics founded a political change over the Supreme Court by stacking it with supporters from the government and establishing initiatives that made it necessary to remove judicial policies from the court. Since then the court has given up its roles in checking on executive powers and has immensely failed in safeguarding fundamental rights engraved in the constitution. Judges were under threats of dismissal when they were found ruling against the government interests[1].

In December 2010, the outgoing National Assembly advocated for a law which granted Chavez the authority to legislate by Decree issues for 18 months. It was a vague law which allowed the president to consider penalties to be imposed on someone who commits a crime.[2]. In addition, the media industry has faced numerous oppositions and discriminations from the Venezuelan Government upon airing of views and comments from those opposing President Chavez. Measures have been taken by the Government to strengthen state’s powers to prevent free speech and enhancement of inducements fro government critics.[3]  The National Assembly extended the statute scope to cover for telecommunication and internet services enacting laws from the government to refute conversations to private outlets only if the information to be passed is convenient for the nations; interest or is on request by public demand and security.

By overtly criticizing media programming and tampering with the control of broadcasting frequencies the government has led to the underpinning of television and radio stations. These stations cannot air television programmes without thorough scrutiny of the National Assembly.[4]THE Government Broadcasting Authority CONATEL performed prime investigations against Globovision to incite it to air programmes that were not criticizing the government.  Failure to abide by its rules meant that the station would be liable for suspension and further detainment of broadcasters. The president of Globovision was detained and still under police investigations for alleged cases of false dissemination of information and airing of messages that offended the president. Due to the change in political systems media stations have faced numerous accounts of penalties and pending criminal cases against them for offending the government and the president.

Chavez’s government has continuously sought ways of discrediting defenders of the Human right groups.[5] Human right defenders would receive death threats and suspension from the country. It was considered treason whenever the defenders would receive funds from foreign donors. Chavez political party signed and authorized complaints with the office of the Attorney General and alleged that some local activists had participated in treason by accepting foreign donors’ funding.  According to the World Human Rights Report (2012) The National Assembly in December 2010 adopted laws for the defense of political sovereignty and National Self Determination which aimed at barricading NGOS that monitored public bodies’ performances that advocated against receivership of activist funds from donors. Human rights defenders are at risk whenever they are found conducting activities that are aimed at assisting the average Venezuelan in expressing his or her freedom. Those who are found violating or disregarding these laws are liable to face sanctions that range from criminal civil and administrative grounds.

Workers have been denied the freedom to choose their representatives in accordance to the required protocols because the National Electoral Council (CNE) which has the power to certify all union elections has violated international standards that guarantees workers these rights.  For decades Chavez’ Government has vowed to reform reasonable labor and electoral laws aimed at restricting  interference of the state in union elections but no actions has been taken.

Conclusion

With these facts in hand, I concur that “democracy”, in its meaning is accepted widely by an average person and is not the objectives of the opposition. The globalized version of democracy which only supports the goals of the elite in the society is greatly contemplated. Studies have shown that our political parties have excluded the average Venezuelan from participating in the governing authorities. Many governing authorities from outside countries have expressed concerns regarding the human rights state in Venezuela during a human rights council review forum.  Apparently, Venezuelan government accepted most of the recccomendations made but refuted crucial suggestions that centered at strengthening judicial independence, supporting the independent work of NGOs; siding with the Inter-American Court’s binding rulings and protecting free speech. From this perspective, Hugo Chavez is seen as a populist leader who has no regards whatsoever fro traditional political institutions and formulates links with the popular sectors. The current political system in Venezuela would be characterized best by populism and an arguably authoritarian style of leadership of President Hugo Chavez

Work cited

Canache, Damarys. Urban Poor and the Political Order. In Jennifer L. McCoy and David J. Myers. The Unraveling of Representative Democracy in Venezuela. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press. (2004).Print.

Cedeño, Jeffrey. Venezuela in the Twenty-first Century: “New Men, New Ideals, New Procedures.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies. 15: 93-103.(2006).Print.

Coppedge, Michael. Strong Parties and Lame Ducks: Presidential Patriarchy and Factionalism in Venezuela. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.1994.Print.

Hawkins, Karl and David R. Hansen.  “Dependent Civil Society: The Círculos Bolivarianos in Venezuela.” Latin American Research Review 41:103-132.2006.Print.

Levine, Daniel. Conflict and Political Change in Venezuela. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.1973.Print.

Romero, Simon. Rearranging the Deck chairs on the Titanic: the agony of Democracy in Venezuela. Bolfvar University press. 1997. Print.

Human Rights Watch calls for judicial independence in Venezuela. World Report. Web. Jan 23, 2012.


[1] In December 2009 Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni was detained on the day she authorized the conditional release of Eligio Cedeno, a banker accused of corruption. Afiuni was following a recommendation by  the

Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions given that Cedeno had been in Pretrial detention for almost three years although Venezuelan law prescribes a two-year limit.

[2] World human rights report stated that the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this decree, which criminalized several banking practices arguing that economic crimes are “crimes against humanity” and could not be decriminalized.

[3] Laws contributing to a climate of self-censorship include the 2005 amendments to the criminal code extending the scope of desacato laws that criminalize disrespect of high Government officials and a broadcasting statue allowing arbitrary suspension of channels for the vaguely defined offense of “incitement”

[4]  In 2009 the Government Broadcasting Authority CONATEL closed 32 radio stations and reported that over 200 others were under review without providing a list of the stations being investigated. Several stations have since limited their critical programming. In November 2011 CONATE suspended several radio stations while it investigated them but no additional stations had been closed at this writing.

[5] Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami accused Humberto Prado of the Venezuelan Observatory of Prisons of “destabilizing the prison system” and having been “an accomplice in the massacre of inmates” in the past.

 

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