He was hailed as the next Fidel Castro, the messianic resurrection of moribund Marxism who would unite Latin America with his fiery anti-Americanism and lead the overthrow of global capitalism.
But from Newsweek International to the New York Times, whose dishonest reporting helped install Castro almost half a century ago, a different conclusion is now emerging: Hugo Chavez, the megalomaniac Marxist dictator of Venezuela, has peaked and is now on his way down. As Newsweek reporter Ruchir Sharma wrote this week, “That Chavez Thing Is Over.”
“Much to the disappointment of the romantics” on the radical Left, wrote Sharma, it now appears likely that Hugo Chavez’s revolution will fail, “be pushed to the fringe, marginalized…the Chavez road will have led nowhere.”
Graying Reds and other leftists continue to make pilgrimages to Chavez’s socialist shrine in Caracas, as they once made on their knees to Moscow, Managua, and Havana. Among these “sandalistas” are Castro-loving actor Danny Glover, Jamaican singer Harry Belafonte, anti-war media addict Cindy Sheehan, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and African-American pseudo-scholar Cornel West.
The San Francisco anti-capitalism group Global Exchange now arranges tours of socialist Venezuela for fashionable American leftists.
Anti-American film director Oliver Stone has just announced plans to make a movie about the coup in Venezuela. No, not the 1992 coup in which as a 37-year-old Lt. Colonel Hugo Chavez led an abortive attempt to overthrow the duly-elected government of his country.
Like his fellow socialists Adolf Hitler and Castro after their failed coup attempts, Chavez spent the next two years in prison refining his ideology concocted from the screeds of Noam Chomsky, Karl Marx, and Chavez’s distortion of the ideas of 19th Century Venezuelan liberator of much of South America Simon Bolivar. (Chavez takes care never to mention that Bolivar enthusiastically modeled his efforts and ideals on the American Revolution but disapproved of the French Revolution that inspired Karl Marx.)
Unable to return to the military, Chavez entered politics as a fiery charismatic demagogue and, largely with the votes of the poor, was elected President in 1998. As Fabian socialist playwright George Bernard Shaw rightly wrote, “He who robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on Paul’s support,” and votes.
Oliver Stone plans a propaganda film to lionize Hugo Chavez’s role during a 2002 coup that for a few hours removed him from power, a coup Chavez blames on the United States. Stone did a similar “documentary” called Commandante that so glorified Fidel Castro that even the ultra-liberal Public Broadcasting Service insisted Stone add a tiny amount of criticism for “balance” before PBS could air it.
But as happened in Castro’s Cuba, the utopian illusion that Chavez is creating a Worker’s Paradise in Venezuela is rapidly giving way to ugly reality. The country’s poverty, instead of decreasing with purported socialist redistribution of wealth, has “risen to more than 50 percent” since Chavez took power, reported the left-leaning Toronto Star.
This has happened in part because Chavez is diverting his nation’s oil wealth away from Venezuela’s workers and poor and giving it to his ally Fidel Castro, to the Marxist Sandinistas in nearby Nicaragua, and using that wealth in other lands to foment Marxist revolution and buy allies. Chavez is also acquiring weapons and technology he to turn Venezuela into an aggressive militarized state.
Democracy has ended in Venezuela, replaced by blatantly rigged elections and strong-armed Chavista mobs and spies in the streets. Venezuelans now face the presence in their midst of perhaps 20,000 of Castro’s secret police and an epidemic of soaring violence and crime committed by keftist thugs who know the regime seldom makes arrests for the robbery and murder of bourgeois victims. Caracas, reports The Times of London, “now has the world’s highest murder rate per capita.”
Chavez has turned Venezuela into a police state in which the press is intimidated and vague new “Social Responsibility” sedition laws make it a crime to criticize the government. Those who speak out or sign petitions challenging Chavez’s dictatorial rule and his “Bolivarian Revolution” are blacklisted and risk losing their jobs or becoming targets of government harassment and mob attacks.
Hugo Chavez now rules by decree and via a rubber stamp legislature and judiciary. He has indicated he might not step down when the Constitution’s term limits would end his presidency. This May he said he might seek “indefinite” re-election, i.e., the de facto position of “dictator for life,” through a referendum.
Like Napoleon, Chavez wants no other gods above himself. He has expelled Christian missionaries from Venezuela, putting Cuban “teachers” in their place to proselytize for the pagan religion of Marxism. In this predominantly Roman Catholic country he has called this church’s leadership a “tumor.” Venezuelan Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara accused Chavez of leading the country towards dictatorship.
