Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Chávez Decree Tightens Hold on Intelligence

Chávez is a complex figure. On the one hand, he's a tyrant, an authoritarian. And he intends to slowly make Venezuela a dictatorship; he'll call dictatorship of the proleteriat, but it shall simply be a dictatorship.

The new law requires people in the country to comply with requests to assist the agencies, secret police or community activist groups loyal to Mr. Chávez. Refusal can result in prison terms of two to four years for most people and four to six years for government employees.

Cuban-style, proven method to turn citizens against one another; eyes and ears everywhere.

But there is another side to the story. First, this:

Under the new intelligence law, which took effect last week, Venezuela’s two main intelligence services, the DISIP secret police and the DIM military intelligence agency, will be replaced with new agencies, the General Intelligence Office and General Counterintelligence Office, under the control of Mr. Chávez.

Well, the CIA reports to the US president. Whom else should intelligence report to?


Recently, Venezuela has claimed it was subject to military intimidation from the United States, pointing to a recent violation of Venezuelan airspace by an American fighter jet and Washington’s recent reactivation of its Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American and Caribbean waters.

A fleet in the Caribbean? Defending against whom? The combined forces of Nicaraguan and Bolivian naval vessels? Fleets are used to intimidate, just as much as to fight.

On Sunday, Mr. Chávez referred to critics of the intelligence law as de facto supporters of the Bush administration and of the Patriot Act, the American antiterrorism law that enhances the ability of security agencies to monitor personal telephone and e-mail communications. Mr. Chávez’s new intelligence law has similar flourishes. For instance, it authorizes his new intelligence agencies to use “any special or technically designed method” to intercept and obtain information.

Maybe they used the Patriot Act as a template. Their paradigm is different, in some ways, but not in others.

Interior Minister Ramón Rodríguez Chacín announced the intelligence overhaul in a public appearance here last week, saying it was needed to combat “interference from the United States” by having intelligence agency workers imbued with “ideological commitment.”

We don't call it “ideological commitment,” but do have quite similar policies. This is a nation, a government, protecting itself proactively, rather than reactively.

The drafting and passage of the law behind closed doors, without exposing it to the public debate it would have had if Mr. Chávez had submitted it to the Assembly, also contributed to the public uproar and suspicion.

Are all provisions of the Patriot Act publicly known? FISA courts are secret. Still, Chavistasa are not democrats.

One part of the law, which explicitly requires judges and prosecutors to cooperate with the intelligence services, has generated substantial concern among legal experts and rights groups, which were already alarmed by the deterioration of judicial independence under Mr. Chávez.

Doesn't the Patriot Act make similar requirements? Nonetheless:

This is a government that simply doesn’t believe in the separation of powers,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch, the New York-based rights organization. “Here you have the president legislating by decree that the country’s judges must serve as spies for the government.”

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