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Help me understand what problem we really have with Hugo Chavez

By Andrew Pollack on 09/22/2006 at 12:56 PM EDT

Hugo Chavez, current President of Venezuela, seems to be going to great lengths to express his distaste for the current US Government. There doesn't seem to be any love lost on the part of our government for him either. But what has he actually done that's so terrible?

From before his election, he's been criticized pretty strongly by US politicians. There were gloom and doom predictions made pending his election, and it almost seems as though he was written off as a lunatic in this country from the outset. So far though, I don't see what he's done that we have any reason to be all that upset by.

Here's what comes to mind so far:

He's a socialist. Well, ok, some Americans don't like that -- but since we don't live there and he isn't building up a huge army to race through Mexico to invade the USA, it seems to me that it is an internal matter. In his own country, he seems to have the support of the poor (which is the vast majority) and is reviled by the wealthy. That's what I'd expect of a socialist in a place where poverty and wealth are so far apart.

He doesn't like our leaders. Fair enough, our leaders don't like him either. Quite frankly we've done some pretty terrible things in his region over many years.

I hear now that he's "using oil as a weapon." Hm., wait a second. Let's rephrase that. He finds that he is running a country rich in a highly valuable resource and is using it to leverage what he believes are in his country's best interests.

I suppose we would be much happier if he would just sell the oil at current market value and pocket the huge profits while keeping his people in poverty then retire to an island somewhere once his people revolt. We know how to work with those guys. Instead, he seems to be using the oil to do the things his people want him to do. He's trading it to Cuba in return for Doctors to run clinics for the poor. Damn him to hell for that. He's made fuel dirt cheap for the citizens of his country (where the oil comes from). Big mistake there.

This one is interesting: He's subsidizing heating oil in the UNITED STATES directly to those who need it. That really pisses off Congress because they don't control the subsidy. It's being called a political move designed just to raise his profile. Duh?! Isn't that what politics is about? I think it's a brilliant move on his part, because it is making his point loud and clear that his hatred for our leadership is not a hatred for the people in this country.

Today on the news I heard that the only reason he's providing healthcare and education to the poor in his country is for political gain. Hm. Hello? Isn't that the point? As an elected official are you not supposed to do things that make the people who elected you happy? I guess we're not used to seeing that here lately.

He's organizing other countries in his region and establishing partnerships which make them less dependant on the US. Again, isn't that his job?

Ok, he spends a bizarre amount of time ranting to his population on TV and Radio. He also is far from what anyone would call predictable and diplomatic. You could make the case that he comes off as a bit of a whack job. I also don't like the idea that he'd come to this country to bad-mouth our elected leadership even if I also bad-mouth them. We agree, he doesn't play well with others.

Someone needs to point out to me, however, where he's doing things that are all that bad? His policies may end up hurting his country. I don't know. They seem to be doing fine now, and his people seem to like them (or the majority anyway). So far, nobody has shown me evidence that he's abusing his military power in his country, that he's oppressing anyone, that he's stealing any more than anyone else in his position does, or that he's in any way a danger to anyone beyond making poor policy decisions (which may or may not prove to be the case).

So help me out here -- what is so evil about this guy? I'm not asking if you agree with his policies -- I'm sure most of us would find him pretty far out there on the left (except maybe Bob). I'm not asking if you agree with him. I'm asking if you can tell me why he's so unpalatable.


There are  - loading -  comments....

My own thoughts on this are...By Ben Langhinrichs on 09/22/2006 at 02:41 PM EDT
I lived in Venezuela for a year as an exchange student, and it is an
interesting and colorful place... by which I mean the politicians, and the
people themselves, spend a lot of time ranting and raving in public. I don't
even mean to put that down, as I was amazed and jealous of the fervor with
politics when compared to the then fairly quiet U.S. reality (back in
1979-1980). So, as far as the bluster goes, it is just that we are paying
attention, but absolutely nothing new in Venezuela.

