It meant, that, no matter what,
Publicity is always effective. In the end, Cato’s message was heard and
It was a tough and dirty war, even for those times,
After three bloody years of continuous fights,
After reading this fascinating story, I thought of the similarities between the Sumate persecution by the Chavez government and the insistence of Cato to destroy
Chavez was a military man and it is still today a military man. In his quest towards absolute power, he has been treating Venezuelan institutions as if they were “the enemy”. An enemy that had to be controlled and beaten.
He has been extremely successful.
His success is due in part to the clumsy and inefficient opposition, in part because nobody believed that he could go that far and still pretend that he was a democratic ruler. Finally and foremost, because
No matter the reason of Chavez’s success, there was a new type of enemy in town that Chavez was not used to fight: Sumate.
The origin of Sumate is, to say the least, unusual. In a country where the civil society was not used to have its voice heard, suddenly there was a civil group that organized itself to literally prevent a civil war in
It was an exit that any democratic leader would have welcome: a recall Referendum, guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution; let the people decide.
But Chavez government was not happy at all about it and did all the possible tricks to avoid going to a Referendum. Sumate organized a signature collection, not once, but three times! (see Daniel’s excellent summary here). They were systematic and efficient and used Chavez’s own weapon: the 1999 Chavista Constitution to lead the fight.
A few months before the Referendum took place, Sumate persecution started. It was Chavez itself who, like Cato in the Senate, initiated it by talking in his Sunday TV program about the NED funding. But the Chavista government is, in matters of political persecution, much more effective than the Roman government. It did not take years to initiate the “Delenda Sumate” campaign. The very next day, the Sumate directive was charged by the government attorneys.
I do not think that the funding was illegal. The money was a small grant to organize courses to promote democratic awareness. However, if the money had indeed been illegal, then the government should have fined Sumate and asked them to reimburse it. End of it.
But, according to Chavez, Sumate delenda est! The government had to put all its weight and influence to discredit Sumate and to take its directive to court for …no less than treason!
They dusted a very old article of the very archaic Venezuelan penal code to state that Sumate was destroying “the Republican form” of the government. Thanks to a convoluted interpretation that nobody in his right mind would accept, receiving the small grant from the NED resulted in being charged for treason and risking up to 16 years in jail.
And, by the way, we are talking about Venezuelan prisons.
The attack was not directed towards the institution. It was personally aimed at the four highest members of Sumate: Maria Corina Machado, Alejandro Plaz, Ricardo Estevez and Luis Enrique Palacios. The four young engineers that had dared to create a new form of resistance in
Meanwhile, since the Referendum, the mighty Chavez government has been taking over whatever was left of the democratic institutions of the country. In particular, the judiciary system, that has never been a model of independence, has been revamped to have only judges blindly committed to Chavez. I hope that Sumate is cleared, but the hope is closer to wishful thinking.
So, there is a high probability that, in the end, Sumate will be destroyed, and that the Chavez goverment will have thrown salt to the Sumate office created by a small group of unlikely democratic heroes.
Maybe, like some historians suspected, Chavez, like Cato, is using Sumate as a diversion. Maybe he is really committed to attack this new type of enemy that resists his controlling expansion or maybe he just do not know how to govern without having an enemy in front of him. In any case, it is clear that Chavez has not learned the lessons from Rome.The Romans flourished while they incorporated the good features of the foreign cultures into their own. The anhilation of
Chavez has not realized that his enemy is not Sumate. His enemy, like in
He can ask his followers to “Delenda Sumate” as much as he wants and like the Romans, he might win the last Punic war.