Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Is Ollanta Humala the New Autocrat Apprentice?

Venezuela's Autocrat, Ollanta Humala and Nadine Heredia
Opinion: Is Ollanta Humala the New Autocrat Apprentice?
By Carlos E. Ponce

Published July 20, 2011| Fox News Latino

Though Latin America has changed from a continent once plagued by violent dictatorships and a seemingly unending series of military coups, the region is still not democratic. The dictatorship in Cuba remains a shame for the region while dictatorship has been replaced by electoral authoritarianism whereby the “military boot” has been replaced by the “electoral boot.” Governments might be popularly elected, but that does not mean they are properly liberal and democratic.

Latin America has changed in the past 20 years. Whereas many countries have reached levels of democratic stability rivaling European countries, others continue to lag behind. Economic stability has come to Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Peru and Argentina, and after a long period of unrest, even El Salvador is emerging as a democratic and economic success story. Yet Venezuela and Nicaragua are increasingly autocratic countries while Bolivia and Ecuador are drifting that way.  

There are two realities in Latin America—one consisting of countries that have forged a forward-looking view and others who are still tied to a past defined by a dangerous mixture of ideological visions, fake revolutions, and inescapable violence.

A democratic Latin America is also not a question of left and right. Common to all the leftist successes in the region is that they have broken free of this dangerous second reality. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has carried on former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s respect for the rule of law and institutions. Unlike Castro’s regime in Cuba, Rousseff left is pursuing a social democratic agenda consistent with liberal democratic norms.  This is also true for President Funes in El Salvador. There are plenty of other examples as well from former presidents:  Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, Uruguay’s Tabare Vazquez, and of course, Brazil’s Lula. Some center-right presidents have also demonstrated respect for the rule of law, liberty, and democracy as key elements for progress—for example, Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla, Chile’s Sebastian Pinera, and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos. In Mexico, even with the terrible crisis due to the drug related violence, we can see progress.

On July 28th the new president of Peru will enjoyed his presidential inauguration with a big question mark in his future. Peruvian president-elect Ollanta Humala faces a critical test. What reality will he embrace? Will he break with the authoritarian past and become a democrat or will he be a force for  the second reality—the Chávez-style electoral authoritarianism that has so greatly setback the region. Humala has said he wants to follow Brazil’s lead and time will tell if the new president can continue to grow Peru’s economy while also providing for a “social face.” He will always have the temptation and he can fail the test if he decides to take the road to Cuba.  Open economic systems are important but so also are social policies, human rights, democracy and liberty. Striking the right balance is not always easy, but it is doable, as evidenced not only by Brazil, but also El Salvador, Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Uruguay.

Humala already faces terrible critics from the right and from the left. Some “left-fundamentalists” has been critics of his negotiations with Toledo, his lack of attacks against the mining industry and the selection of non-left advisors and potential technocrats as ministries. These groups are ready to push the radical indigenous agenda, pressure for extreme government-base programs and fight against any type of market approach. Some of these groups, supported by Chavez, organized the fall of Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador because he didn’t followed the script.

The Americas doesn’t need heady ideology. What is needed is pragmatism. What is needed is sound policy and efficient administration. We need opportunities for all—stronger economies that eliminate rent-seeking and corruption, provide social services, and reduce the size of government while providing for a proper amount of regulation and social welfare. The continent needs to move beyond old conceptions of “left” and “right” and simply adopt democratic practices and policies that deliver. Further, democracies must evolve beyond elections to become fully participatory—systems in which decisions are actually made my people.

Regional leaders must continue to distance themselves from the tyrannies from Havana and Caracas, and this is the test before President Humala. He will have the opportunity to resist the temptation of the “love” and advisory from Cuba or Venezuela and show the world that he is committed to his 5 year presidential term, not a single day more, and he will not trick Peru supporting his wife for the continuation of this term.

He comes from the military and he has no government, business, academic or administrative background, so for him the democratic game will be really hard to play. Humala will try for sure to change the constitution in two years to seek for social changes (maybe reelection) and he will be also tempted to reduce the influence of other political parties, including Toledo’s, in his administration. He will have the inclination, as Alberto Fujimori did, to instigate a confrontation with the Parliament to gain control. He will need the strength to fight against the temptation and the inclinations and rule as a democrat. It is indeed a major dilemma for Ollanta, fall in the temptation of power or be the president that Peru needs and rule for all the Peruvians.

