With no sense of irony, Roger Cohen pens an op-ed this morning in the New York Times telling President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela to shut up, and halt that economic model to which Cohen objects.
Cohen was quoting the paragon of democracy, King Juan Carlos of Spain, who "got it right when he recently interrupted Chávez’s trademark verbal diarrhea with a brusque: "Why don’t you just shut up?"
To democratic minds, it's monarchs like Carlos who are repulsive and obscene, an assault on the very notion of democracy. [Democracy etiquette tip: When in the presence of monarchs like Juan Carlos, politely interrupt and remind them that they are grotesque anachronisms.]
So it comes as no surprise that Chávez, elected, re-elected, and committed to using the spoils of oil to spread the wealth around to the poor should be such a pain to the monarch Carlos and the imperialist-minded Cohen, who take it as an assumption that they have a right to tell the people of Venezuela and its president how to conduct themselves.
Cohen notes: Venezuelans will vote Sunday in a referendum that would remove all limits on presidential re-election, grant Chávez direct control over foreign currency reserves, allow him to censor the media under a state of emergency declarable at his discretion, expand his powers to expropriate private property, and create the second formally socialist nation in the Americas alongside Fidel’s.
The reality is a bit more complicated. As Mark Weisbrot writes in the New Statesman (via Z): In any case, the voters will decide, with a far stronger opposition media than exists in the United States proselytising against the government. Venezuelans have not lost civil liberties the way people in the U.S. (or even the UK) have in recent years, and ordinary citizens continue to have more say in their government, and share more in its oil wealth, than ever before. It is doubtful that the referendum will reverse these changes, regardless of the outcome.
One fact one ought to emphasize is that the Venezuelans will vote, just like they voted for Chávez. [Cohen does allow that "Certainly, the oil money Chávez has plowed into poor neighborhoods (at the expense of an oil industry suffering chronic underinvestment) has reduced poverty. "]
As for Cohen (and King Juan Carlos - yuck!), if you do not like Chávez, don't vote for him, or for his proposed Constitutional amendments in the next election.
Wait a minute; you're not citizens of Venezuela, are you?