The lights are going out in Venezuela. The Chavez-controlled legislature passed an education bill on Aug. 13 that will extinguish the last glimmers of free thought in the country's classrooms. The law is such a caricature of revolutionary legislation that it almost seems like a joke, like something out of Woody Allen's "Bananas." But it's not funny for Venezuelans. Schools will now be required to teach "Bolivarian doctrine," a vague catchall for Chavez's sloganeering. They will be supervised by "communal councils" (read commissars from the socialist party) and the central government will decide who can and who cannot enter universities and the teaching profession.
The new law stretches government power beyond the schools, permitting the state to suspend media outlets that negatively affect the public's "mental health." This comes just three weeks after the government declined to renew the licenses of 34 radio stations. "We haven't closed any radio stations, we've applied the law," Chavez explained. "We've recovered a bunch of stations that were outside the law, that now belong to the people and not the bourgeoisie." Get it? They've been "liberated."
Chavez is also saving elections from the "bourgeoisie" by gerrymandering districts before he next offers himself to the voters. When his motorcycle-mounted goons attacked the offices of Globovision, the only remaining independent TV station, with tear gas and rocks, Chavez piously condemned the attacks. But Globovision is not long for this world. He is remarkably blunt about his aims. As The Economist magazine reported, the Venezuelan dictator cited the Italian communist theorist Antonio Gramsci on the importance of seizing control of a nation's key institutions in order to control the minds of the citizenry. The most important institutions to conquer, Chavez added, were the media, the churches, and the schools. Last year, some of the same Chavez thugs who tear-gassed Globovision stormed the episcopacy in Caracas after the Catholic Church criticized the president. Chavez condemned that attack as well.
Hugo Chavez has invited Hezbollah into Venezuela, and chased most of the Jewish community out. He has sent advanced weaponry to the FARC communist insurgency that has been terrorizing neighboring Colombia for 40 years, and has spawned a bevy of imitators in Latin America. Next month, he will visit his good friend Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.
And yet President Obama has been silent. It isn't as if he has a strict policy against criticizing other nations. He's been quick enough to condemn Israel for settlement policies and Honduras for ousting Chavez wannabee Manuel Zelaya.
No, the Obama administration has kept mum because Barack Obama, schooled in leftist fairy tales from the cradle, seems to believe that what the region requires from the United States is not leadership but contrition. He was hopeful after the Summit of the Americas, he said, because the leaders of Latin America could "at least see that we are not dug in into policies that were formulated before I was born." Chavez didn't need to hand Obama a copy of "The Open Veins of Latin America" because our president probably already believes 80 percent of what's in the book.
Far from condemning our hemisphere's little Mussolini, the Obama administration has courted Chavez. The Department of State declared Venezuela's willingness to exchange ambassadors a "positive development." And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, displaying the cold-blooded indifference to human rights that has characterized her approach to China, said, "Let's see if we can begin to turn (the) relationship (with Venezuela)."
Meanwhile, our beleaguered ally Colombia, which has done so much to stem the drug trade and to develop centrist and stable governance, still waits for ratification of the bilateral free trade agreement. And it will continue to wait. When Sens. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., learned that the U.S. and Colombia were in negotiations to enhance cooperation against narcotraffickers, they expressed their dismay in a letter to the secretary of State, warning against closer ties with our most loyal ally in the region.
The Obama administration's reaction to the Zelaya case in Honduras and ongoing weakness toward Hugo Chavez reveal everything you need to know -- they don't know who our friends are.