Peru requires an ongoing negotiation of the exercise of power, and this is where Humala will prove whether he is a democrat. It is also up to Peruvian civil society, which should pressure Humala not to abuse his power or to copy the bad examples from Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua and unduly extend his term in office.

Civil society will be a key factor in controlling Humala’s behavior, but it is also time to motivate youth movements to participate in politics and in civil society organizations. Youth will continue to be a countering force in Venezuela and other Alba Countries. Young people are also a critical force in countries on the fence between the two realities, and they will be important to keeping Peru free and democratic and force Humala to keep his promises of a true democratic ruling. Youth movements can become a force for positive change—a voice to hold Humala to his promise that he wants more freedom and democracy, not less.

Given that Peru has experienced exponential growth and a level of economic stability previously unknown to the country, the opportunities for Humala are endless. Humala will also have the opportunity to manage a small but important oil and gas industry.  Plus, Peruvians want democracy. Economic success under democratic rule has strengthened support for democratic values among Peruvians. If Humala decides to change the constitution or to extend his term limits or authority, we will see a major confrontation in Peru and it will be his fault to generate a social confrontation and a crisis in a peaceful country.

One of the advantages of the latest election is that no single party obtained a majority of the Congress and so Humala will have to co-govern with former president Alejandro Toledo and other democratic forces. For Toledo, this will be a major challenge to build a real political party and contribute his experience to building a more socially just Peru while at the same time helping to prevent Humala from becoming Chavez’s puppet.  

The Peruvian elected president had a meeting with President Barack Obama and promised to respect free trade, now he will have the challenge to fulfill his words. But his actions distanced himself of such promises when he also visited the long lasting tyranny of the region. When Ollanta Humala made a suppressive trip to Habana to meet Raul and Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez he is just mapping his way to a new autocracy in the Americas. He is supporting tyranny and autocracy in Cuba and Venezuela. He is just trying to play a game of power, but it is not a good game for an apprentice.
Humala is faced with the choice of deciding which Latin America Peru will fall into, the one of progress or the anachronistic one. Will Peru be like Brazil or will it be like Venezuela/Cuba? Will Peru be independent or will it fall victim to Chavez’s regional games—a mere puppet state of Caracas tyranny. His visit and support to the autocrats of Cuba and Venezuela shows lack of criteria and send a bad message to the ones that trust him and believe that he will be a democrat. He will try to change the Constitution and if he fails his wife, Nadine Heredia, will take the lead for the 2016 election to continue the new hegemony in power of the Humala’s clan.

It is time to support Peru, but not with a blank check. Observers should keep an eye open to authoritarian temptation in and leader’s appetites to seek unending presidential terms or to follow the example of Cristina and the late Nestor Kirchner of Argentina. His trip to Cuba is a strong message of the new times for Peru.

Same old Chavez

By Carlos E. Ponce

In the United States the government and the people celebrate independence with barbecue and fireworks. In France people celebrate with band music and political festivities. In most democratic countries where independence means freedom, celebrations occur and are regarded as opportunities to reflect on the virtues of their political systems.

However, in authoritarian countries like North Korea, Syria, Belarus, Cuba, and of course, Venezuela, independence celebrations are instead a chance for autocratic regimes to show their new toys. Regimes show how they wasted millions on weaponry to defend their countries against foreign intervention. Instead of health and education, these regimes spend their money on means to consolidate their own power and defend against often imagined schemes to ouster their government. Some countries celebrate with fireworks while others do so with tanks and repression.

