Venezuela will hold National Assembly elections on September 26 and it represents the next best chance to slow totalitarianism's advance. For this reason, it is imperative for the international community, including the UN and the Organization of American States, to insist on fully independent election monitoring.
Hugo Chavez's illegal appropriation of Globovision marked the end of independent media in Venezuela. That criminal act, combined with intimidating of the judiciary (most prominently the jailing of independent judges like Maria Lourdes Afiuni, who held his government to the rule of law), adds to the long list of reasons why the world must act.
Clearly, an independent legislature is the last barrier to complete dictatorial rule.
Chavez has been busy issuing decrees to arbitrarily "censor any information, facts or circumstance that it decides should be confidential" according to Human Rights Watch. It is no wonder then, that the Chavez government has also called on an investigation into human rights organizations that are alleged to receive funding from the United States.
In addition to intimidating the judiciary and taking over all independent media, Chavez is now imposing arbitrary censorship on public communication, including new media platforms, where the effectiveness and instantaneous reach has been witnessed with promise in places like Iran.
Media controlled. Judiciary intimidated. Dissent stymied. All that is left to challenge Chavez is an independent legislature.
This may seem like another story of a strong man ravaging his own nation with no ramifications for his neighboring countries, the region or the rest of the world. But that is not the case.
The Venezuelan economy languishes in recession far behind the recoveries of similar economies and warehouses of rotting food are being discovered. But instead of focusing on the problems of he purports to champion, Chavez has been sewing the seeds of unrest and un-doing hard fought democratic advances at the expense of the people of Venezuela. To see how these pieces fit together and what risk they pose, one need look no further than Nicaragua.
Daniel Ortega is busy trying to stack his own national assembly in Nicaragua during their December election in order to change the constitution to allow him to run for another term. Chavez subsidizes Ortega, by selling crude oil from Venezuela at half its market rate. Mr. Ortega is allowed to re-sell it on the world market and pocket the difference. To buy off foes and friends alike, Daniel Ortega has this $1 billion off-the-books (and therefore impossible to account for) aid from Venezuela.
I recently returned from Honduras with Patricia Andrade of Venezuela Awareness. Honduras is the perfect example of why an independent legislature and independent judiciary are so important to balance the totalitarian impulses of these so-called revolutionaries. In 2009 the supreme court of Honduras ruled that the then-President Manuel Zelaya had acted in violation of the constitution when he attempted to hold an illegal referendum that would allow him to stay in power and ordered his removal from office. In accordance with the rule of law, the head of the Honduran congress, the next in line of succession ascended to the presidency.
In the subsequent year, Honduras has been busy working with a new brand of political refugee -- those forced out of not only Venezuela, but Chavez's client states like Ecuador, Nicaragua, Chile, Cuba and Argentina -- for daring to oppose the governments that purport to represent the people. These are, of course, the Venezuelan client states, living off the money funneled to them and away from the Venezuelan people themselves, though it is derived from their hard work and natural resources.
I met with Honduran Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi and the National Commissioner of Human Rights, Dr. Ramon Custodio Lopez. They are spending their time finding homes in exile for these political refugees from what is being sold to the outside world as democracy.
Of course, the United States learned two centuries ago that it is necessary for the division of power within a government. The only way to insure this in Venezuela is to have fair and open elections for the National Assembly. However, Chavez had disallowed truly independent observers, vetoing observers based on their countries of origin -- including Chile, Columbia, Peru, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Canada, Israel, Spain, Poland and the USA.
Those he will allow are escorted to hand-picked polling places by armed military personnel. They are not allowed to veer off the chosen route or itinerary. Most importantly, no observers are allowed to be present at the final tally.
I hold little hope that a fair and free election is possible in Venezuela, but by challenging Chavez to open up what is supposed to be a transparent process, we can help shine a light on the true nature of the charade being perpetrated on the outside world and on the Venezuelan people who are truly suffering from violence brought on by poverty, neglect and incompetence of the Chavez government.