Why checks and balances? Check out Venezuela today.
During our school days, we learned of those "checks and balances" in our U.S. Constitution. My guess is that it was a bit abstract and theoretical for most American kids. I had the advantage of Cuban parents who taught us to value freedom and the personal experience of watching an absolute dictatorship at work.
Our friend Fausta Wertz, the editor of Fausta's Blog, has brought this letter from Leopoldo Lopez to our attention. Mr. Lopez is sitting in jail in Venezuela. It describes how his homeland is moving further and further into a ruthless dictatorship:
When the current ruling party, the United Socialist Party, first took power in 1999, its supporters viewed human rights as a luxury, not a necessity. Large segments of the population were living in poverty, and in need of food, housing and security. Protecting free speech and the separation of powers seemed frivolous. In the name of expediency, these values were compromised and then dismantled entirely.
The legislature was neutered, allowing the executive to rule by decree without the checks and balances that prevent government from veering off track. The judiciary was made accountable to the ruling party, rendering the constitution and the law meaningless. In an infamous 2009 case, Judge Mary Lourdes Afiuni was imprisoned for ordering the release of a businessman and government critic who had been held for three years in pretrial detention, one year more than allowed under Venezuelan law.
Meanwhile, political leaders—myself included—were persecuted and imprisoned, stifling the competition of ideas that could have led to better decisions and policies. Independent news organizations were dismantled, seized or driven out of business. The “sunshine that disinfects,” and the scrutiny that motivates good decision-making, no longer benefit our leadership.
Venezuela’s current president, Nicolás Maduro, has taken this to a terrible new low.
Venezuela is a Government 101 lesson, or what happens in a country where unchecked presidential power rules by decree and whims.
Over the last few years, as my friend Comandante Cazorla told me on yesterday's show, President Chávez, and now Maduro, arbitrarily used oil, the nation's main resource, to subsidize governments in Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. The people of Venezuela were never seriously consulted. It was an ego trip to promote Chávez as an international figure.
Also, the public sector and the government have become one. They touch everyone's life or business. They demand total loyalty and will punish dissent.
It's awful what we are watching in Venezuela.
Twenty years ago, Venezuela was that lovely country that exported baseball shortstops and was always a finalist in the Miss Universe pageant.
Today, it is a country of shortages, incredible crime, and total dysfunction. Or Exhibit A of a nation without those checks and balances that our teachers told us about in school.
P.S. You can hear CANTO TALK here & follow me on Twitter @ scantojr.