My mother being Venezuelan, I went to Venezuela a lot as a child because my grandmother was there. She’s now moved to Bolivia because it’s too dangerous for a lady on her own to be in an affluent area in Caracas. I have other family members and friends who have been victims of the Chávez regime.
For example, the nephew of my sister’s godmother who was high up in the police force in Caracas. His name is Iván Simonovis. He had been trained all over the world, from Scotland Yard to the CIA. He was well suited to cracking down on the terrible violence racking Caracas and as part of his plan to do so he decided to develop a database of all known criminals which would make catching these men easier. What emerged from this list of criminals is that many of these men were Chávez’s men, running the elite governing circles of Caracas and Venezuelas. On a trip to the United States he was arrested on a trumped-up charge with no evidence, given a show trial after four or five years imprisonment- only after the government had bought witnesses – and given thirty years in prison (a life sentence for a forty year old): he was basically imprisoned for knowing too much. Only now, with the death of Chávez, is his case being given some new life and it’s already been to the OEA (Organisation of American States)and all sorts of international human rights courts, but there was no way he was going to be released under Chávez.
Chávez did do some good for some of the population, but this does not make him a democrat. Scaring people into voting (or indeed, not voting) is not democracy. In Venezuela they would find out who was not voting for Chávez via the social security number, and beat-up and intimidate them. Attacking the opposition’s family and threatening their supporters is not democracy. Giving the poorer of population things like books and access to health care is great and he certainly did that but, when it was election time, the buses came to take them to vote and the choice was no choice. Coerced votes, no matter how subtle the coercion, is not democracy either. Finally, changing the constitution as Chávez did in 2009, to eradicate presidential term limits, is definitely not democracy. In fact, that treads the line of dictator, very closely.
According to The Economist, Caracas has surpassed San Salvador as the most dangerous city in South America – no mean feat. My grandfather is still there as he has a farm outside Caracas which he is trying to sell, and I was hoping to visit him this summer. But I’ve been advised by him and all my family that it’s too dangerous. He’s an elderly man, and he’s been attacked on his farm and had things stolen, leading to heart problems. Chávez has left the country in such a state that I may not see my grandfather again.
Chávez’s policies which are cited as forces for good are often short term remedies and a lot of his other policies are long-term travesties, such as replacing all the oil workers with the army. With all due respect to the armed forces, few have even the beginnings of the knowledge required to run an oil refinery.
I find that in the West, where true democracy is exercised, people look to the young countries of South America and see that presidents like Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales were elected and think, ‘he’s elected, that’s democracy.’ They see that the 2009 constitution change happened after a referendum, and think ‘yeah, not great that he now has limitless power, but he seems legitimate.’ The truth is it’s hard to realise quite what it’s like in countries like Venezuela without being able to experience it in some way, to understand the pandemic extent of corruption, violence, and deep violation of human rights. So, this is the purpose of my article, to tell you from first-hand knowledge, Chávez was not a democrat and calling him such is simply wrong.