Aside from my personal experience there, as a Latin American Studies student
in college, I think I do understand the perceived danger. It certainly isn't
military might, not in Venezuela and not even in Cuba, for all the bluster. I
would say it is even oil politics. The perceived danger is that socialism will
sweep back over all of Central and South America. There was a time, not so
long ago, when the dictators were falling like... dominoes, I guess you could
say in a nod to 1950's red scare terms, and being replaced by swocialist
governments. The problem is, they weren't just any dictatorships, but American
puppet dictatorships, often controlled by specific corporate interests (sugar
in Cuba, bananas in Chile, etc.) To back up the move to socialism, the
Catholic church, which is very, very big down there, was pushing liberation
theology and redistribution of land, etc. etc. American capitalists were
horrified at the potential loss of their private playground, which is how they
have long seen Latin America, aside from Brazil which seems to have held its
own better than most.

Well, things have been swinging the other way for quite a while. Some coups,
some pressure here and there, the severe backpedaling of the Catholic Church,
the isolation and blockade of Cuba giving a clear message about American
economic might, etc. etc. Socialism was beating a hasty retreat, Castro was
getting older and more dictatorial, and Americans were back to playing in the
private playground, even pushing NAFTA (and trying to push CAFTA) through.
Life looked good, but what happens?

What happens is that Hugo Chavez comes out of nowhere (as American politicians
see it), and "takes over" (by completely legitimate election, but who's fussing
about democracy when we are talking about a socialist), and the whole socialist
energy starts up again. What is more, it is a somewhat more pragmatic and
savvy socialism, focused on real power for the people, but also focused on the
United States as enemy, at a time when more people in the world are ready to
hear that. Hugo Chavez scares the hell out of American politicians, especially
those from the South, because an energized, socialist Latin America is not so
free for the picking, and might even spread to Mexico. Power to the people
doesn't sound that good to even the Democrats if the people are Mexican migrant
workers, steel workers in Argentina, banana pickers in Chile, and so on. Hugo
Chavez doesn't just have the ear of Venezuela, he has the ear of Latin
America. Castro may be weaker and sicker than ever, but he has been energized
of late as well. To make matters even worse, there are those in Africa and the
Middle East who are watching this whole thing and seeing opportunity,
opportunity to hurt the U.S. and to gain control over the ruling powers in the
U.N.

I could probably go on, but I hope you see my point. Venezuela as threat - not
so much. Venezuela as tip of the iceberg - that is a worry. Look how close
Obrador came to an outright win in Mexico and you will understand the fear of
American politicians, no matter which party.
The "socialist" label is pretty potent in the USBy Rob McDonagh on 09/22/2006 at 02:57 PM EDT
After all, the right has made a living demonizing the principles of socialism,
to the point that one of the most deadly weapons they have against liberals
(aside from smearing the word "liberal" itself) is to call them socialists.
Combine this political linguistic manipulation with a general lack of knowledge
about the difference between socialism and communism among the general
population - you wind up with a large number of Americans who can't tell the
difference between the communist Soviet Union (boogey-man of millions of
nuclear nightmares) and socialist Hugo Chavez, but who know both are EVIL
incarnate. Being an admitted socialist basically puts you on the same level as
an admitted Satanist in the US (yes, I deliberately chose Satanism because it
isn't what most people think it is - like socialism, it has extremely bad
PR...).

He speaks in extremely negative terms about my country's political leadership.
So what? So do I. 60% of Americans think G. W. Bush is doing a lousy job.
Probably 20% of the country feels almost as strongly as Chavez. The phrase
"worst President ever" comes up all the time.

Chavez's personality has something to do with it as well. He rubs everyone the
wrong way. Unless, of course, you're a poor person in his country. Or one of
the thousands of American poor who are getting heating oil subsidies from him.
As you say, he's effective. So far, anyway.

Personally, I don't consider him much of an issue. But then, as we all know,
liberals like me are basically socialists anyway (yeah, that was sarcasm...).
It's certainly true, though, that I don't think being a socialist automatically
makes Chavez a bad guy. I'm in a distinct minority there, I guess.


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