Thursday, August 19, 2004

Justice Denied: The Venezuela Referendum

I know Thor Halvorssen from my college days at George Washington University; then he was the program director of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Collegiate Network which had given a grant to the undergraduate student newspaper I edited at the time. I remember Halvorssen as quietly intense, almost having the face one would find on the hero of an Ayn Rand novel. I remember talking to one of the other CN staffers about Halvorssen and them saying to me that he and his family were Venezuelan and had been though a lot of hell in their lives. In an article Halvorssen writes for today’s Wall Street Journal, it’s gotten worse.

Within one hour of the gathering, just over 100 of Lt. Col. Chávez's supporters, many of them brandishing his trademark army parachutist beret, began moving down the main avenue towards the crowd in the square. Encouraged by their leader's victory, this bully-boy group had been marching through opposition neighborhoods all day. They were led by men on motorcycles with two-way radios. From afar they began to taunt the crowd in the square, chanting, "We own this country now," and ordering the people in the opposition crowd to return to their homes. All of this was transmitted live by the local news station. The Chávez group threw bottles and rocks at the crowd. Moments later a young woman in the square screamed for the crowd to get down as three of the men with walkie-talkies, wearing red T-shirts with the insignia of the government-funded "Bolivarian Circle," revealed their firearms. They began shooting indiscriminately into the multitude.

A 61-year-old grandmother was shot in the back as she ran for cover. The bullet ripped through her aorta, kidney and stomach. She later bled to death in the emergency room. An opposition congressman was shot in the shoulder and remains in critical care. Eight others suffered severe gunshot wounds. Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject visiting Caracas for her mother's 80th birthday, was shot at close range with hollow-point bullets from a high-caliber pistol. She now lies sedated in a hospital bed after a long and complicated operation. She is my mother.

I spoke with her minutes before the doctors cut open her wounds. She looked at me, frightened and traumatized, and sobbed: "I was sure they were going to kill me, they just kept shooting at me."
This is horrific—an unmitigated nightmare of vicious brutality. Yet Chavez’s iron fist is nothing new; his thugs did the exact same thing in 2001. That time, no one was punished—no justice was delivered. I expect the same with this atrocity as well. This is what you get from a leader who admires Castro.

Yet perhaps most shocking is the sanction given by former president Jimmy Carter to a fraudulent election. Carter was part of a team of foreign observers sent to monitor the Venezuelan referendum. His oversight was essential to insure its integrity. Rather than investigate the many claims of massive fraud, reports indicate that Carter simply took the Chavez government’s word that the vote tallies were honest and left the country. The evil of Carter’s failure to act in Venezuela ranks up there with his failure to act against the Iranian Ayatollahs in 1979.

It is axiomatic that there will be fraud in an election of a Marxist to power. Dishonesty, and brutality are the essential characteristics of the proletariat revolution. It is appalling that Cater turned a blind eye to it—that he turned a blind eye to Thor Halvorssen’s mother as she lay bleeding in the streets from the hand of a ruthless tyrant.

My thoughts are with Halvorssen and his family. I wish them safety—and justice.

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