In 1992, Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez learned the hard way that a military coup was the wrong way to seize power when his attempt to rule Venezuela fizzled, landing him in jail. Seven years later, Chavez "converted" to democracy, and his fortune changed. He won the presidency.
Since then, Chavez and his cronies have been busy converting Venezuela's nascent democracy into a dictatorship. While paying lip service to democratic values, they have gradually been stripping Venezuelans of their basic rights and freedoms. The protests of other governments and of human rights organizations, meanwhile, have fallen on deaf ears.
Before winning an August referendum on his rule, Chavez promised to mend his authoritarian ways. If anything, his triumph seems to have emboldened him. Exercising his control over the National Assembly, Chavez is systematically clamping down on democratic freedoms.
Revisions to the penal code include longer prison terms for those convicted of libel and indefensible limitations on the public's right to criticize public officials. A particularly dodgy measure would make it a criminal act to bang pots and other kitchen utensils during public protests, a timeless form of political expression in South America. This week, his operatives in the National Assembly appointed 17 judges and 32 alternate judges to an expanded Supreme Court, further solidifying his control over the judicial branch of the Venezuela government.