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Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and the OAS

Author: Joel D. Hirst, International Affairs Fellow in Residence, 2010-2011
January 21, 2011
Latin American Herald Tribune


The day was September 11, 2001. In the United States, we were becoming suddenly and painfully aware of the true intentions and the real power of those who revile our freedom and democracy. A world away in Lima, unnoticed and unsung, the delegates of the western hemisphere's thirty four democracies, under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS), were meeting to agree upon the final language of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. This charter represented, at the time, the most far reaching commitment by a multi-lateral organization to mutually promote and protect each other's democratic credentials. It represented the unplanned answer to the brutality of those not content to let others live in peace.

In the almost ten years since the Democratic Charter came into effect, there has never been a challenge to the combined democratic commitment of the hemispheric community like that of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Time and time again President Chavez has pushed the limits of liberal democracy. With approval from a complicit National Assembly and a co-opted court system he has extended his mandate, centralized power in the executive and waged a successful campaign against private property, basic civil rights and democratic freedoms as enshrined in the very charter that the Chavez government itself signed.

However, this time, Mr. Chavez appears to have pushed things too far. To understand this, some historical perspective is necessary. In December of 2007 Mr. Chavez led the country to yet another national election to modify 69 articles of the 1999 constitution. These modifications represented an alteration of the liberal democratic order, and would have allowed Mr. Chavez to transform Venezuela from a Liberal Democracy to a Socialist State. At the polls, the Venezuelan people rejected these changes and handed Mr. Chavez his first electoral defeat ever. The message was clear; while Chavez himself remained personally popular his attempts to alter Venezuela's democratic order were unwelcome.

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