Venezuelans celebrated 200 years of independence under Chavez tyranny and Cuban control. Hugo Chavez was so proud of his Russian purchased weapons, which he tweeted about with great joy—like a kid playing war games. Even though it is impossible for me as a democrat and a human being to rejoice at someone’s health problems, what we saw in Venezuela last week was the same old Chavez but under recovery.   Even with cancer Chavez remained the same cruel and despotic autocrat. During his almost three weeks in Cuba, Chavez still managed to keep up the repression.  When he arrived in Venezuela the police forces repressed a group of youth activists and the president’s “followers” threw rocks at one of the main opposition figures in the National Assembly and some students invited to the TV program “La Hojilla” (favorite and supported by Chavez) in the Government TV channel (VTV) were beaten until the bodyguards of the conductor of the program, Mario Silva, and the SEBIN (Government Police forces) were tired, the kids ended in the hospital. Chavez’s judiciary showed no sympathy toward political prisoners also facing health problems such as former judge Maria Lourdes Alfiuni.  It is the same bad government of the same autocrat.

Though Chavez amended the Constitution to suit his own interests, consolidating his power over the country, the leader does not know if he will last six months, let alone the 20 years he could still rule under the constitutional changes. He will try to stay in power until his death and he will do whatever is in his hand to do that. But Chavez has been always been driven by power. The president has been controlling institutions, repressing activists and opposition figures, and using his corrupt authoritarian base to remain in power whatever the costs to the country.

President Chavez has the ability to turn all the bad situations to his favor. He was a mediocre military officer who took advantage of the failures in the institution to rise to power.

A mediocre in the military decided to join the left tendencies and then he got a free ride and support from an inner logia in the army, a failed coup d’état "leader" who said the right words taking advantage of a mistake from former president carlos Andres Perez inner circle and turned him in a celebrity, failures of former president Rafael Caldera, blind political elite and the ambition of business sectors allowed him to win the presidency, major riots and public demonstrations on April 11, 2002, took him out of power and then Pedro Carmona’s coup d’état against the country and civil society and a failed “national” strike produced massive reactions which empowered Chavez and allowed him to return “victorious” and helped him to destroy any opposition allowing him to learn from his mistakes and rule for the following years , when he saw that he lost popularity he changed the electoral rules at the last minute so he kept control of the parliament; so he always wait until the right time to take advantage of any bad situation.

Chavez’s first two weeks in Cuba were the best opportunity for the supposed “external” and “internal” enemies to oust his regime. However, Chavez held his ironclad grip on power even from his hospital bed. Now that he is returned to Venezuela, Chavez is likely to take advantage of his health problem to curry sympathy, increasing his popularity with Venezuelans and the international community. He is manipulating his own health problem to gain more power.

After 12 years of intense micromanaging, his recovery from the operation and treatment will give an opportunity to rest and plan his next move. An invigorated Chavez will fight for his reelection while the opposition will be thinking that he is just a sick opponent.  They will remain fighting for an empty bottle instead of planning accordingly and joining forces against the leader.

As soon as the media attention shifts away from his illness he will change only the key elements of his cabinet to include his loyal inner circle in key positions. He extended the retirement date of his corrupt military commanders and he will appoint the vice president, among the most loyal followers and of course with a pro-Cuba orientation.  He will use his fight against cancer as an epic battle for consolidating his political control over Venezuela, a campaign to be played out as a great “soap opera” aimed to recover the love of his followers.

Chavez is a fundamental piece of the Castro regime’s efforts to maintain power. Chavez provides Cuba more than five million  regime provides more than 5,000 million dollars per year in direct subsidies, as well as several additional incentives, contracts, oil allowances, and payments. He is also a fundamental tool for other authoritarians in the region. The end of the Chavez era will be the end of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, the Castro Brothers in Cuba, and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Rafael Correa in Ecuador will stand alone as the only Latin American autocrat.

The bad news for Chavez is that he will not be here forever. He has an expiration date, measured in months or years—not in decades. Chavez’s revolution is self-centered, and when he leaves power, there is no one to replace him. Chavez’s political party consists of rent-seekers, criminals and groupies who will easily fracture once his party leaves power. There is no alternative leader to take up his revolution. There is no contingency plan. His international revolution is a mixture of low life autocrats like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and violent radical movements. His intellectual contribution is minimal, comprised only on old dogmas, quoted phrases, and fascism dressed-up to look like socialism. Noam Chomsky, his last intellectual supporter, has finally denounced Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

Perhaps Chavez will change, but I doubt it. History has shown that when authoritarian leaders get sick their repressive tendencies increase. They become more obsessed with power and less willing to share it. This was the case with Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe,  Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen,  North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-il and even Fidel Castro, who has been fighting for his life for decades. They don’t have anything else to do and the best alternative is to die in power.

