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Russia and Venezuela: two different look-alikes

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) - Events in Russia and Latin America are sometimes stunningly alike. I still remember my wonder at the similarity of events in Peru ruled by Alberto Fujimori and in Russia during the era of Boris Yeltsin.

President Fujimori dissolved the parliament, and Yeltsin soon did the same. Fujimori announced a war on terror, and the first Chechen war began in Russia soon afterwards.

Both presidents were sharply criticized by human rights groups, although not always with good reason. These human rights advocates refused to take into account reality, in which the terrorist adversary forced specific forms of fighting on the government.

Peruvian Maoists from Sendero Luminoso, whose stated goal was to destroy existing Peruvian institutions and replace them with a communist peasant revolutionary regime, kidnapped people and cut off their arms with machete knives. Chechen terrorists in Russia kidnapped people and cut off their heads.

There is one substantial difference, though: Fujimori won his war, while Yeltsin didn't. A relative victory and peace in Chechnya became possible only after the second Chechen war and under a different president.

And lastly, Fujimori had to flee Peru, while Yeltsin, although Russians did not like him much, was given an honorable burial in Moscow.

Today some people compare Vladimir Putin to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In my opinion, there are more differences than similarities between them.

Formal democracy is the political element they have in common. Both countries have formal elements of democracy, such as parliament, elections, the division of powers, the opposition and opposition media, and so on. However, democracy is not prospering in either country, to put it mildly.

Russia and Venezuela are similar economically: both have huge energy resources, which keep them afloat and even allow them to carry out reforms.

And this is it. Everything else is quite different.

The regime of Chavez is a direct offspring of several previous regimes, which formally advocated democratic principles and a market economy, but turned out to be incompetent, unwilling to address social problems, and unable to resist the temptation to steal and talk through the hat.

Venezuela's latest problem is that it has veered to the left, following Chavez's demagoguery from one pseudo-democracy to another. This is a lesson other countries, including Russia, must learn. It shows that formal democracy has a vulnerable immune system, with populism as the killer virus.

Russia has risen from a different background - socialist democracy and planned economy. It is developing a strange political system, but it certainly is not a "socialism of the 21st century" advocated by Comandante Chavez.

Besides, there is a glimmer of hope that Russian democracy will outgrow its teenage illnesses, while the "democracy according to Chavez" is beyond any hope. The only thing he can do is develop a socialist democracy, commonly known as dictatorship, especially since his Cuban advisors are working hard to reinforce his personality cult.

There are forces in Venezuela and Russia that want to make the current presidents their lifetime leaders, but the reaction of Putin to this idea is broadly different from that of Chavez.

The Venezuelan president has submitted to his puppet parliament a draft law amending the constitution to allow lifelong presidency. Putin has so far repelled all attacks at the constitution, defending his right to a political vacation at least until 2012.

I believe Putin is doing right, because catastrophe is almost unavoidable when the same person stands at the helm too long.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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