Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The transformation of dictatorships

What is Hugo Chavez up to?

Today the Venezuelan parliament formally passed a bill that will give President Chavez the power to unilaterally decree laws without any sort of legislative approval. The bill, which was unironically titled the "enabling act," signals the effective transformation of Venezuela from a one party-dominated ultra-populist pseudo democracy to some manner of outright autocracy. Chavez' move can be seen as particularly authoritarian precisely because it is so thoroughly unnecessary. It's not like he's had a hard time getting laws passed prior to this.The President's allies already hold every single seat in the legislature, and often approve his bills unanimously. All the opposition parties boycotted the last parliamentary election because they figured it would be crooked. This may have been the case, but they probably wouldn't have won anyway.

In the west, our perception of dictatorship is usually something inherently undesirable- something we can fight in a war or something citizens can flee to our countries from. But in reality, most dictatorships are usually quite popular at first, as they arise to resolve previously unresolvable domestic problems. Because they fix elections we assume that they couldn't win a mandate on their own, but this is not necessarily the case. It is only once dictators stay in power for too long and become bloated and sadistic under their own sense of unaccountability do their former backers begin to loose faith, and the public imagination begins to regard them as wicked. If someone had shot Hitler, Stalin, or Mao fairly early on in their careers there can be no doubt they'd be remembered in much fonder terms today.

It's a challenge, because the temptation is high to want to nip dictatorships "in the bud" before they have a chance to develop into something more sinister. Yet the bud phase is when they are strongest, with the most supporters most likely to put up the strongest fight.

Castro Brothers celebrate anniversary

Earlier in the day Senor Chavez met with Fidel Castro, a man who is presently in the "photographic proof is needed to confirm that he is still alive" phase of his dictatorial career.

Last month the CIA predicted that Castro would likely die within the next 30 days, but now that new photos have surfaced showing Chavez hanging out with a "visibly healthier" Fidel, US officials are now claiming that they "don't actually have any idea what the status of his health is." Castro is 80 years old right now. I remember because he's the same age as Queen Elizabeth- the two were only born three months apart.

Exactly six months ago today Fidel temporarily stepped aside as President of Cuba, allowing his younger brother, Raul (seen here) to act as president on his behalf. Along with being acting president, the younger Castro is also first vice president of the Council of State, first vice president of the of the Council of Ministers, second secretary of the Communist Party, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, and maximum general of the army. So he has his fingers in a lot of pies.

Christopher Hitchens said that General Raul's ascension to the presidency will more or less signal Cuba's transformation from a sexy revolutionary regime to a very unglamorous, run-of-the-mill Latin American junta state.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

It feels so strange... When Ariel Sharon fell so ill, every consultation with every doctor was reported in painstaking detail. Arafat died (by my count) on three different days, and I give up on trying to figure out what's happening with Castro!

I agree with you about dictatorships, by the way; first we want a strong leader, and then we realize that strong works both ways- against our enemies, and then against us.