But Catholic “Liberation Theologians” and others on the religious ultra-Left have treated socialist Chavez like “Saint Hugo.” One poster popular with Chavistas depicts Hugo Chavez as a holy figure riding at the side of an approving Jesus Christ. And Chavez seems to delight in his Marxist “Cult of Personality.”
This would threaten us as greatly if Hugo Chavez were imposing his egomaniacal Marxist dictatorship on a poor Third World nation. Venezuela, however, is the fifth largest oil producer in the world and a major supplier to the United States.
Chavez has adopted oil policies that began with huge retroactive tax bills for American and other foreign oil companies in Venezuela. When those bills were paid, more taxes and concessions were demanded. Chavez is now requiring these companies to surrender majority ownership to Venezuela’s national oil company, which he controls (and which markets directly in U.S. service stations under the name Citgo). He is, to put it bluntly, expropriating the property of U.S. and European oil companies with little or no compensation for the many billions of dollars they have invested in exploration and equipment. Chavez has threatened to bring in Communist Chinese or other interests to take over running their facilities.
In Bolivia, Chavez backed victorious radical Left presidential candidate Evo Morales, who shortly after taking power earlier this year sent troops to surround and seize foreign-owned natural gas facilities. At Chavez’s urging, Morales announced that Bolivia was expropriating not only energy companies but also, in the near future, an unspecified number of other foreign enterprises involved in mining and other profitable businesses.
Prior to entering politics, Morales made his living as a coca grower (and chewer). In addition to a Bolivian connection with Morales, Chavez is also suspected of supplying arms and other assistance to the Marxist revolutionary terrorist movement FARC in bordering Colombia that has replaced that nation’s criminal drug cartels as its biggest producer and dealer of cocaine. International law enforcement authorities, according to the Financial Times, now say Venezuela “is becoming the leading transit country through which the bulk of the world’s cocaine is smuggled to the U.S. and Europe.”
Awash in oil and other sources of wealth, Hugo Chavez aspires to become a world leader with vast fame and power. He has already allocated half a billion dollars working with Communist China to launch Venezuela’s space (and hence intercontinental ballistic missile) program by 2007. (The European Space Agency has launched rockets from French Guiana, east of Venezuela.)
In February 2006, Chavez met in Caracas with visiting Iranian Parliament Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel to announce a set of cooperation agreements between the two nations. Experts are concerned that one of these agreements on minerals secretly includes the transfer of uranium from deposits in the Venezuelan jungle states of Amazonas and Bolivar, regions from which Chavez suddenly evicted Christian missionaries. Venezuela in the United Nations has backed Iran in the dispute over its potential uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons development.
This Tehran-Caracas Atomic Axis could provide a possible path for Hugo Chavez, and through him for Fidel Castro, to acquire nuclear weapons with Iranian help. Former Venezuelan Defense Minister Raul Salazar told the Washington Times that Chavez’s support for Iran’s nuclear program was pushing relations with the United States past “the point of no return.”
In many ways Hugo Chavez seems to be the Western Hemisphere’s mirror image of the anti-American lunacy of theocratic Iran’s figurehead President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Chavez’s bond with Iran’s dictators and other anti-Semitic Islamists may have more than political roots. In January 2006, Chavez declared that “a minority, the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ…has taken possession of all the wealth of the world.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced Chavez’s remarks as an anti-Semitic reference to Jews. Other Jewish organizations have interpreted Chavez’s statement as a more ambiguous attack on capitalists.
Like Iran, Chavez has also supported anti-American terrorist organizations.
In a 2003 interview Diaz Castillo, Chavez’s former personal pilot who also served as operations chief for Venezuela’s Air Force, revealed that immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America Chavez was eager to send Venezuelan troops to Afghanistan to help the Taliban. Chavez also supported and met with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. (Chavez in public calls himself a “Bolivarian” but in private, said Castillo, Chavez “openly” acknowledges that he is a Communist.)
Earlier this month the United States banned future arms sales to Venezuela, citing its “near total lack of cooperation with anti-terrorism efforts….” Hours later, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas A. Shannon voiced concerns to one reporter about “groups and individuals” observed in Venezuela with “links to terrorist organizations in the Middle East.” Shannon declined to give details, but the Washington Times noted that the U.S. military has detected activities in Latin America by Hezbollah, the “Party of God,” a Lebanon-based Islamist Shiite terrorist group armed and funded by Iran.
