Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trumping Latin Democracies

Donald Trump, would-be strongman.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Venezuelan Pres. Nicolas Maduro may
seem like polar opposites. One is a wealthy conservative, the other a leftist who started out as a bus driver.

The two, however, do have at least one characteristic in common: Authoritarianism.

At the last U.S. presidential debate, Trump told Democrat Hillary Clinton that if he were president, she'd "be in jail," because of her mishandling of government e-mails. Evidently, Trump had forgotten that imprisoning people is the job of judges and prosecutors, not of presidents - at least in a democracy.

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's
authoritarian president.
But Trump might find a model in Maduro, whose government has imprisoned numerous opponents, most prominently Leopoldo Lopez, an ex-mayor and potential presidential candidate, whose trial was called a farce by many human rights organizations. Lopez is serving a 14 year prison term for supposedly inciting protests using subliminal signals.

Not satisfied with jailing opponents, the deeply unpopular Maduro has also used his puppet Supreme Court to declare Parliament, where the opposition has a majority, 'unconstitutional' and unable to issue legislation. Maduro also announced that he will instruct the Supreme Court to approve the national budget, even tho the Constitution explicits gives this job to Parliament.

Among Maduro's long list of authoritan, anti-constitutional actions is also using his puppet Electoral Council to put obstacle after obstacle in the way of a recall referendum the opposition wants to organize against him - another right provided in Venezuela's Constitution. And Maduro's government recently said that it won't hold governor and regional legislative elections this year because it can't afford to - this in an oil-soaked nation which throws billions of dollars away each year on corruption and giving away gasoline.

"The priority isn't to hold elections," Maduro said. "What is the country's priority? Fulfill the whim of the oligarchy or recover the economy?"

Leopold Lopez,
Maduro's political prisoner.
Under Maduro's incompetent mishandling, Venezuela's economy is sinking, it has the world's highest inflation rate and shortages of basic goods like sugar, flour, toilet paper and medicines. It also has one of the world's highest homicide rates.

What Venezuela needs most are elections, to throw out Maduro and his allies and restore sanity. understandably, Maduro doesn't want to permit votes he knows he'd lose.

Sadly, the story is not so different in nations like Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, where leftist leaders have entrenched themselves and are trying to become presidents-for-life.

In that sense, Brazil and Guatemala, both embroiled in corruption scandals, should be admired. There, at least, the democratic institutions have had the resiliency to remove flawed presidents and investigate their alleged misdeeds.

Would the U.S.'s own institutions be strong enough to withstand a President Trump?

Hopefully, we'll never have to find out.

Check out the excellent NY Times story about this.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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