So Goes Venezuela, So Goes The U.S.? The Limited Powers Of Government Are Weighing In The Balance

Austin Hill

1/13/2013 12:01:00 AM - Austin Hill

Some Venezuelans are concerned that their President might be violating their nation’s Constitution.

So, where have these Venezuelans been for the past 14 years? And do any Americans have the same concerns about their own President?

The headlines emerged about a week ago on January 7th. In a hastily arranged press conference, the leadership of the Venezuelan Catholic Church announced that delaying President Hugo Chavez' inauguration would be a "morally unacceptable" violation of their national constitution. According to the Venezuelan constitution, Chavez’ term in office was to have officially ended on January 10th, whereupon he would have been sworn in to his next (and fourth) term in office.

However, Chavez has been ill with cancer for the past 18 months or so – at least we think that’s what is going on. Depending on what “news” source you’re reading, he’s either near death, or he’s just resting up as he regains strength on the road to recovery. In any event, Venezuela’s Attorney-General Cilia Flores and the collective voice of the Venezuelan National Assembly (the legislature) all agreed to hold the next Chavez inauguration ceremony when Chavez is ready. According to them, the constitutional date of January 10th isn’t that big of a deal, and things will just have to happen according to Hugo’s schedule.

On this point, it may be of interest to some that the 13th Vice President of the United States actually missed his official inauguration, and was sworn-in to office at a hospital located in – of all places - Cuba. In fact, William R. King didn’t even campaign with presidential candidate Franklin Pierce back in 1852, because he was severely ill with tuberculosis, and he never served one day of his Vice Presidency on American soil. After President Pierce’s inauguration, a “special act of Congress” allowed King to swear his oath of office bedside in Havana, the same bed where he died a few weeks later in 1853.

But Venezuela’s accommodations of Chavez have forced some important questions to the table. How ill is Chavez, really? Who is actually acting as President right now? Why are other constitutionally elected officials in the Venezuelan government so beholden to Chavez, and so ambivalent about their nation’s laws? And how legitimate is the current Venezuelan government – or for that matter, Chavez’ alleged landslide re-election last October?

It’s good that the Catholic clergy in Venezuela has taken notice of Chavez’ “morally unacceptable” behavior. But where have the supposed arbiters of moral authority been since Chavez first took office in 1999? Hugo’s presidency is more aptly described as a “reign of terror,” and the ambivalence to the rule of law displayed by the country’s other elected officials today is a reflection of the citizenry’s ambivalence to Chavez’ lawlessness years ago.

Chavez campaigned in the late 90’s against private sector economic mismanagement, and what he called the “harsh realities” of global capitalism. He pledged during his campaign to end corruption in both the government, and the private sector.

After taking office, he claimed that he had “inherited” the worst economic situation in his country’s recent history (sound familiar?). And then, the new President began to consolidate his power. He managed to remove judges from his nation’s Supreme Court, and to appoint new members who would acquiesce to his agenda. Chavez then got the court to approve a new national constitution – one that would allow him to be re-elected to the presidency indefinitely.

Then came the economic and human rights abuses. Once privately-owned enterprises were confiscated by the “Chavez Administration” and became government-owned and operated entities. Several businesses were “restructured” so as to become, essentially, “workers’ cooperatives.”

Not surprisingly, unemployment has remained persistently high, even as Chavez has gone about implementing his much-celebrated “reform” measures. Hugo’s regime has seized privately owned banks, farmland, radio and television stations and newspapers, as well as private bank accounts and gold reserves. And while private citizens have had to struggle with worsening economic conditions, government officials have nonetheless continued to exert increasing levels of control over the nation’s wealth, and have continued to enrich themselves from that wealth, despite the suffering of “the governed.”

Throughout his presidency, Chavez has described himself as an “anti-imperialist,” preaching against wealth and power and promising to bring “economic justice” to the poor and middle class. Yet as history could have predicted, his supposed remedies to the “injustices” -confiscating other human being’s wealth in the name of the collective good of the country- have only added to his own personal power, so much so that now, the entire government is abandoning the rule of law so as to accommodate him. The fact that we really don’t know the truth of Chavez’ health is because he (and his lieutenants) control nearly all the nation’s media.

Americans, much like Venezuelans, are too quick to believe the promises of politicians. And the current U.S. President is on-record saying that the U.S. Constitution is deficient, because it only stipulates what the government cannot do to you, rather than specifying what it should do for you.

Problems are not solved by empowering one’s government – either through proactive support or by ambivalent disregard- to control more of private people’s lives. And ignoring abuses of power only begets more abuse.

Will Americans declare their own government “morally unacceptable” – before Chavez-styled constitutional crisis arrives?