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Qaddafi’s Pal in Caracas

Hugo Chávez had better hope he doesn’t end up like his dictator friends.

Mar 14, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 25 • By VANESSA NEUMANN
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The problem for Chávez and the Bolivarians is that in aligning themselves with Middle Eastern rogue states they may have made a bad bet. To be sure, even if Chávez loses Tripoli and Tehran as allies, instability in the Middle East will raise demand for Venezuela’s higher-sulfur heavy crude, and the spike in price will help solidify his hold on power as he approaches the 2012 elections. But insofar as Middle Easterners have been inspired by the examples of their peers—from Tunisia to Bahrain and Libya to Iran—there is no reason that Latin Americans should not be similarly moved to go to the streets to demonstrate against their own repressive regimes. Indeed, the signs do not augur well for the Bolivarians.

Recently, 63 Venezuelan students went on a hunger strike to protest Chávez’s human rights record, his repression of the country’s opposition parties, and his gutting of independent state institutions. They campaigned for international pressure to support the release of high-profile political prisoners, including judges, opposition officials, and members of the national assembly. 

As another representative from Venezuela’s National Assembly, Maria Corina Machado, recently told me: 

The building of the society we dream about will be done by us Venezuelans, but we do ask the world not to make it more difficult for us, not to legitimize a regime that consistently violates human rights. Venezuelans have a right to raise their voices in protest and demand that other countries not be complicit. What we want is for the true nature of the Venezuelan regime to be recognized, that they have violated all the pillars of a democratic system: There’s no respect for human rights, no separation of powers, and recurrent violation of the constitution.

Chávez and his Bolivarian colleagues are on notice—if an Arab tyrant in exile disdains refuge in Venezuela, there’s plenty of space for Latin American despots alongside ousted Arab rulers in the deserts of Saudi Arabia.

Vanessa Neumann is editor-at-large of Diplomat magazine and a commentator on Latin American politics for Caracol radio.

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