March 5.─ With the death of dictator Hugo Chavez, many people are hoping Venezeula will become both more free and less anti-American. Optimists note that Nicholas Maduro, his designated successor, lacks Chavez's charisma and will have to face voters in snap election under Venezuela's constitution. Chavez won by only about 10 percentage points — his lowest margin yet — in last year's election.
But Thor Halvorssen, a prominent Venezuelan human-rights advocate, isn't optimistic. The head of the New York–based Human Rights Foundation, a group devoted to showcasing abuses by governments of all persuasions, Halvorssen says Venezuela is likely to get worse before it gets better.
"Chavez's death is not the end of an era but the start of an incalculable crisis given the mess he created and leaves behind: a nation with no rule of law, with drug kingpins running the army, former guerillas running the government, and a civil society that has been hollowed out by 14 years of non-stop harassment and persecution," Halvorrsen told me yesterday in an interview from London.
"A presidential election must be held within 30 days if Chavez is gone," he noted. "The regime is already preparing a false-reform 'dawn' that will try to bolster its chances. They will release all political prisoners, they will invite back some exiles, and they will loosen some controls. But in reality it will be all be for show" ...
[ Full text ]