Carlos Sánchez Berzain*
(Interamerican Institute for Democracy) The advent of the 21st century marks a milestone in the Americas in regard to fundamental freedoms. It is a backward step that places the cross-hairs of confrontation between the existence and the absence of democracy, it is a period that shows there is a democratic America and one other non-democratic, or dictatorial America comprised by those countries members of the so-called 21st Century Socialism (SSXXI). It is the aim of those dictatorial governments to remain with the appearance and above it all the designation of being “democratic” -an imposition that is carried out with relative success- reason why it is important to reiterate that the regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua are dictatorships and their strongmen Raúl Castro, Nicolás Maduro, Rafael Correa, Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega are, without any doubt, dictators.
Democratic countries abide by the most fundamental components of democracy: “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; access to power and its exercise subordinated to the rule of law; the conduct of periodic, free, fair elections based on a universal vote that is cast in secrecy as an expression of the nation’s sovereignty; the plurality of political parties and political organizations and the separation and independence of the branches of government”. These governments are subject to the rule of law, there are institutionalized checks and balances, there is freedom of the press and freedom of expression, presidents neither change legislation to favor them nor do they modify laws retroactively against members of the opposition. There is no political persecution and, therefore, there are no political prisoners or exiles. There may be crises in one or more of those fundamental components of democracy but these are neither permanent nor are they caused by the government for its own benefit.
Dictatorship is “the political regime that either by force or violence garners all power in one person or group or organization that suppresses human rights and individual liberties.” Violence “implies the use of physical or moral force.” The objective features of dictatorships are counter to those of democracies and are presented as methods for social and political control; the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the absence of the rule of law in the conduct of government affairs, and the pursuit to perpetuate the tenure of the president by using elections as an instrument of fraud and manipulation of the will of the people and to block the opposition’s chances of ever getting to be the government through institutionalized processes with the active complicity of the political party in power who seeks to be recognized as the sole political party and controls all branches of government.
Supporters of 21st Century Socialism (SSXXI) argue that; they were elected into office, there is no dictatorship when there are elections, and that they did not take over the government through a coup d’état. Though these arguments precisely demonstrate the dictatorial nature of those governments because -as quoted from Ecuador’s former President Osvaldo Hurtado- “without proclaiming to be dictatorships and without any military intervention, what the Presidents of those so-called Bolivarian countries have done through the malicious use of democratic institutions is to get to power through the citizens’ democratic vote, but once already in power they orchestrated, through disguised and repeated mini coups d’état, to ignore the rule of law under which they were elected and make up a political system that is contrary to the democratic principles.”
The coups d’état perpetrated by Chávez and Maduro in Venezuela, by Correa in Ecuador, by Morales in Bolivia, and by Ortega in Nicaragua, all under Castro’s direction are coups indeed – with physical or moral violence- that have replaced the Constitution such as in Venezuela and Ecuador, or that have supplanted it such as in Bolivia, or that have ostensibly reinterpreted it – changing it to their convenience through the use of their subservient judges or congressmen such as in Nicaragua and all mentioned countries. Coups d’état of the 21st Century Socialism (SSXXI) destroy the “rule of law” until they get to the point of having despicable constitutions and legislation which enable these governments to indefinitely remain in power, to have total control of the branches of government, to have absolute majority in the legislative, to use the judicial branch as an instrument for political persecution and judges as repressive henchmen, to manipulate electoral results with cunning electoral tribunals, to cover up its runaway corruption and not punish the culprits, to control the media, to enable the illicit enrichment of its members.
This is the “coup d’état of the 21st Century Socialism (SSXXI).” A soft type of a coup, disguised as ostensible reforms of collective benefits, or yet falsely presented popular demands that use “a set of indirect conspirator techniques that are mainly non-violent for the purpose of indefinitely controlling power” evading the people’s will, eliminating the opposition, and simulating to be in the best national interest. The violence of these coups is moral, but it does not exclude physical violence such as the one in Hotel las Americas, or the township of El Porvenir in Bolivia.
The 21st Century Socialism (SSXXI) is the unending history of coups d’état: It is Daniel Ortega getting illegally reelected, and illegally keeping the opposition at bay during the last elections in Nicaragua; it is the ruling of the Venezuelan Supreme Court to annul the authority of the National Congress to cease Nicolás Maduro from government; it is the enactment of Correa’s “Gag Law” in Ecuador to suppress the freedom of the press; it is the drafting of the new plurinational constitution of Evo Morales in Bolivia by the Congress in session and not by the Constituent Assembly conformed to do so but deemed incompetent due to way it was comprised, violating constitutional reform procedures. And lest not forget that Cuba is the model dictatorship and source of this system.
Every citizen in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua remembers the many “coups d’état of the SSXXI” perpetrated in their country; they know the names of political prisoners and exiles; they know that if a citizen exercises his rights and freedoms against the government they will be administratively or judicially punished by losing their job, or going to jail. And finally, and ironically there are yet those who hesitate to call Castro, Maduro, Correa, Morales and Ortega dictators!
*Attorney & Political Scientist. Director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy
Published in Spanish by Diario las Americas on Sunday February 5, 2017