Last week Hugo Chavez’s aping of Castro's communism regime to a frightening new level by decreeing the “National Intelligence and Counter-intelligence Law”. No more pussyfooting, this law seemed to declare. Venezuela's two traditional intelligence services were to be abolished and replaced by one “General Intelligence Office” staffed entirely with Chavez henchmen.
Most importantly, this “law” essentially abolished the government's separation of powers. Judges and prosecutors were to be required to co-operate with the newly-decreed secret police.
Along with all Venezuelan judges and prosecutors who would have been forced into collusion with the Chavez regime, all Venezuelan citizens would have been equally "empowered." Proposed “Community Councils,” that seemed to mimic Cuba's neighborhood snitch groups would provide the framework for this “co-operation.” According to the new decree, any temporizing in “co-operation” could have landed a Venezuelan in jail for six years.
Venezuelans recognized the implications quickly. Human Rights Watch official, José Miguel Vivanco, cut to the heart of the issue: “Here you have the president legislating by decree that the country’s judges must serve as spies for the government. This is a government that simply doesn't believe in the separation of powers."
“Any suspect’s right to defense can be violated, and that’s unacceptable,” said Carlos Correa, of Venezuela's human rights group Provea.
The uproar led Chavez to rescind the decree this past Sunday, mere days after announcing it. “Where we made mistakes we must accept that and not defend the indefensible,” Chávez said at a campaign rally for his Socialist party's mayoral candidates.
“Easy does it," Chavez may have been counseled by well-wishers, perhaps even by some of the 40,000 Castro-Cubans who infest Venezuela and who would surely object to anything that would jeopardize Chavez' rule and thus the 100,000 barrels of oil Chavez sends to Cuba daily. Any Chavez replacement could wake up one fine morning and suddenly demand bona-fide payment for that oil. Whether the Cubans advised retreat is unknown but Chavez shucked (or perhaps merely shelved) the totalitarian decree.
One essential distinction between an authoritarian regime and a totalitarian regime lies in the nature of its judicial system. The former's judiciary, though often corruptible and incompetent, remains independent of outright regime control. The latter's is necessarily staffed by regime apparatchiks, as Chavez tried to decree.
When Ruby Hart Phillips, the Havana correspondent for the Castrophile New York Times, attended a mass-trial of accused Castro-regime enemies, she gaped in horror. "The defense attorney made absolutely no defense, instead he apologized to the court for defending the prisoners," she wrote in February 1959. "The whole procedure was sickening." The defendants were all murdered by firing squad the following dawn.
Castro's chief prosecutor/hangman, Che Guevara, had established the rules very succinctly: "Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. We execute from revolutionary conviction." This is what Chavez had in mind for Venezuela.
Just in December Venezuela's voters had defeated Chavez'(electoral) bid for more stealth Stalinism. Last week's "decree" looked like a blatant end run around an increasingly suspicious and restive electorate, who again seem to have prevailed.
In the mid 1990's the Catholic Human Rights group Pax Christi headquartered in Belgium, visited Cuba and (secretly) conducted a study on the status of the neighborhood snitch committees -- known as CDR's -- that Chavez seemed to want replicated in Venezuela. Making a spy out of every citizen, instilling the fear that comes with the mutual-suspicion society, is essential to every dictatorship. Castro didn’t invent it: he merely copied contemporary examples from Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.
“Fear is the basic instrument of (Cuban) political control,” concludes the study. "There is one CDR for every 140 Cubans. The information at the State Security’s disposal can be used to threaten and intimidate anybody. There is no place to escape the tentacles of the State. Most ordinary Cubans reported that they remained intensely wary of CDR surveillance, even while conversing in their own homes.”
These CDRs keep a file on every person in their beat (usually 2 city blocks in the cities) where they list all of his comings and goings, personal contacts, etc., in the hopes of detecting any revolutionary backsliding, which can be anything from a particularly snarky comment on a regime honcho or policy to playing hooky from the latest anti-imperialist rally in the Plaza de la Revolucion (“Gosh look how many people!” exults the typical New York Times reader upon viewing a picture of the rally! “Gosh just goes to show how much support Castro has!”)
The CDRs also supervise the issuing of the monthly food ration cards to all Castro's subjects. “Food is a weapon" famously declared Stalin's foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov.
To some extent, mutual suspicion is embedded in human nature. All organizations favor "team players." In the private sector these kinks are eventually straightened and the brownnosing incompetents axed. Either that, or the company goes under. There are stockholders and customers to keep happy.
But under Communism swinishness is the very essence of the system. There is only a Maximum Leader to keep happy. In Venezuela, he hasn’t yet managed to eliminate the freedoms that keep him in check.