December 14, 2005

How to take the Oil and Respect the Rights of the Venezuelan People

Carroll Andrew Morse

In March of 2005, the Venezuelan government passed a law making criticism of the President and other high government officials in Venezuela a criminal offense. According to the law, Venezuelan citizens can get as much as 30 months in jail for criticizing government officials in print or writing.

Are Senators Reed and Chafee are troubled by this policy implemented by their new oil ally? If they are, here is a statement they can use to appropriately express their dissatisfaction…

President Chavez, we thank your government for making this oil assistance available to our people. And we hope that you will take the time to appreciate the lesson about the importance of freedom that this agreement affords.

The reason this deal is possible is because of the strength and openness of American democracy. In America, when our President makes a decision that not all of us agree with, we are free to criticize it. In America, we are even free to work towards policies that our President does not support.

President Chavez, the law passed in Venezuela this past March denies this right of public dissent, essential to a democracy, to your people. We hope that your government learns from what has been achieved here, and repeals the unwarranted restrictions on criticism of government officials that are now part of Venezuelan law.

Will our Senators, who proudly, frequently and appropriately avail themselves of their right to criticize their own President also criticize a foreign president when it is appropriate? Or will our Senators censor themselves, fearing that Venezuela will kill the oil-assisistance deal if public criticism of Chavez neutralizes its propaganda value. Or do they just not care about freedom of speech and democracy outside of the United States?

Of course, Senator Reed tells us that the oil assistance deal has minimal political overtones, so the Venezuelan government should not be bothered by hearing the truth. After all, the Saudis still provide oil to America even as President Bush calls for reforms in their country. Why should Venezuela be held to a lower standard?