Sunday, August 15, 2004

Venezuela's Referendum

Investment manager Bernard Aronson writes in the New York Times:

"Like former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Mr. Chávez represents a new breed of Latin autocrat - a leader who is legitimately elected but then uses his office to undermine democratic checks and balances and intimidate political opponents.

Two months ago, for example, the Chávez-controlled National Assembly added 11 justices to the Supreme Court, and changed the requirement for confirmation from two-thirds of legislators to a simple majority, guaranteeing Mr. Chávez control of the judiciary. As a result, should Mr. Chávez lose the referendum, the court is likely to ratify his stated intention to run for president in the election to fill his vacancy, even though a disinterested reading of the Venezuelan Constitution suggests that he would be ineligible...

A new agenda is needed that offers upward mobility and political empowerment to the hemisphere's poor. This would require not only a deepening of structural economic reforms and fiscal discipline, but a new focus on giving the poor title to their land, credits for microenterprise, easing the transition for small enterprises from the informal to the formal economy, cracking down on tax evasion and official corruption, and ending the subsidization of higher education at the expense of primary and secondary schooling.

Sadly, the hemisphere's political leaders, north and south, have not found a language of political and economic reform that speaks to the region's impoverished masses - particularly the indigenous populations - to counteract the siren song of populism and demagoguery. Nor have they developed the political tools or the will to confront the slow strangulation of democratic liberties by elected leaders such as is now under way in Venezuela. If they don't do so soon, expect more leaders like Hugo Chávez: men who campaign to consolidate their power and inveigh against the oligarchs while their people descend deeper into poverty."

Go to full article.


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