Last week, Bolivia's leading opposition figure took the unusual step of seeking political asylum in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz, accusing Evo Morales's government of political persecution and death threats. Just as surprisingly, in a stinging rebuke to the Morales government, the Brazilians granted his request, saying his fears were well-founded.
Last month, a prominent Supreme Court judge in Venezuela fled his country into the custody of the Drug Enforcement Administration, fearing that what he knows of narco corruption at the upper levels of Hugo Chávez's government had placed his life in jeopardy. In Ecuador, judges who refuse to follow President Rafael Correa's orders have been forced to resign and several now live in exile. A leading opposition figure is also being hounded by government lawsuits to silence him.
These recent incidents underscore the success of the most pernicious and effective legacy of the Chávez-led Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America -- tightening the grip on power of increasingly corrupt governments while gutting the judiciaries, silencing independent media, and criminalizing all political opposition.
Of course, the judiciaries in most of Latin America have long been hobbled by corruption, cronyism, and antiquated legal structures. But the courts are now completely politicized with the express purpose of furthering authoritarian political projects.
Fidel Castro counseled both Hugo Chávez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, by their own accounts in interviews in 2006, to eschew armed revolution in favor of using the electoral process to gain power and then changing the constitutions and legal structures of their countries to ensure they could govern in perpetuity.
It is an effective strategy followed in lockstep by Chávez and his allies Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, espousing what they call "21st Century Socialism." Take the case of Bolivian senator Roger Pinto, against whom the Morales government has lodged more than 20 criminal cases before he sought asylum.
Earlier this year, the Bolivian government filed charges of homicide against Pinto, but didn't bother to present a body or any other evidence of the alleged crime. Yet he could be subject to arrest and indefinite detention without trial if arrested. There are multiple examples of such arrests, including that of Leopoldo Fernández, the prominent opposition governor of Pando province, who has been held illegally and without charges or trial for more than three years.
Pinto, who leads the opposition and was president of the Senate until 2008, has been outspoken in his denunciations of official corruption, the lack of transparency in the Morales government's dealings with Iran, and the growing presence of Mexican drug cartels in Bolivia.