By Tom Vogel is a Bloomberg columnist Few will emerge from Venezuela's crisis unmuddied as the c...
By Tom Vogel is a Bloomberg columnist
Few will emerge from Venezuela's crisis unmuddied as the country continues to founder. One thing is certain: whatever is left of democracy is under threat.
Sadly for Venezuelans, the frightening one-week sequence of a national strike, a bloodbath, a military coup, a dictatorial interim president, more rioting and the return of President Hugo Chavez is probably just the beginning.
Chavez, who led a bloody failed coup attempt in 1992, has catered to the military and a sizable portion of the poor while ignoring the rest of the country.
The military's support for Chavez is far from solid. One group of officers recently ousted him and claimed to have convinced him to resign. A couple of days later, another group of military men brought him back.
The civilians following businessman Pedro Carmona into an interim government were no innocents either. Carmona immediately began acting in a way that he and his followers had criticized for so long. Carmona ordered the closure of the National Assembly and the Supreme Court as well as the suspension of the constitution.
The US missed various opportunities to trumpet democracy. The first was when Chavez tried to block reports of a national strike by broadcasting government announcements. Under Venezuelan law, private channels must carry such announcements. Chavez attempted to suppress news reports by Force feeding the stations a garbage-bin of propaganda about how the strike was a failure. The stations responded by showing the propaganda on a split-screen with news of the strike in the other half.
The second missed opportunity happened the next day as Chavez tried the same trick when half a million protesters marched toward his presidential palace. Finally, Chavez just shut television transmissions down, an apparent violation of his own constitution. Now Chavez is back in the presidential palace and promising a more conciliatory approach to governing. Yet one of his first moves was to announce plans to prosecute Carmona for his role in the coup as other participants were harassed or arrested.
Chavez has said nothing about prosecuting those associated with his movement who shot protesters. The goon squads, identified in local press reports as being associated with Chavez's Bolivarian Circles, appear to have taken an even bigger role in the country now that Chavez is back.
They made the rounds of some of the private television stations in Caracas over the weekend to threaten them for their coverage of the protests.
Government-sponsored vigilantes are nothing new in the region. Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega used goons. Chavez appears to be doing the same.
The Venezuelan broadcast media also blew it. They covered the bloody protests against the Chavez government but not so much the violent demonstrations against Carmona's interim government on Saturday.
Did anyone do anything good over the last week in Venezuela? The hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who peacefully protested certainly did.
The problem is that the people running the show now aren't protesters and workers with banners, legislators with debates or judges with laws but men with guns.
Chavez promising more conciliatory approach.
Success of peaceful process.
Chavez has catered for the poor.
Democracy under threat.
US has failed to intervene.
Military's support of Chavez is not solid.
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