Convenience and democracy

The short-lived coup in Venezuela, which deposed President Hugo Chavez in favor of a Venezuelan businessman for approximately 48 hours, shows almost as much about the flaws in our executive branch as in theirs. On Sept. 11, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a speech in Lima, Peru to the Organization of American States, asking them to support a democratic resolution calling for “hemispheric response to interruptions of constitutional rule.”

Hugo Chavez, an outspoken populist who supports Cuban President Fidel Castro and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, has long been an opponent of U.S. policies and, as such, has not been well liked in this nation’s government. He was the resolution’s loudest opponent but, ironically, was its first beneficiary after other nations used the resolution to help him back to power. Meanwhile, the Bush administration – former champions of democratic processes in South America – became the last nation to condemn the military takeover, only speaking out against it when Chavez was headed back into office.

More recent reports revealed high-ranking administration officials met with those who planned and executed the coup in the past few months and that Otto Reich – assistant secretary for Western Hemispheric affairs, Cuban exile and vehement Castro opponent – called the interim presidents the day he took over to advise him not to shut down the National Assembly. And now, two weeks after the coup, the Bush administration still refuses to call it a coup, instead clinging to the absurd notion that Chavez resigned voluntarily for only two days, while the Venezuelan army waited outside his door. Also that day, the administration claimed his ousting was his own fault. This might be the once-vaunted President George W. Bush’s foreign policy team’s most spectacular failure.

Since Chavez returned to office, White House press statements have laughably continued to blame Chavez. Bush said now that Chavez is back in power, he must “embrace those institutions which are fundamental to democracy.” When questioned about this contradiction – telling a foreign leader to embrace democracy as administration officials support democracy’s antithesis – those same officials go no further than admitting Chavez was democratically elected. But, said one official, “Legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters.” That, obviously, is something on which this administration can speak authoritatively.

On one hand, the administration’s response to this situation can be expected, considering Bush’s road to the White House passed through the Supreme Court. On the other hand, this response should not be tolerated from any administration that claims the moral high ground in its leadership of the world’s preeminent democracy. Rejection of democratic principles is simply not an option, even regarding leaders the United States does not like. Bush must make this clear to his team.

Democracy is not convenient. It is right.