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CARACAS, Saturday October 15, 2011 | Update
 
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Government

"Chávez pins Venezuela under a false democracy"

In his book titled Civilization: The West and the Rest, British historian Niall Ferguson makes reference to Venezuela

According to the prominent Scottish scholar, President Hugo Chávez's self portrayal as a modern-day Simón Bolívar is no mere coincidence (Photo: Miraflores Press Office)
SARA CAROLINA DÍAZ |  EL UNIVERSAL
Saturday October 15, 2011  10:46 AM


British historian and Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson pauses briefly in his most recent book, Civilization: The West and The Rest, to label Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as just another Latin American caudillo as the author compares the revolutions of Latin American countries with the US revolution and explains the roots of the inequities evidenced in this part of the world.

The main reason behind the differences between both revolutions, Ferguson explains, is that the system created in the United States (from its origin as a nation), deemed a success by the author, is based on property rights. In Latin America, however, land ownership was first claimed by the Spanish royalty and then passed on to an elite minority. This situation gave rise to significant socioeconomic differences that, among other things, paved the way for the caudillo phenomenon.

Ferguson repeatedly refers to botched approximations to democracy, whose doomed fates were due to the action of an elite group who, at the first signs of expropriation, sought out caudillos in military uniform to restore status quo through violence: "This was no recipe for swift economic growth."

The historian devoted a segment of his book to explain the involvement of the English and the Irish in the South American independence and to point out that most of the 7,000 volunteers joining the ranks of Simón Bolívar's army were driven by the promise of land ownership.

Tailor made

In another chapter, Ferguson focuses on some of Simón Bolívar's quotes in documents like the Cartagena Manifesto to exemplify how "Bolívar's dream did not become a democracy but a dictatorship instead. It failed to evolve into federalism and rather plunged into a centralization of authority." To explain this assertion, Ferguson resorts to the words of Bolívar himself: "...Our countrymen are still incapable of extensively exercising their rights on their own because they lack the political virtues upheld by true Republicans..."

The author adds that Bolívar also said that laws could not be situated above leaders and made other claims that show a side of the Venezuelan founding father that many would rather overlook.

Edited in March 2011, Ferguson's book, an outright hit within the academic world, asserts that President Hugo Chávez's self portrayal as a modern-day Simón Bolívar is no mere coincidence and that his rule is grounded on a false democracy: "Chávez idolizes Bolívar so much that in 2010 he dug up the latter's grave for some sort of nationally televised communion with the liberator's spirit. A former soldier with a pendant for political theatrics, Chávez loves disserting on his Bolivarian Revolution. Throughout Caracas, Bolívar's elegant countenance is on display alongside Chavez's mug. The underlying truth, nevertheless, is that Chávez's government is a false democracy in which the police and the media are wielded as weapons against the opposition, and oil revenues are used to buy the support of the population, acquire subsidized imports and make bribes."

Ferguson adds that the right to private property, an utterly crucial component of legal and political order in the United States, is continually infringed upon in Venezuela: "Chávez nationalizes corporations at will, from cement factories to television stations and even banks. As so many small-time dictators before him in South America's history, he makes a mockery of the law by tailoring the Constitution to his needs, first in 1999, soon after his win at the presidential elections, and then recently in 2009, when the limit for presidential terms was abolished to secure his own indefinite reelection."

sdiaz@eluniversal.com

Translated by Félix Rojas Alva

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