Last week Hugo Chavez took his aping of Castro's regime to a frightening new level by decreeing the Ley del Sistema Nacional de Inteligencia y Contrainteligencia, (The National Intelligence and Counter-intelligence Law). No more pussyfooting, this law seemed to declare. Venezuela's two traditional intelligence services, the Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services (DISIP) and the Directorate for Military Intelligence, have been abolished and replaced by a General Intelligence Office staffed strictly with Chavez loyalists.
More ominously, this "law" essentially abolished the government's separation of powers. Judges and prosecutors were to be required to co-operate with the newly-decreed secret police.
Along with all Venezuelan judges and prosecutors who would have been forced into collusion with the Chavez regime, all Venezuelan citizens would have been equally "empowered." Proposed "Community Councils" that seemed to mimic Cuba's neighborhood snitch groups known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, (CDRs) would provide the framework for this "co-operation." According to the new decree, any temporizing in his or her "co-operation" could have landed a Venezuelan in jail for six years.
Venezuelans immediately recognized the implications. Human Rights Watch official, José Miguel Vivanco, cuts to the heart of the issue:
"Here you have the president legislating by decree that the country's judges must serve as spies for the government. This is a government that simply doesn't believe in the separation of powers."
"Any suspect's right to defense can be violated, and that's unacceptable," said Carlos Correa, of Venezuela's human rights group Provea.
The prompt uproar led Chavez to rescind the decree this past Sunday, mere days after announcing it. "Where we made mistakes we must accept that and not defend the indefensible," Chávez said at a campaign rally in Zulia State for gubernatorial and mayoral candidates from his Socialist party. "Easy does it," Chavez may have been counseled. So he shucked (or perhaps merely shelved) the decree.
The essential distinction between an authoritarian regime and a totalitarian regime lies in the nature of its judicial system. The former's judiciary, though often corruptible and incompetent, remains independent of outright regime control. The latter's is necessarily staffed by regime apparatchiks, as Chavez tried to decree.
For instance, South Africa's apartheid regime was no model of liberty. But even its most violent enemies enjoyed a bona fide day in court under a judge who was not beholden to a dictator for his job (or his life.) When Nelson Mandela was convicted of "193 counts of terrorism committed between 1961 and 1963, including the preparation, manufacture and use of explosives, including 210,000 hand grenades, 48,000 anti-personnel mines, 1,500 time devices, 144 tons of ammonium nitrate," his trial had observers from around the free world. "The trial has been properly conducted," wrote Anthony Sampson, correspondent for the liberal London Observer. "The judge, Mr Justice Quartus de Wet, has been scrupulously fair." Sampson admitted this though his own sympathies veered strongly towards Mandela. (Indeed, Sampson went on to write Nelson Mandela's authorized biography).
In sharp contrast, when Ruby Hart Phillips, the Havana correspondent for the flamingly Castrophile New York Times, attended a mass-trial of accused Castro-regime enemies, she gaped in horror. "The defense attorney made absolutely no defense, instead he apologized to the court for defending the prisoners," she wrote in February 1959. "The whole procedure was sickening." The defendants were all murdered by firing squad the following dawn.
In 1961 a Castro regime prosecutor named Idelfonso Canales explained Cuba's new system (the one apparently desired by Chavez) to a stupefied "defendant," named Rivero Caro who was himself a practicing lawyer in pre-Castro Cuba. "Forget your lawyer mentality," laughed Canales. "What you say doesn't matter. What proof you provide doesn't matter, even what the prosecuting attorney says doesn't mater. The only thing that matters is what the G-2 (military police) says!"
In other words: no more pussyfooting with you Cuban counter-revolutionaries. Castro's chief prosecutor/hangman, Che Guevara, had established the rules very succinctly:
"Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution. We execute from revolutionary conviction."
In December Venezuela's voters had defeated Chavez' (electoral) bid for more stealth Stalinism. Last week's "decree" had looked like a blatant end run around an increasingly suspicious electorate. But for the time being, they seem to have prevailed.
Both Stalin's and Castro's Gulags were filled primarily by acting on tips from snitches. This snitching has a snowball effect. The very fact that they're snitching gives some people a (usually false) sense of protection from regime police because they're assisting it. Then as more and more people get rounded up, more and more people feel threatened, so more and more of them snitch. More fear, more arrests; neighbor snitches against neighbor, cousin against cousin, even sons and daughters against parents.
Recall the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. "Is he a pod, too?...Can we trust him?..should we hush-up? Run? Hide?!" Some say the 1956 movie was an allegorical treatment of a Communist takeover. Please excuse the apparent flippancy, but this writer is not the only eye-witness to such a takeover who has noted the chilling parallels with the movie.
In the mid 1990's the Catholic Human Rights group Pax Christi headquartered in Belgium, visited Cuba and (secretly) conducted a study on the status of the CDRs Among their findings:
* Fear is the basic instrument of (Cuban) political control. The information at the State Security's disposal can be used to threaten and intimidate anybody. There is no place to escape the tentacles of the State.
*Pax Christi Netherlands believes, based on both official and dissident sources in Cuba, that there are currently about 80,000 CDRs. That means that with a population of a little more than 11 million, Cuba has approximately one Committee for the Defense of the Revolution for every 140 people.
*Most ordinary Cubans in Havana and the provincial cities of Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara and Matanzas reported that they remained intensely wary of CDR surveillance, even while conversing in their own homes.
These CDRs keep a file on every person in their beat (usually 2 city blocks in the cities) where they list all of his comings and goings, personal contacts, etc., in the hopes of detecting any revolutionary backsliding, which can be anything from a particularly snarky comment on a regime honcho or policy to playing hooky from the latest anti-imperialist rally in the Plaza de la Revolucion ("Gosh look how many people!" exults the typical New York Times reader upon viewing a picture of the rally! "Just goes to show how much support Castro has!")
The CDRs also supervise the issuing of the monthly food ration cards to all Castro's subjects. "Food is a weapon" famously declared Stalin's minister, Maxim Litvinov.
In the 1930's Stalin's regime fashioned a school-mandated morality tale from the story of Pavlik, the Soviet boy who denounced his father. The identical theme operates under Cuba's tropical Stalinism. Anyone who has lived under a Communist regime recalls this revolting process, with a shudder.
And with a little imagination almost everyone can visualize the Communist snitch-and-survive or snitch-and-reward process. At work, we've all seen the insufferable brownnoser who hopes to mitigate or camouflage his incompetence or laziness by sucking up to the boss. We've all seen that gossipy little backstabber, that sniveling little suck-up, that busybody shrew get promoted over their betters. Somehow after every flush of "downsizing" many of these Eddie Haskells and Mrs. Kravitzes keep bobbing back to the surface.
To some extent this is human/corporate nature. All organizations favor "team players." In the private sector these things are usually rectified in short order, and the brownnosing incompetents axed. Either that or the company goes under. There are stockholders and customers to keep happy.
But under Communism this swinishness is the very essence of the system. There is only a Maximum Leader to keep happy.
Humberto Fontova is the author of four books including Exposing the Real Che Guevara. Visit hfontova.com.