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Column 020606 Brewer Monday, February 6, 2006 Venezuela and the Duping of Latin America By Jerry Brewer The intentional or unintentional neglect of the Western Hemisphere in recent years by the United States has most certainly diminished its stature and influence throughout most of the Americas, with much of the perceived neglect attributed to security obligations in the Middle East. And in the absence of proactive democratic U.S. strategies for the region, selfabsorbed, unstable leftists have risen – many with hidden agendas. Through the undermining of civil and democratic institutions, leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have virtually eliminated free expression, circumventing effective checks to arbitrary government via the media. The Chavez regime has instigated violent verbal and physical attacks against the owners, editors, and employees of the media. Their buildings have been bombed, reporters killed and injured, and property destroyed by armed members of Venezuela’s security apparatchik. Prominent Venezuelan journalists have had their homes raided and been compelled to testify to the secret police. This prompting the International Broadcasting Association, Inter American Press Association, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States to plead in vain to the government to protect freedom of the press. Moreover, regularly scheduled television and radio broadcasts are routinely interrupted in Venezuela, with presidential decrees that force transmission of hours of pro-government propaganda. A newly instituted penal code states that “anyone who offends with words, or in writing or in any way

disrespects the President of the Republic, or whomever is fulfilling his duties, will be punished with six to 30 months in prison if the offense is serious, and half that if it is light.” Journalists who “expose another person to contempt or public hatred” can receive a prison sentence of one to three years. The new code also specifies, incredibly, that anyone charged with these crimes will not be entitled to legal due process. The crime of “civil rebellion” in Venezuela carries a minimum 12-year and maximum 25-year sentence. So what if Argentina had such a statute when President Chavez led violent protests there, in Mar del Plata during the Summit of the Americas, with out of control protestors throwing rocks and bottles, and burning U.S. flags? Self-serving agendas are the earmarks of a dictatorship. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, hailed Chavez last week in Venezuela, stating: “I admire him for his resolve against my government and it’s meddling.” Too, Sheehan has called her son’s killers in Iraq “freedom fighters.” Chavez responded by saying, “Down with the U.S. empire! It must be said in the entire world, down with the empire.” Idols bearing gifts through oil wealth attract influence. As well, assisting financially strapped countries, such as Argentina and Cuba with debt assistance may look good in photo opportunities and buy favors. However a pied piper who perilously gathers all state power in his own hands is hardly a prophet. The United Nations Population Fund says that some 222 million people are poor in Latin America and the Caribbean, over 43 percent of the region’s population, with 96 million living in extreme poverty. And free market policies are not popular in situations where diverse income gaps make an area the world’s least equitable region. What is particularly disturbing about unchecked power in the leadership of Venezuela is the manner in which vast wealth from oil revenue can be used as bait to gain compliance or favors. By extension, what is to prevent a nation’s infrastructure (stockpiled production, oil facilities and related mechanisms) from being

exhausted or destroyed in a desperate bid by a selfstyled dictator to perpetuate a regime in the face of adversity? When the unicameral National Assembly, as well as Venezuelan courts, military, police forces, budget, electoral council, and virtually every other branch of power are controlled by the presidency, how can there be justice for abuse of power? Do the lesser advantaged and poor have a voice in their nation’s wealth? A president must not own a country and play fancy-free with its natural resource income to buy influence and allies. Again relating this to Argentina, President Nestor Kirchner campaigned with a philosophy of having a strong centralized government free from foreign influence. However since he has accepted millions of dollars in Venezuelan aid, plus Venezuela has purchased US$2 billion in Argentinean securities. The fallacy of Kirchner’s quick rise to stardom, with an appearance of future prosperity for the Argentine Republic, is that this perceived economic recovery will need to be backed by ongoing investments from disparate sources, not just Venezuela. To be continued. —————————— Jerry Brewer, the Vice President of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global risk mitigation firm headquartered in Northern, Virginia, is also a columnist with MexiData.info. He can be reached via e-mail at Cjiaincusa@aol.com jbrewer@cjiausa.org

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