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Of patriots and tyrants

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Wisdom often comes from the most unlikely of sources. Extremist and semi-mad preacher Pat Roberston quite recently said something that made sense: remove Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. While his call for assassination was certainly too extreme, he was correct to suggest that it is time that America takes more affirmative steps for regime change in Venezuela.

Hugo Chavez is a brutal dictator and demagogue who has manipulated a segment of the Venezuelan people in a mad attempt to satiate his own base lust for power. There is no shame, no illegality, no outrage he will not commit to remain in control.

The Venezuelan constitution, courts and military have both been changed to cement his rule. November, 2000 saw Chavez be so bold as to pass a measure through his freshly-stacked legislature allowing him to rule by personal fiat for an entire year. Protected by his also-reconfigured kangaroo courts, Chavez was free to chip away at the block of Venezuelan democracy. Are these the actions of a president or a tyrant?

The fact that Chavez has won several elections and referendums does not decrease the egregious nature of his crimes against liberty. Democracies are not made of elections, but of freedom and self-government. The fact that a violent and disgruntled portion of the electorate is willing to vote away their freedoms and God-given rights, while at the same time using violent and illegal measures to suppress the opposition, only makes the situation in Venezuela more sad.

Chavez’s victories at the polls have also been marred by reports of electoral fraud. Just this last Sunday, protesters of electoral fraud and supporters of reforming the chavista-dominated National Electoral Commission were marching peacefully when supporters of the government assaulted them with rocks and tear gas. This sort of violence is now tragically not an uncommon occurrence in Venezuela. My dear friend from Venezuela had two of his friends abducted at a protest and beaten in a van for three hours by the National Guard. Hugo Chavez has done nothing to restrain his dogs and has often condoned and supported the use of violence as a means of political oppression.

Hugo Chavez’s infatuation with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and his praise for socialistic measures are the most disturbing and foreboding signs for what the future might deliver. He is desperately clinging to a failed, moribund philosophy that has never succeeded anywhere save academia. Chavez is now in a consolidated position to follow step with his hero Fidel and move to nationalize private industry and towards a communist economy. This would not only crush the Venezuelan economy, but would lead to widespread destabilization in the region. Faced with a self-inflicted economic collapse, Chavez would have little choice but to blame the United States.

To overshadow the domestic squalor presiding, he would likely try utilizing his oil wealth to spread his “revolution.” Venezuela has indeed caused much harm to the region already and helped to prop up Cuba’s failing economy with cheap oil. Securing Venezuela would indeed ensure the security of a key American oil supplier.

Chavez has sympathized with leftist rebels in Colombia and given them free reign to operate along his border. This only further complicates the drug war in Colombia and ultimately America. He recently dealt the drug war another blow when he ejected the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency from his country. The danger posed by Hugo Chavez is clear; the solution is not. Assassination is messy and carries the danger of causing much blood as the factions struggle for revenge and power. It would be ideal to remove Chavez without the shedding of blood, yet we do not live in an ideal world and must be willing to make decisions based upon realist considerations. However, it should not be disregarded as an option if the alternative involves more blood and suffering.

An armed insurrection within Venezuela is another very undesirable, yet entirely possible alternative. The United States should begin taking steps to strengthen the opposition in Venezuela (with arms if necessary) and try to convince some of the generals to desert Chavez. If the United States should commit air support and possibly a division of Marines, if need be, the war would be ended swiftly and the opposition could begin the process of rebuilding democracy in Venezuela. The best solution would be the peaceful one whereby Chavez loses the next presidential election. It is the most expedient course for the United States to funnel vast sums of money to the opposition candidate to ensure they get as strong a running as possible. For the interests of peace, pray this last option works. Yet as Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Ian Ronderos is a senior majoring in the Classics with a supplementary major in Ancient Greek and Roman Civilizations. He is the current president emeritus and chair of the education committee for the Notre Dame College Republicans. He can be contacted at irondero@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.