The Agony of Venezuela

national reviewClosing a speech that was as emotional as it was endless, the president invoked Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In the play’s opening scene, a boatswain dares to defy the wind as the storm gathers: “Blow, till thou burst thy wind, if room enough!” The charismatic leader then paraphrased the bard: “Blow, hard wind, blow, hard tempest, I have [a constitutional] assembly to withstand you!” The crowd was enraptured.

The year was 1999, and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, shortly after his election victory the previous December, was asking the assembly to deliver a new, “eternal” constitution. He put himself at the “mercy” of a fresh, temporary but all-powerful assembly, conveniently created to supersede a parliament that did not answer to him.

Chávez got his way; he almost always did. The resulting constitution — Venezuela’s 26th — did away with the senate, lengthened presidential terms, unshackled military appointments from congressional oversight, and weakened the checks and balances exercised by judges and legislators. It was also the beginning of the end of democracy in Venezuela. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.