Corrales_152%20Foreign%20Policy%202006 - COVER STORY Boss...

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January | February 2006 33 A s the 20th century drew to a close, Latin America finally seemed to have escaped its reputation for military dic- tatorships. The democratic wave that swept the region starting in the late 1970s appeared unstoppable. No Latin American country except Haiti had reverted to authoritarianism. There were a few coups, of course, but they all unraveled, and constitutional order returned. Polls in the region indicated growing support for democracy, and the climate seemed to have become inhospitable for dictators. Then came Hugo Chávez, elected president of Venezuela in December 1998. The lieutenant colonel had attempted a coup six years earlier. When that failed, he won power at the ballot box and is now approaching a decade in office. In that time, he has concentrated power, harassed opponents, punished reporters, persecuted civic organizations, and increased state control of the economy. Yet, he has also found a way to make authoritarianism fash- ionable again, if not with the masses, with at least enough voters to win elections. And with his fiery anti-American, anti-neoliberal rhetoric, Chávez has become the poster boy for many leftists worldwide. Many experts, and certainly Chávez’s support- ers, would not concede that Venezuela has become an autocracy. After all, Chávez wins votes, often with the help of the poor. That is the peculiarity of Chávez’s regime. He has virtually eliminated the con- tradiction between autocracy and political com- petitiveness. What’s more, his accomplishment is not simply a product of charisma or unique local circum- stances. Chávez has refashioned authoritarianism for a democratic age. With elections this year in several Latin American states—including Mexico and Brazil—his leadership formula may inspire like-minded leaders in the region. And his inter- national celebrity status means that even strong- men outside of Latin America may soon try to adopt the new Chávez look. THE DEMOCRATIC DISGUISE There are no mass executions or concentration camps in Venezuela. Civil society has not disap- peared, as it did in Cuba after the 1959 revolution. There is no systematic, state-sponsored terror leaving scores of desaparecidos , as happened in Argentina and Chile in the 1970s. And there is certainly no efficiently repressive and meddlesome bureaucracy à la the Warsaw Pact. In fact, in Venezuela, one can still find an active and vociferous opposition, elec- tions, a feisty press, and a vibrant and organized civil society. Venezuela, in other words, appears almost democratic. But when it comes to accountability and lim- its on presidential power, the picture grows dark. Chávez has achieved absolute control of all state 32 Foreign Policy Ever heard of a regime that gets stronger the more opposition it faces? Welcome to Venezuela, where the charismatic president, Hugo Chávez, is practicing a new style of authoritarianism. Part provocateur, part CEO, and part electoral wizard, Chávez has
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This note was uploaded on 04/24/2010 for the course MARK 3336 taught by Professor Cox during the Spring '10 term at University of Houston - Downtown.

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Corrales_152%20Foreign%20Policy%202006 - COVER STORY Boss...

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