The Face of Chavismo Today

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Quico says: More than anything or anyone else in Venezuela today, it’s Luisa Ortega Díaz that scares me. There’s something spontaneous, heartfelt, deeply honest about the Prosecutor General’s commitment to authoritarianism that creeps me out to the core.

In this startling communiqué issued today, Ortega Diaz puts in a strong audition for the role of Postergirl for late-stage chavismo. Unembarrassed by her sneering contempt for dissent, uninterested in maintaining a minimal façade of democratic tolerance, suffused with aggression against anyone who questions her ideological certainties and ideologically committed to using state power to crush them, to listen to Luisa Ortega Diaz is to verify the far outer reaches to which the boundaries of acceptable discourse have been pushed in Venezuelan officialdom.

It’s funny to think back now on how we used to loathe the old Fiscal General, Isaías Rodríguez. Time was when we figured we couldn’t do any worse than him for a Fiscal. With the benefit of hindsight, though, we can see that however much of a tool Isaías might have been – and, make no mistake about it, he was a monumental tool – the guy’s lethargy ended up shielding us. The sheer bureaucratic torpor Isaías exhuded from every pore in his greasy little body ended up blunting the danger he presented to our freedom. Too stupid to inflict much damage, too unimaginative to grasp the power of his office and the possibilities it afforded him, installing Isaías in the Fiscalía ended up being more about guaranteeing impunity to corrupt chavistas than about dismantling the remaining spaces for dissent in Venezuelan society.

Luisa Ortega Diaz is something else altogether. She doesn’t just have the extremist ideology, she also has the energy, the clarity of vision and the sense of her own power to become a leading player in the drive to entrench a chavista dictatorship.

Because, lets be clear, her office is powerful: much more powerful than analogous offices in most other countries. It has a complete monopoly on deciding which criminal cases get tried and which don’t. With no regional-level prosecutions, no private prosecutions allowed and no escape valves in things like Special Council or Independent Council statutes, the Fiscal General is the ultimate judicial bottle-neck, with total discretion to decide who gets a criminal trial and who doesn’t.

That’s the power Luisa Ortega Diaz has. And there really isn’t any ambivalence to her views: protesting against the government is attempting to undermine the stability of the state, and will be prosecuted. When you considered the parallel stranglehold chavismo has over the courts, there’s no ambiguity left at all. Venezuela is quickly becoming a place where disagreeing with the government in public is an offense punishable with jail time. And Luisa Ortega Diaz has taken on her task of ensuring that goal is reached with simply terrifying glee.

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