NOTE: This article was first posted at CNSNews.com on May 30.
(by Toby Westerman, CNSNews.com) – Facing one of its most serious crises, the government of Venezuela continues to use tear gas and rubber bullets against tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets of Caracas.
President Hugo Chavez sent troops into the streets of his nation’s capital to quell protests over the closure of Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), one of the last major sources of media opposition to his government.
The government accuses RCTV of violating broadcasting regulations, while critics say Chavez simply wants to silence a vocal opponent of the regime. Chavez on Wednesday turned his sights on another, smaller opposition news channel, Globovision, calling it an enemy of the state and accusing it of misreporting the RCTV story.
With the closure of RCTV, Chavez directly or indirectly controls almost all major sources of information in Venezuela, leaving many in that country fearing that he is following in the footsteps of his mentor and close friend, Fidel Castro, who has ruled Cuba since 1959.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Chavez critic, issued a statement voicing concern about the latest developments.
Mack said the suppression of RCTV placed the people of Venezuela “just a heartbeat away from living under a complete and total dictatorship.” The State Department and nations around the world also expressed dismay.
Chavez’s “21st century socialism” demands adherence by more than just the media, however. One of his key goals is the transformation of education from a “capitalist” to “socialist” form of instruction.
Two weeks ago, as the government moved to take RCTV off the air, Education Minister Adan Chavez – the president’s brother – declared that education has now been “transformed” from a “colonial model” to one “assuring the consolidation of the Socialist Republic of Venezuela,” the widely read El Universal daily reported.
All that is regarded as “capitalista” – capitalist – has been discarded or denounced. Adan Chavez said capitalism propagates “excessive consumerism, strife and enslavement.”
Chavez’s critics have also condemned what they term the “politicization” of the armed forces. The government requires military personnel to take an oath to “the fatherland, socialism, or death,” El Universal quoted the leader of a prominent anti-Chavez group as saying.
Cesar Perez Vivas, leader of the Parliamentary Democracy Forum, said the government was violating the country’s constitution by demanding a political oath from members of the military.
In the early years of Chavez’s tenure, the military was a major source of opposition to Chavez and his policies, and some elements in the armed forces were active in a short-lived revolt against Chavez in 2002.
Critics say the oath suggests that the military, like the education system, is being “transformed.”
The United States is directly impacted by the actions of Chavez. Venezuela is the fifth largest producer of oil in the world, and one of America’s major suppliers. Analysts say Chavez is also seeking to export his ideas across Latin America and counts the presidents of Ecuador and Bolivia as close allies.
Ian Vasquez, Director for Global Economic Liberty at the Cato Institute, said Wednesday that while he did not know whether the current demonstrations would spread, he was pessimistic about the ability of the opposition to affect Chavez’s actions.
Although what Chavez has done was “highly unpopular,” Vasquez said, dissent would “make little difference in changing Chavez’s policies.”
Vasquez said he saw “no light at the end of the tunnel” as Chavez has been able to concentrate almost total power in his hands.
Democracy has “ceased to exist” in Venezuela, and the military, once a center of opposition, is now “completely under the control” of Chavez and his supporters, he argued.
Eric Watnik, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, described the protestors as “supporters of free expression” and pointed to an official State Department statement released on Tuesday.
Watnik said he could not comment on the situation in the Venezuelan military or on the possible impact on gas prices of the crisis.
Tuesday’s statement called on the Venezuelan government to abide by its international commitments and reverse its policies. “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and it’s an essential element of democracy anywhere in the world,” it said.
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1. What type of government has Venezuela had for the past 40 years?
2. Why are tens of thousands of Venezuelans demonstraing in Caracas?
3. How has President Chavez responded to the protests?
4. What is the problem with Mr. Chavez controlling almost all major sources of information in Venezuela?
5. How is President Chavez attempting to take control of education and the military?
6. Describe one way Hugo Chavez’s actions will impact the U.S.
7. Adan Chavez, Education Minister and Hugo Chavez’s brother said that caitalizm propogates “excessive consumerism, strife and enslavement.” Why would those of us who know capitalism is the best system say he is wrong? (scroll to the bottom of this page for an answer).
For most of the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was ruled by generally benevolent military strongmen, who promoted the oil industry and allowed for some social reforms. Democratically elected governments have [ruled] since 1959. Hugo CHAVEZ, president since 1999, has promoted a controversial policy of “democratic socialism,” which purports to alleviate social ills while at the same time attacking globalization and undermining regional stability. (From the CIA World FactBook.)
For further background information on Venezuela, go to the CIA World FactBook.
For a map of Venezuela, go to WorldAtlas.com.
Answer to Queston #7: “[With capitalism], the means of production and distribution are owned by individuals: private ownership and free enterprise…lead to more efficiency, lower prices, better products and rising prosperity.” (excerpt from Internal Debate Education Association’s Capitalism vs Socialism topic)
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