Venezuela’s Illiberal Advance

Chances that Venezuela starts functioning as a liberal democracy are unfortunately low. The executive and those who advocate for a Bolivarian revolution constantly threaten the rule of law, impartial justice, free elections and freedom of association, among other fundamental attributes.

Two recent events show further consolidation of an electoral authoritarian regime. First, just recently Hugo Chávez signed 26 laws that will not go through the National Assembly, Venezuela’s Congress. The president had the authority to draft and sign laws thanks to special powers granted by Congress earlier in 2007. The president’s legislative powers, according to congressman Mario Isea, aim at “improving people’s conditions”. The new laws, however, seem to be going in the opposite direction.

Among the laws signed by the president, the Ley de Seguridad y Soberanía Alimentaria (Food security and sovereignty law) further advances the failed food control policy that has resulted in shortages in basic foods, bankruptcy and closure of agro-industrial business. The Wall Street Journal reports that the new law grants the executive powers to nationalize any agricultural industry. In addition, the law actively promotes consumption and production of native goods, indirectly imposing restrictions on consumption. The law shows Chavez government intrusive role in both agricultural production, threatening with nationalization, and Venezuelan’s daily diet. Price controls and potential nationalizations are also a threat to businesses – an expression of freedom of association.

Second, further evidence of the advance of an electoral authoritarian regime and xxi century socialism is the impossibility to run for election. The president and those who embrace a Bolivarian revolution have used the state as a mean to close fronts against the opposition. More than 200 people have a ban for running for office at the regional level in the upcoming elections. An anti-corruption official imposed the ban without the defendants being able to have a defense. The more than 200 people were accused of corruption charges. Venezuela’s Supreme Justice Tribunal ratified the sanction.

It is legitimate to ban people to run for office if in the past they have been convicted of corruption charges. However, when there is no due process, as it seems to be the Venezuelan case, the anti-corruption office action is a mechanism to limit rights and freedoms, thus consolidating an illiberal democracy and an authoritarian state.

Are these measures, among others of the Bolivarian revolution, truly aiming at “improving people’s conditions”?  Is the government efficient enough to lead the economy and satisfy people’s demands?

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