Only time will tell if Chavez will be able to continue micro-managing the country from his bedside to orchestrate a triumphal return at sometime in the future. If the opposition doesn’t react, even in the worst of scenarios we will see another five or six years of Chavez rule. In the meantime, the opposition assumes real leadership, plan for all possible scenarios, and keep up the fight for democracy. The worst mistake of opposition forces could make is to believe that the Chavez’s means he will be weaker in the next election cycle. For Chavez, there is no tomorrow after the presidency. His only alternative is to fight with all means to remain in power. His only option is to remain in power, but Chavez owns words predicted his destiny when Venezuela’s Cardinal Ignacio Velasco died due to Cancer: “I’m sure that I will see you in hell Cardinal,” that is the respect from Chavez to another human being, which is the respect that Chavez deserves.   

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Where's Venezuela's Hugo?

Opinion: Where's Venezuela's Hugo?
By Carlos E. Ponce
Published July 06, 2011

He can be dead or alive, but the truth is that Chavez has been out of the spotlight for more than three weeks with almost total secrecy. In spite of news conferences, photos and videos, nobody knows for sure about his health condition, nobody knows for sure about what kind of health problem he has aside from cancer. He just went to Cuba and then he was in intensive care.

For anyone as vocal as Chavez, it is hard to think that he will be out of the media for so much time without a serious illness. But so far if it is “pelvic abscess”, prostate or colon cancer, massive infection or other disease, and only the Cuban doctors and his friend Fidel Castro know for sure. It can also be part of the theatrical manipulation of Chavez, and he is just waiting to return to Venezuela as one who fought for his life and defeated the ultimate Opposition -- death.

This situation really just proves the various aspects of Venezuelan “Democracy.”

The first one is that, historically, only the worst dictatorial regimes have kept the health of their leaders hidden from the general public, because “the leader is the leader”.

It is also a common strategy from traditional tyrannies worldwide to keep people afraid of revenge from the leader should someone "take advantage" of his absence -- that is now the case in Venezuela. Chavez is so obsessed with power that not even in intensive care in Cuba will he appoint a temporary president.

According to his ministers, he has been “in control” from Cuba. This only happens in “Banana Republics”, a president in surgery and intensive care in another country for over three weeks and he continues in full control of his country?

This is just another bizarre Venezuelan style authoritarian showcase. That means that for Venezuela, it doesn’t matter if a president is out of his country for several weeks; he can rule from there without any constitutional or legal boundaries from Cuba. Maybe Chavez will now begin to rule permanently from Havana in the upcoming future.

For twelve years Chavez and his followers have been telling the world that the US government, the extreme right and Venezuela’s opposition have been planning to kill him or to take him from power with a coup d’état. After three weeks of his “vacation" in Cuba, nothing has happened. It is time for Chavez and his followers to cut that charade, because this was the perfect time and no one "took advantage" -- mainly because nobody was planning to. It is also an opportunity to prove that there is no “Chavismo” without Chavez, all his ministries and paid-military were so afraid without him in power and his potential revenge that no one wanted to talk or do anything. So Chavez is indeed the strongman from Venezuela.

In the case of the opposition in Venezuela, this case proves that their leadership remains fragmented. We have no signs of clear leader and they were not able to put together a response for a government from Cuba and "rule by twitter." Any serious opposition will have at least a plan to request valid information about the “precious” leader and if he is alive, dead or exactly what kind of sickness he has. Chavez seems to control the country and the opposition even from his hospital bed.

In the end, it doesn’t matter where Chavez is or exactly what kind of illness he has. What matters is that his autocracy has left Venezuela without leaders both in the opposition and within Chavez's party. In terms of strategic planning, this health issue has been proving that Chavez doesn’t want to leave power, even with a serious or critical health problem. And that he doesn’t trust anyone in his government. Planning accordingly will require the opposition and democratic forces to know that even if they win in next year's election, Chavez will not give away power as easy as people think.

Even if Chavez returns to Venezuela he will remain sick, but sick of power and cruelty, he will be continue his path of destruction.