Chavez's Red Terror on Hold
By: Humberto Fontova
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, June 12, 2008
Last week Hugo Chavez - the third largest oil vendor to the U.S. - took his aping of Castro's regime to a frightening new level by decreeing the The National Intelligence and Counter-intelligence Law. Venezuela's two traditional intelligence services were to be abolished and replaced by one “General Intelligence Office” staffed strictly with Chavez henchmen.
More ominously, this “law” essentially abolished the government's separation of powers. Judges and prosecutors were to be required to co-operate with the newly-decreed secret police.
Along with all Venezuelan judges and prosecutors who would have been forced into collusion with the Chavez regime, all Venezuelan citizens would have been equally "empowered." Proposed “Community Councils,” that seemed to mimic Cuba's neighborhood snitch groups known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), would provide the framework for this “co-operation.” According to the new decree, any Venezuelan found to be reneging on his or her “co-operation” could land in jail for six years.
Venezuelans immediately recognized the implications. Human Rights Watch official, José Miguel Vivanco, cut to the heart of the issue: “Here you have the president legislating by decree that the country’s judges must serve as spies for the government. This is a government that simply doesn't believe in the separation of powers.”
“Any suspect’s right to defense can be violated, and that’s unacceptable,” said Carlos Correa, of Venezuela's human rights group Provea.
The prompt uproar led Chavez to rescind the decree this past Sunday, mere days after announcing it. “Where we made mistakes we must accept that and not defend the indefensible,” Chávez said at a campaign rally for his Socialist party's mayoral candidates.
“Easy does it,” Chavez may have been counseled by well-wishers, perhaps even by some of the 40,000 Castro-Cubans who infest Venezuela and who would hate for anything to jeopardize Chavez' rule and thus those 100,000 barrels of oil Chavez sends to Cuba daily. Any Chavez replacement could wake up one fine morning and suddenly demand bona-fide payment for that oil! And at today's prices! Acting on their advice or not, Chavez shucked (or perhaps merely shelved) the totalitarian decree.
The essential distinction between an authoritarian regime and a totalitarian regime lies in the nature of its judicial system. The former's judiciary, though often corruptible and incompetent, remains independent of outright regime control. The latter's is necessarily staffed by regime apparatchiks, as Chavez tried to decree.
For instance, South Africa's apartheid regime was no model of liberty. But even its most violent enemies enjoyed a bona-fide day in court under a judge who was not beholden to a dictator for his job (or his life.) When Nelson Mandela was convicted of “193 counts of terrorism committed between 1961 and 1963, including the preparation, manufacture and use of explosives, including 210,000 hand grenades, 48,000 anti-personnel mines, 1,500 time devices, 144 tons of ammonium nitrate," his trial had observers from around the free world.
"The trial has been properly conducted," wrote Anthony Sampson, correspondent for the liberal London Observer. "The judge, Mr. Justice Quartus de Wet, has been scrupulously fair." Sampson admitted this although his own sympathies veered strongly towards Mandela. (Indeed, Sampson went on to write Nelson Mandela's authorized biography.)
In sharp contrast, when Ruby Hart Phillips, the Havana correspondent for the Castrophile New York Times, attended a mass-trial of accused Castro-regime enemies, she gaped in horror. "The defense attorney made absolutely no defense, instead he apologized to the court for defending the prisoners," she wrote in February 1959. "The whole procedure was sickening." The defendants were all murdered by firing squad the following dawn.
Castro's chief prosecutor/hangman, Che Guevara, had established the rules very succinctly: "Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. We execute from revolutionary conviction."
Just in December, Venezuela's voters had defeated Chavez's (electoral) bid for more stealth Stalinism. Last week's "decree" looked like a blatant end run around an increasingly suspicious and restive electorate, who again seem to have prevailed.
Snitching is essential to totalitarian regimes. Both Stalin's and Castro's
Gulags were filled primarily by acting on tips from snitches. Such snitching has a snowball effect. The very fact that you're snitching gives some people a (usually false) sense of protection from regime police because they're assisting them. Then as more and more people get rounded up, more and more people feel threatened, so more and more of them snitch--more fear, more arrests; neighbor snitches against neighbor, cousin against cousin, even sons and daughters against parents.
Recall the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. “Is he a pod, too?...Can we trust him?..should we hush-up? Run? Hide?” Some say the 1956 movie was an allegorical treatment of a Communist takeover. Please excuse the apparent flippancy, but this writer is not the only eye-witness to such a takeover who has noted the chilling allegory.
In the mid-1990's, the Catholic Human Rights group Pax Christi, headquartered in Belgium, visited Cuba and secretly conducted a study on the status of the CDR's that Chavez seemed to want replicated in Venezuela.
“Fear is the basic instrument of (Cuban) political control,” concludes the
study. "There is one CDR for every 140 Cubans. The information at the State Security’s disposal can be used to threaten and intimidate anybody. There is no place to escape the tentacles of the State. Most ordinary Cubans reported that they remained intensely wary of CDR surveillance, even while conversing in their own homes.”
These CDRs keep a file on every person in their beat (usually 2 city blocks in the cities) where they list all of the comings and goings, personal contacts, etc., in the hopes of detecting any revolutionary backsliding, which can be anything from a particularly snarky comment on a regime honcho or policy to playing hooky from the latest anti-imperialist rally in the Plaza de la Revolucion.
The CDRs also supervise the issuing of the monthly food ration cards to all Castro's subjects. “Food is a weapon" famously declared Stalin's foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov.
With a little imagination almost everyone can visualize the Communist snitch-and-survive or snitch-and-reward process. At work, we've all seen that insufferable brownnoser who hopes to mitigate or camouflage his incompetence or laziness by sucking up to the boss. We've all seen that gossipy little backstabber, that busybody shrew get promoted over their betters. Somehow after every flush of "downsizing" many of these Eddie Haskells and Mrs Kravitzes keep bobbing back to the surface.
To some extent this is human/corporate nature. All organizations favor "team players." In the private sector these kinks are eventually straightened and the brownnosing incompetents axed. Either that, or the company goes under. There are stockholders and customers to keep happy.
But under Communism this swinishness is the very essence of the system. There is only a Maximum Leader to keep happy.
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