Democracy Hugo Chavez-Style

Nov 6, 2006 2:05pm

For workers at Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, supporting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez isn’t a choice; it’s a direct order.  According to an internal memo obtained by ABC News, workers at Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) were recently instructed to support Chavez’s re-election campaign or else be terminated. The Oct. 18 memo to managers in the company outlines a 24-point directive designed to mobilize PDVSA’s resources and workforce to support Chavez’s campaign with both time and money, in advance of the country’s Dec. 3 vote. "We should be loyal and consistent with the President of the Republic," the memo emphasizes. It encourages the placement of "propaganda" on buildings and the posting of pro-Chavez material on official PDVSA vehicles. The memo also calls for a donation of 250 million Venezuelan Bolivares (over $116,000) to Chavez’s campaign organization, Comando Miranda, in the name of the PDVSA’s workers. The penalties for failing to comply with these new directives are severe. Workers are threatened with the loss of their jobs if they do not cooperate. One point, highlighted in capital letters, makes this crystal clear, saying "He who is not with Chavez should not be in PDVSA." It encourages workers to be vigilant of their colleagues and to turn in anyone who does not appear to be "identified with the process." Requests for comment from PDSVA and the Venezuelan Embassy in D.C. were not returned. Former Ambassador Roger Noriega, who was Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheres Affairs from 2003 to 2005, tells ABC News he is not surprised to see this kind of pressure being exerted in Venezuela. "It goes back years, this sort of harassment," he said. "There has been an ideological purge going through the Venezuelan government from PDVSA to the foreign ministry staff to the military." "We have had reports of people in military and foreign ministry classes having to receive lectures from Cuban revolutionaries," Noriega said, adding, "There were folks actually watching their body language to see who is responding, watching for people rolling their eyes or looking disinterested." The U.S. State Department refused to comment on the memo and what it means for the state of democracy in Venezuela. Noriega says that this memo is part of a larger "systematic" strategy by Chavez to maintain power by purging the government and country of those who oppose him. His ultimate goal, according to Noriega, is to stay in power. "He looks at Castro and says ‘Why not me?’" The PDVSA memo references the need to remove any opposition to Chavez’s power, saying, "This is the last opportunity to clean out the Electric Department and take out everyone that is not identified with (the movement)."  Such efforts to ensure support for Chavez constitute voting irregularities and call into question the legitimacy of Chavez’s presidency, according to Noriega. "It is most assuredly using the resources of the state to aid your campaign because these people would lose their jobs and promotions," he said. The greatest effect of Chavez’s efforts at ideological consolidation may be on democracy itself in Venezuela. "It’s done its damage," Noriega said. "People are not confident that they’ll get a fair shake, that their vote will be counted," he added. Both the Organization of American States and the European Union plan on sending monitors for the election.

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