Like many other stories coming out of Venezuela, this one should have been big news in the American media, but wasn’t. In early February, several former Hugo Chávez loyalists published a letter urging the Venezuelan president to resign from office. The letter denounced Chávez’s governing style as “autocratic” and “totalitarian.” It accused him of being “intolerant, petty, hateful and resentful.” It pointed out his failure to adequately address Venezuela’s serious domestic problems (crime, corruption, energy shortages, etc.). And it suggested that Venezuelan institutions, including the military, have been “distorted by the incursion of outside elements.” This was a polite way of saying that Chávez is seeking to “Cubanize” his government with the help of senior Communist officials sent from Havana.
What made the letter so striking was the list of signatories, who collectively referred to themselves as the “Constitutional Axis.” They included two men (Yoel Acosta and Jesús Urdaneta) who joined forces with Chávez to lead an unsuccessful military coup in 1992, Chávez’s former legal adviser (Hermann Escarrá), his former defense minister (Raúl Isaías Baduel), and his former foreign minister (Luis Alfonso Dávila, who is also a former president of the old Venezuelan Senate). These ex-Chavistas have concluded that the Venezuelan president “has neither moral nor material authority to rule the country, since he can not meet people’s demands satisfactorily.”
But even if Chávez lacks that authority, he is legally allowed to pursue reelection forever, thanks to a February 2009 public referendum that eradicated term limits. A similar initiative had been defeated in December 2007. In a New York Times op-ed published prior to the 2007 referendum, Baduel had implored his countrymen to vote “no,” pointing out that the measure was “nothing less than an attempt to establish a socialist state in Venezuela. As our Catholic bishops have already made clear, a socialist state is contrary to the beliefs of Simón Bolívar, the South American liberation hero, and it is also contrary to human nature and the Christian view of society, because it grants the state absolute control over the people it governs.”
Since Baduel wrote those words, he has been jailed on phony corruption charges, and Chávez has become even more dictatorial and Castro-like. But the letter published by the Constitutional Axis shows that the Venezuelan leader is facing growing resistance among many of his former comrades.
Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.