WSJ: OAS AWOL on Chavez' Misdeeds

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Fri Dec 13 19:36:59 MST 2002

(Truly sinister commentary by the editor
of the Wall Street Journal's "Americas"
section. It's an extraordinary thing to
read the WSJ brazenly saluting military
officers IN UNIFORM, who publicly call
for the overthrow of the democratically
elected, legally constituted government.
The WSJ attacks the OAS from the right.

(If there is anything I don't believe, it's
that O'Grady went for an evening "stroll"
in Caracas. Given the strident rightist
approach of all her commentaries, one
would think a "stroll" is the last thing
she'd be doing in Caracas.

(One remarkable admission here by the
WSJ is stating that "Only about 20% of
live above the poverty line." This figure
is not the result of Chavez's misdeeds.

(Still, despite the incredible hostility to
Chavez expressed by this Wall Street
Journal editor, it's obvious that the
Chavez forces are organizing their
forces and fighting actively against the
rightist mobilization. From the tone of
this hysterical commentary, one can
infer that the Chavez forces are both
on the offensive and having success.)

December 13, 2002

In Dealing With the Misdeeds
Of Chavez the OAS Is AWOL

Three weeks ago, under a brooding tropical sky, I went for
an evening stroll with a Venezuelan friend on the Plaza
Francia in the Altamira district of Caracas.

Ever since 14 military officers went there on Oct. 22 to
publicly denounce President Hugo Chavez and swore to remain
until he resigns, the plaza has been the seat of Venezuela's
opposition movement. Eighty-some officers have since joined
the original 14. A contingent of civilians and
non-governmental organizations have set up booths and pup
tents and pledged solidarity with the military dissidents.

The night was calm. The crowd was only a few hundred people.
A couple of former officers were speaking from a makeshift
stage. A handful of women in pink t-shirts were collecting
signatures for a petition. "They're very brave," my friend
remarked, "This place is a problem for Chavez and I'm sure
he would like to clear it out. The reason the people come
and stay is to defend it by their presence."

One week ago, suspected supporters of Mr. Chavez did in fact
attack Plaza Francia. At 7:10 pm on a Friday evening, three
unarmed civilians were gunned down -- including a
17-year-old woman-and at least 20 others were wounded.

As more evidence surfaces about the circumstances
surrounding the Dec. 6 assassinations, there are also
serious questions about the role and efficacy of the
Organization of American States, supposedly the
hemisphere's multilateral defender of democracy.

Article 21 of the OAS Democratic Charter says that when
there is an "unconstitutional interruption of the democratic
order" and "diplomatic initiatives have failed" the result
should be the suspension of the member state. There is ample
evidence that this has already occurred. It would seem well
past time for the OAS to back its words with action or to
risk being branded meaningless.

One alleged shooter from the night of Dec. 6, Joao de
Gouveia, was easily captured. But Mr. Chavez's critics
maintain that he was no lone madman. They have produced a
videotape showing Mr. de Gouveia demonstrating only days
earlier with Chavez supporters in front of the
government-owned oil company PDVSA.
The government says that
the tape was doctored. But Chavez adversaries claim that
there are eye witnesses. They also say that, based on
forensic evidence, there had to be more than one assailant
at the plaza. Mr. Chavez has dignified the alleged shooter
by referring to him as "Senor Joao." More suspiciously, he
has mocked the Plaza Francia tragedy by saying, "See where
the theater at Altamira has come to."

Chavez opponents feel certain that the shootings were part
of a government crackdown on critics, more proof of Mr.
Chavez's dictatorial aspirations. The claim is hardly
extreme. The Plaza Francia massacre is not the first episode
of its kind. In fact, it is chillingly similar to what
occurred on April 11 when 17 peaceful demonstrators were
also gunned down. That day brave journalists managed to film
some of what happened. They caught Chavez supporters and
government employees firing on the crowd and sharpshooters
posted atop government buildings.

Mr. Chavez's supporters prefer to couch the political crisis
in terms of rich and poor. They argue that the rich
"oligarchs" only want to return to power. Statistics don't
support this claim. Only about 20% of Venezuelans live above
the poverty line. Yet, in polls Mr. Chavez's support
registers only about 30% of the population. Even if all of
those supporters are poor, that leaves another 50% of the
population poor and unsupportive.

This is not surprising, for economic reasons alone. The
president has been in office since Feb. 1999 but his
single-minded attention to consolidating his own power has
resulted in severe economic decline.

Yet economic incompetence is not sufficient reason to remove
a democratically elected president. On the other hand,
assaults against the constitutional democracy, human rights
and the rule of law do justify his removal and there are
plenty of these to point to.

Mr. Chavez has politicized the military, promoting his
allies within the institution and bringing military officers
into the civilian government. Article 328 of the
constitution strictly forbids this. Using the National
Guard, he has taken over the Caracas Metropolitan Police
Department, which by law answers to the mayor of the city,
not the president. The Supreme Court, which was preparing to
rule on that event, suspended its operations two days ago,
claiming government harassment.

The president has moved aggressively against the private
sector and civil society. This includes an attempt to
forcibly convert all Venezuelan education into a Cuban
system and a move to wrest control of the labor unions. His
assault on private property rights -- through a series of
laws that would have allowed land invasions -- prompted a
backlash from agriculture and the chamber of commerce known
as Fedecamaras. A few weeks ago the top court ruled Mr.
Chavez's Marxist property laws unconstitutional.

The government is also violating human rights. The president
regularly lambastes the Venezuelan media and foments
violence against it. Earlier this week Chavez supporters
attacked a number of television stations around the country.
Unofficial paramilitary groups known as the Bolivarian
Circles, armed to the teeth, roam Caracas to intimidate the
president's opponents. This criminal activity is in
violation of common law. He has also unilaterally agreed to
give Cuba oil despite the fact that by law, such treaties
require congressional ratification.

Mr. Chavez might have gotten away with his power grab had
his primal need for absolute authority not driven him to go
after control of PDVSA. Oil company employees from
management to labor are now on strike, along with the
national labor union CTV, Fedecamaras and about 80% of the
nation's workforce.

As the country sinks, democracy dissolves and Mr. Chavez
grows more militant, the OAS still muses about
"negotiations," stressing that this now much-hated leader
was "democratically elected." The message to Mr. Chavez and
Castro is that the OAS is spineless, impotent and easily
ignored by any existing or would-be dictator.


Mary Anastasia O'Grady is editor of The Americas, which
appears every Friday. The column discusses political,
economic, business and financial events and trends in the
Americas. Ms. O'Grady is also a senior editorial-page writer
for the Journal, writing on Latin America and Canada. She
joined the paper in 1995 and was named a senior
editorial-page writer in 1999.

Prior to working at the Journal, Ms. O'Grady worked as an
options strategist first for Advest Inc. in 1981 and later
for Thomson McKinnon Securities in 1983. She moved to
Merrill Lynch & Co. in 1984 as an options strategist.

In 1997, Ms. O'Grady won the Inter American Press
Association's Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary,
and in 1999 she received an honorable mention in IAPA's
opinion award category for her editorials and weekly column.
Born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., she received a bachelor's degree in
English from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. She has
an M.B.A. in financial management from Pace University in
New York.

Ms. O'Grady invites comments to mary.o'grady at wsj.com1.

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