THE BLOG
02/01/2007 12:04 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Water Runs Uphill: Top U.S. State Department Official for Latin America Defends Venezuela

By Mark Weisbrot, February 1, 2007

There has been an enormous uproar in the media here - that part of the media that covers Latin America - about the Venezuelan national legislature voting to authorize President Hugo Chavez to enact certain legislation by decree, for 18 months. It is being called an "enabling law," and the media, which has been writing about Venezuela being on the verge of a dictatorship for 8 years - and being completely wrong for 8 years - is now jumping on the chance to say aha! We were right all along. We knew he was a dictator.

Most readers won't get past all the denunciations in even this Associated Press article, but for those who do, look who is the lone source for the reality-based community:

But the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, Thomas Shannon, said the enabling law isn't anything new in Venezuela.

"It's something valid under the constitution," said Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters in Colombia. "As with any tool of democracy, it depends how it is used," he added. "At the end of the day, it's not a question for the United States or for other countries, but for Venezuela."

Note that Shannon refers to a "tool of democracy," making a point that almost all of the major media missed: even if you think that the executive shouldn't have this power, the democratically elected Congress gave the democratically elected president this power - quite voluntarily. Not like when our president, for example, claims the right to torture people or conduct warrantless wiretaps on its citizens in defiance of the law.

Shannon is really contradicting President Bush and the US State Department, I'm sure he is going to get in trouble for this statement. Look for him to say something completely opposite very soon, possibly even a retraction, under threat of losing his job.

And, for those who were wondering why there is so much fuss here about the enabling law (surely you didn't think they were concerned about democracy), the last paragraph of the article gives a big hint:

Chavez has said companies upgrading heavy oil in the Orinoco River basin British Petroleum PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Total SA and Statoil ASA must submit to state-controlled joint ventures. The new law enables Chavez to unilaterally "regulate" this transition if companies don't agree to the new framework within an unspecified "peremptory period."

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