The Washington Post profiles Juan José Molina, a former chavista who has turned against the great Bolivarian revolutionary:
Days after President Hugo Chávez won a referendum to eliminate term limits, Congressman Juan José Molina stood up in the National Assembly and called the victory “a major fraud” made possible by weak institutions and a populace manipulated by an omnipresent government.
As is often the case when Molina takes the podium, his colleagues — all but a handful devoted to Chávez — tried to shut him down with a flurry of catcalls. “We will not let ourselves be duped by hired guns,” thundered one of them, Carlos Escarra, in the session last week. And so it was, as one after another lawmaker labeled Molina and others in his party liars and traitors to the fatherland.
But Molina and his political party, Podemos, which has seven seats in the Assembly, celebrated the moment as a chance to speak out at a time when that is an increasingly trying proposition. Indeed, in a government in which subservience to Chávez is requisite, it is only in the 167-member National Assembly that the president and his supporters face voices of dissent on his measures and decrees.
“We are seven deputies, representing millions of Venezuelans,” said Molina, 53. “From 2007 we have occupied this space — not to get rid of Chávez, not to throw him out or see him die. Ours is a defense of democracy. And so we criticize.”
Podemos members have been accosted by pro-Chávez activists outside the National Assembly, forcing palace guards to protect them. When Podemos lawmakers raise concerns about policies that Chávez considers sacrosanct, they are ruled out of order or their speeches are drowned out by their foes.
The government’s supporters also call Podemos members tools of Venezuela’s “oligarchy” and the imperialists in Washington, even though the party is center-left and its members consider themselves revolutionaries committed to progressive causes.
Most of Venezuela’s opposition parties boycotted congressional elections in 2005, a spectacular mistake that left the National Assembly looking like this:
A visit to the National Assembly can be Kafkaesque. Lawmakers spend hours hailing Chávez’s policies and pronouncing Venezuela the world’s most democratic country. They pass resolutions declaring solidarity with Chávez’s closest allies, such as Bolivia and Cuba, or support for the Palestinians in the face of Israeli military strikes.
On a recent day, the agenda included a proposed pact with Zimbabwe, whose leader, Robert Mugabe, is accused of turning one of Africa’s most promising countries into a basket case. The deputies also spent much of the day singing the revolutionary songs of deceased singer-songwriter Alí Primera. Fiery pro-government speeches ended with chants of “Socialism, or Death.”
“They deal with issues that are absolutely unsubstantial and disconnected with the everyday problems of Venezuelans,” said Simón Rafael Jiménez, a former Chávez ally and onetime member of the National Assembly. “This sounds rather ridiculous, but they assume them with the utmost seriousness. Those debates and discussions are surreal.”
What is more telling, Jimenez and other observers said, is what is not discussed.
The homicide rate in Venezuela is not a topic for conversation, though polls show that Venezuelans rank crime as a top concern. The oil-generated, billion-dollar funds controlled solely by Chávez are off-limits, as is corruption.
But the assembly was quick to support Chávez’s plans for the referendum that would lengthen his tenure, though voters rejected a similar measure in 2007. Lawmakers have also given him decree powers in economic matters. And a special commission is investigating opposition leader Manuel Rosales on corruption charges.
Jiménez said the assembly has in essence become a rubber-stamp congress. “The congress is a decorative body that is unconditional in its support of Hugo Chávez,” he said. “The congressmen even compete to praise, to flatter Chávez.”
Go ahead, chavistas. Tell me this is all going to end well.