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Nations Have the Governments They Deserve

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

What has to happen before the Latin Americans disqualify a politician at the polls and reject him on moral grounds?

Nicaragua is about to reelect Daniel Ortega, a character who began his revolutionary career by robbing a bank in 1967 and has been dogged by accusations of raping his stepdaughter, Zoilamérica Narváez, during her childhood.

In addition, Ortega stands accused before international tribunals of genocide against his country's indigenous minorities, and virtually everyone in Nicaragua knows that there were dozens of political murders and cruel tortures committed in prisons during his administration.

They also know that his presidency ended in 1990 with a massive act of pillage known as la piñata, when a good many officials in the Sandinista hierarchy claimed property and goods that had been seized from their legitimate owners. Despite all that, about 40 percent of Nicaraguans want him back as the nation's chief executive. What ethical values do these voters uphold?

More or less the same is happening in Venezuela. Roughly, half of the Venezuelans are ready to support Hugo Chávez in his reelection bid next December. Many have supported Chávez since 1992, when this gentleman shot his way into the presidential building with the intention of killing the country's legitimate president and installing a military dictatorship.

In the late '90s, a majority of Venezuelans elected Chávez, who immediately began to commit all kinds of misdeeds: He changed the laws at will, took over the institutions, allowed his goons to machine-gun unarmed demonstrators, fixed elections, began to use public funds as his private bank account and, while he was at it, beat his wife so badly that she landed in the hospital -- just so she wouldn't forget who wore the pants in the house. But none of that seems to disqualify him in the eyes of a substantial sector of Venezuelan society. They couldn't care less. What ethical values do these voters uphold?

Things don't look much different in Peru. Alberto Fujimori waits in Chile for another opportunity to bid for the presidency, and it seems that a third of the voters support him. To them, the corruption of Fujimori's right man, Vladimiro Montesinos, recorded in hundreds of videotapes, is unimportant. So is the evidence of mass murders committed by the army in its war on subversion and terrorism. And, of course, the self-coup with which Fujimori dismantled Peruvian democracy in 1992 and placed the country's institutions at his personal service. At the risk of harping, I insist again: What ethical values do these voters uphold?

The list and the examples can extend ad infinitum:

• In Argentina, Peronism is a pathological strain of politics that has never enjoyed less than 50 percent of the enthusiastic support of the electorate.

• In Ecuador, those who back madman Abdalá Bucaram are legion.

• In Uruguay, the crimes committed by the Tupamaros have never cost them a single vote.

• In Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva remains immune to the corruption scandals that riddle his administration.

• In Chile, many are still nostalgic for Gen. Augusto Pinochet, despite conclusive proof of his contempt for the law, his violation of human rights and his undisguised habit of plundering the nation's wealth.

The problem is worrisome because the stability of the rule of law rests on the moral values of society, not on the juridical structure outlined in the Constitution. The people of Latin American are victims not of a stubbornly corrupt ruling class but of their own tolerance toward those who violate the laws and of their own indifference toward the breakdown of standards.

The old dictum that says people have the government they deserve almost always contains a bitter truth. If we don't mind electing rogues, we have no right to complain.

©2006 Firmas Press

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