English | 22 julio 2012

Obama should help Venezuelans have fair elections (Hernando Today)

Obama expresses concern over transparency of Venezuela elections

While Venezuela’s socialist strongman, Hugo Chavez, continues to buy Russian fighter jets and Chinese amphibious tanks, President Barack Obama has voiced his “concern” about the October 7 presidential election in that country.

“My main concern when it comes to Venezuela is having the Venezuelan people have a voice in their affairs and that you end up ultimately having fair and free elections, which we don’t always see,” the president said during a recent interview with a Spanish language television station in Miami, America TeVe.

What Obama did not say is whether the United States plans to take any concrete steps to help the Venezuelan people enjoy transparent elections that allow them to choose their next president fairly and freely, without fear and ballot stuffing.

Chavez, who turns 58 on July 28, has been at the head of the oil-producing South American nation of 28 million people since 1999. He is seeking another six-year term while he fights some kind of cancer that he won’t discuss.

Most polls show Chavez with a significant lead against his sole opponent, Henrique Capriles, 40, a moderate former governor of the state of Miranda.

If re-elected, Chavez has pledged to reach “the point of no return” and complete the “irreversible transition toward socialism.”

Already there are ominous signs that the campaign is far from free, with Chavez getting overwhelming television exposure while limiting the TV time that the Capriles campaign can buy.

Further, Chavez issued an ominous warning that if Capriles wins, a civil war is likely to erupt. And a Chavez confidant, Gen. Henry Rangel, Minister of Defense, is on record as saying that the military would refuse to recognize a victory by the opposition.

In a lengthy report issued this week by Human Rights Watch, the organization documented how the accumulation of power in the executive and the erosion of human-rights protections in Venezuela have allowed Chavez to intimidate, censor and prosecute his critics and perceived opponents.

Among many examples of such tactics, the report notes the persecution of Globovision, the only remaining television station in Venezuela with national coverage that is consistently critical of Chavez’s policies. After the station provided extensive coverage of a prison riot in June 2011, a Chavez-controlled investigation determined that the station had “promoted hatred for political reasons that generated anxiety in the population,” and imposed a $2.1 million fine.

Chavez also had Globovision’s president, Guillermo Zuloaga, arrested for making public comments that constituted “the crimes of false information and offenses against the head of state,” and Zuloaga had to flee to Miami.

Chavez’s intention to do everything possible to remain in power was shown recently when he refused to re-open the Venezuelan consulate in Miami, where 23,000 Venezuelans living in the southeastern United States were registered to vote. As a result, those voters, most of whom are anti-Chavez, will have to travel to New Orleans to cast their votes.

If Obama plans to do anything specific to help the democratic process in Venezuela, besides wringing his hands with “concern,” the president should let us know what, exactly. Now would be a good time.

Original article by Angel Castillo, Jr. in Hernando Today

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