Sunday, June 3, 2007

Tread carefully, Mr Chavez.

Tread carefully, Mr Chavez.
Trinidad & Tobago Express Editorial
Friday, June 1st 2007
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's democratic credentials are wearing increasingly thin. In fact even those who support his genuine attempts to help Venezuela's majority poor in what, after all, is one of the biggest oil-producing countries in the world, must have been taken aback by his autocratic decision to close down Radio Caracas Television.

Mr Chavez contends that what he calls "a sovereign, legitimate decision in which there is no argument'' was made because the station, among other things, is aligned to those who oppose him - which, in fact it is. But that's the point in that there is no democracy without contending views and a really democratic leader has to accept this even to the point of encouraging if not entrenched dissent then, at least, differing public points of view.

But Mr Chavez does not intend to stop there. He has since threatened to close down the remaining opposition-sided channel, Globovision, which he charges has encouraged attempts on his life. He has also gone on to warn radio stations that they should not be inciting violence by "manipulating feelings'' among the populace.

We are certain that there are laws in Venezuela that prohibit encouragement to violence and it is certainly within the Venezuelan president's rights - obligations even - to invoke all the legal
processes at his command to deal with any such naked transgressions. But one has to be wary, even fearful, of leaders who threaten drastic suppression of free speech based on such abstractions as the manipulation of feelings.

Power, as we continue to see, can be a corrupting influence and absolute power can, as we have always heard, corrupt absolutely. In this context it is instructive that Mr Chavez has been legitimised by landslide victories in his country's polls. That can lead any head of government, so inclined, to believe that he has been given licence to do whatever he perceives to be in his or the country's interests assuming, that is, that he is capable of making any clinical distinction between the two.

But while election victories do give the winner a mandate, that mandate cannot be taken as a carte blanche endorsement of any presidential whim, with wiser leaders recognising the need for
restraint even when the endorsement is widespread and convincing.
Perhaps, more than ever, even then.

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