Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Wonderful Hugo Chavez

Refusing to be Hugo’s voiceless proles

June 12, 2007, Providence Journal, Bridget Johnson

LOS ANGELES -- I NEVER CEASE to be entertained by G-8 rioters. Whenever the world’s movers and shakers gather to meet — government, banking, trade — it’s like the anarchist play date. Boys in the hoods and their best mates in black take to the streets to torch cars, smash windows, hurl Molotov cocktails and chuck the nearest available debris — for a good cause, we’re told.

The riot rousers came out to play as the Group of Eight industrialized nations that run everything prepared to meet in Germany last week. In days, dozens had been arrested and 30 police officers were seriously injured.

But there are protests of more importance happening south of the equator right now — ones that could define the course of a continent.

Anyone who values free speech and a free press can’t help but be awed by the thousands of Venezuelans pouring into that country’s streets in protest of the May 27 closure of Radio Caracas TV, which had drawn President Hugo Chávez’s ire for its opposition stances. Braving police water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas, the crowds included students, relatives of political prisoners, nuns, business professionals and others who have realized that Chávez’s heavy hand may clamp down on their educational options, religion, industries or loved ones next.

The official socialist programming that replaced RCTV’s telenovelas made many Venezuelans realize that they weren’t content to wind up as Chávez’s voiceless proletariat.

In response, Chávez told his scarlet-clad fan club to get out there and confront the anti-Chavista miscreants. Whereas the opposition demonstrators were from all walks of Venezuelan life, Chávez’s red-shirted marches have been the portrait of subjugation and conformity.

And whereas some international bodies such as the E.U. Parliament have woken up to Chávez’s free-speech crackdowns, notables such as Hugo’s new best friend Danny Glover have not. We know the yarn about what a humanitarian Chávez is: how he gives poor people discount heating oil and — in the face of evidence to the contrary — how he apparently protects free expression.

“The press is free to report, and express opinions, without government interference,” British Labour MP Colin Burgon wrote in The Guardian two days before RCTV was shuttered. “. . . No journalist has been imprisoned or punished for report or comment.”

Cough! How about the conviction of El Nuevo Pais columnist Julio Balza, sentenced to nearly three years in prison for calling then-Minister of Infrastructure Ramon Carrizalez “unable and inept” in a February 2006 column? Or the fine imposed recently on opposition newspaper Tal Cual for publishing a letter from a comedian that mocked how Chávez once said he consulted his 9-year-old daughter on some decisions?

In August 2006, journalist Jesus Flores Rojas, who had written about government corruption, was gunned down — and since police shot the accused killers, we’ll never know the whole story.

El Nacional columnist Marianella Salazar, who called for an investigation of Venezuela’s vice president, was prosecuted for slander. One mayor imposed a “news and publicity ban” on four media outlets in his town last November. Chávez has increased penalties for media organizations and toughened “insult laws.”

And in the wake of the RCTV protests, Chávez launched an offensive against the remaining opposition station, Globovision, and CNN, accusing them of destabilizing his government. “Unfortunately, there is no longer any doubt about his goals,” Reporters Without Borders wrote. “. . . Media that criticise the government will be snuffed out one by one until only the pro-government media are left.”

As every paranoid autocrat has his threshold, the day will also come when the opposition protests in Venezuela will face greater violence from the police or military — think about when China finally had it with the pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square. If the present course continues, the day will come when Venezuelans will not be able to stage opposition protests at all — just like in the land of Chávez’s mentor, Fidel Castro.

And despite the new Michael Moore glorification, Cuba is still — and always will be, so long as it’s under communist rule — a totalitarian regime where thousands brave the ocean in makeshift crafts just to escape and have a shot at freedom in the United States.

Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.


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At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chavez came over here and shot his mouth off while calling our president "the Devil", and it turns out that his own people have no use for him. At the time, CNN thought Hugo was great when he denigrated our president on US soil. I wonder what they think of him now? There will come a day when the poor unfortunate people under ruthless thugs and dictators like Chavez and Castro will rise up and get rid of this type of scum that is worse than a Cancer. These type of people are only concerned about themselves. They live big in their mansions, while their people starve in the streets! God will sort them out in the end. The "America haters" like Danny Glover, Rosie O'Donnell, and Michael Moore, need to go over there and live among these people and find out what it's really like to live under a dictator.


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