Hugo Chavez’s response to the U.S. arms cutoff was to announce that Venezuela might sell its 21 American-made F-16 fighter jets to Iran. This, the U.S. Defense Department responded, would violate an agreement signed by Venezuela not to transfer this technology to another country without U.S. permission. The F-16s were purchased in 1982 and have not undergone any recent technology updating. Chavez proclaimed that he would replace the American F-16s with Russian Su-35 warplanes.
The U.S. arms ban, said Chavez’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez, is intended to “prepare the political conditions” for an attack on Venezuela and to “handicap our defenses.” He promptly staged a “mock invasion” of the country, covered by national media, that simulated a capture of Venezuela’s large Paraguana Refining Complex.
But a month before the arms ban Chavez launched his campaign to create a million-person army reserve, ten times larger than Venezuela’s actual army. Chavez is also creating a parallel new “Territorial Guard” militia under his direct personal command that is ominously capable of suppressing dissent, spying on the citizenry and keeping Chavez in power with bayonets even if a majority of Venezuelans somehow votes him out. The primary qualification for membership in this Territorial Guard, as it now is for membership in Venezuela’s biggest labor unions, is not skill or integrity but strict ideological loyalty to Chavez.
Chavez in mid-April threatened that if invaders were about to remove him from power, he would order the destruction of Venezuela’s oil fields. In other words, like Hitler ordering the destruction of a defeated Germany, Chavez proclaimed that if he could not rule Venezuela he would destroy its economy and leave its poor in desolation. Thus would end the society of native houses built on poles above the waters of the Gulf of Venezuela and Lake Maracaibo that prompted Spanish explorers to name the place after Italy’s Venice.
Hugo Chavez’s self-identified hero, Simon Bolivar, militarily conquered several of the Spanish-ruled countries around Venezuela. As Chavez’s neighbors witness his rush to create a military capability far beyond anything Venezuela needs for self-defense, disquiet grows in the region over what he intends to do with this huge military.
Netherlands Defense Minister Henk Kamp has warned that Chavez is looking “with big eyes” at Dutch-aligned islands in the Caribbean, and the Associated Press in April reported Chavez’s denial of rumors that the Venezuelan dictator “has territorial designs on the Netherlands Antilles.” The Netherlands is part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is part of its mutual defense treaty with the United States.
Chavez claims he wants to unite Latin America. But the more that neighbors watch his behavior, the clearer it is becoming to them that Chavez wants it united only around his anti-American, anti-capitalist ideology with himself as its leader.
Chavez has become a divider in Latin America. In late April, he gave an ultimatum to Venezuela’s longstanding allies in the Andean Community of Nations demanding that its members choose between his radical vision or free trade with the United States. Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru chose trade with the U.S. “Either we’re a united community or we’re not,” Chavez declared as he attacked Colombia and Peru for being two of the nine Latin American nations that have signed free trade agreements with Washington.
When the president of Peru reminded him that the U.S. was Venezuela’s biggest oil customer, Chavez went berserk, withdrew Venezuela from the Andean trade pact, and created a new one with his two allies Bolivia and Communist Cuba.
Cuba is an economic deadbeat that has reneged on billions of dollars in debt to European nations and stays afloat only because of the huge amounts of oil welfare Chavez gives to Castro at the expense of the Venezuelan people. Chavez named his economically absurd new socialist trade troika ALBA, the “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.”
Chavez also responded by inserting himself into Peru’s presidential election by openly endorsing the more leftward candidate and insulting his opponent. The response by retiring Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo was blunt: “Mr. Chavez, learn to govern democratically. Learn to work with us. Our arms are open to integrate Latin America, but not for you to destabilize us with your checkbook.”
In a modernizing Latin America that increasingly embraces hemisphere-wide free trade, democracy and capitalism, even when left-liberal Social Democrats win elections, the endorsement of self-proclaimed “anti-liberal” Marxist Castro sycophant Hugo Chavez can defeat a candidate.
The radical Left candidate in Mexico’s upcoming July 2 election had been leading in polls until his more conservative opponent started running TV ads linking him to Chavez; the Leftist candidate has now fallen behind. The same has happened in polls for Peru’s upcoming presidential election. The kiss of approval from Chavez is becoming a political kiss of death.
“The mere association with Mr. Chavez has helped reverse the leads of presidential candidates in Mexico and Peru,” wrote New York Times reporter Juan Forero. “Officials from Mexico to Nicaragua, Peru and Brazil have expressed rising impatience with what they see as Mr. Chavez’s meddling and grandstanding, often at their expense.”
Chavez’s love of grandstanding was on full display in recent weeks during his whirlwind tour of Europe, Libya and Algeria. In England he refused to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom he called “the main ally of Hitler.” Chavez dined instead with the figurehead Marxist Mayor of London “Red Ken” Livingstone. (For comparison, Chavez has called Africa’s Marxist racist dictator of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe a “true freedom-fighter.”) He lectured Europeans on the need for socialism and, of course, was embraced by Europe’s looney Left.
Like a rich man tossing coins to peons to win their applause, Chavez offered to give Venezuelan oil to Europe’s poor. He has made similar offers of free or cheap oil to states in New England that vote for liberal Democrats and to Nicaraguan villages that support the Marxist Sandinistas, thereby interfering in the domestic politics of other countries. Gangster Al Capone likewise, to enhance his own political support, set up token soup kitchens for the poor.
And like a petulant child who screams and misbehaves to get attention from grown-ups, Chavez has spewed a stream of ever-more-shrill and vile invective at President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Prime Minister Blair and any Latin American leader who refuses to do Chavez’s bidding. Chavez may also have helped organize, and perhaps even fund, the May Day illegal immigrant street protests in the United States. But American policy has been to ignore his childish rantings, thereby driving Chavez to more and more infantile behavior.
Chavez “is beginning to overreach, wanting to be involved in everything,” Johns Hopkins University director of Latin American Studies Riordan Roett told the New York Times. “It’s a matter of egomania at work here.”
When Bolivia, with Chavez’s guidance and urging, expropriated foreign natural gas companies it seized more than U.S. and European properties. It also confiscated
companies from Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America. This has created deep rifts even with Brazil’s leftwing President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva. Bolivia’s and Venezuela’s property expropriations have already weakened the outside investment and development help that Latin America wants and needs.
And this has sent a clear message to Venezuela’s neighbors that Chavez may be as much their enemy as he is America’s. Chavez’s days may be numbered.
“Chavez’s idea of sovereignty seems pretty selective,” Michael Shifter, a senior policy
analyst at Washington’s Inter-American Dialogue policy group, told the Times. “Chavez has been saying, in effect, ‘You’re either with us or against us.’ For most Latin Americans that hubristic message doesn’t go over very well, whether it comes from Washington or Caracas.”
Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, who led the coup that ousted minority-elected President Salvador Allende before this Castro-allied Marxist could consolidate his dictatorship, thereafter ruled as a dictator of the right. Pinochet was widely criticized by the world’s leftist press. But, it was said, Pinochet could end all such press attacks merely by re-naming his country the People’s Socialist Democratic Republic of Chile and making a few speeches filled with Marxist class warfare cliches. As a self-identified Marxist ruler Pinochet would be praised and immune from criticism by the New York Times and Britain’s Guardian, just as Castro and Chavez have been.
When you strip away the red from Hugo Chavez’s rhetoric and the dishonest propaganda glorifying him from the world’s left-wing press, the naked Chavez turns out to be little more than an old-fashioned Latin American military dictator like Pinochet, a prating megalomaniac Caudillo propped up mostly by secret police and stolen oil money. Even the New York Times, if only to save its own waning credibility, has begun to report Chavez’s defects and decline.
Chavez “is imposing a fascist dictatorship,” history professor and author Herma Marksman, who was Chavez’s mistress for 10 years during his first marriage, told The Times of London in May.
“A totalitarian regime is coming because he doesn’t believe in democratic institutions. Hugo controls all the powers,” said Marksman. “[He] disguised himself as little Red Riding Hood and turned out to be the wolf…He’s the caudillo you have to say yes to. At the rate he’s going, his end can only be violent.”
Chavez has abolished honest elections for an obvious reason: he would lose. He is South America’s obsolete strongman on horseback whose biggest “contribution” to Venezuelan culture is that he changed the national seal so that its horse that used to run to the right now runs left.
Chavez in Venezuela has destroyed genuine democracy, economic liberty, freedom of speech and a free press. Like his graying fellow Marxists, he is the last reactionary gasp of neo-feudal Big Brotherism as it spirals downward into the garbage disposal of history. Hugo Chavez is, in short, everything that the best instincts of the American Revolution-loving Simon Bolivar wanted overthrown so that Latin America could become modern and free.
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