Why does Washington hate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? Let us count the ways.
1. He is fearless in debate.
He excoriates his imperial enemies as worms, liars, fools, and worse. In 2006 in New York, he addressed the United Nations the day after George Bush had given a speech there, daring to state what many felt but none had publicly uttered before: "The devil came here yesterday. And it smells of sulfur still today." He explained: "As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: 'The Devil's Recipe.'" While delivering his sensational commentary he waved a book by U.S.-dissident author Noam Chomsky in the air. Chomsky's searing critique of U.S. lawlessness soared onto Amazon's best-seller list.
On another occasion Chavez said that Bush "walks like this cowboy John Wayne. He doesn't have the slightest idea of politics . . . He's a sick man, full of complexes."
Mexican President Felipe Calderon proposed to debate Chavez, but only if he agreed to refrain from the snappy come-backs that make his opponents' subservience to Washington dramatically apparent. Bluntly stated truths have a tendency to be perceived as rhetorical tricks by the servants of Empire.
Chavez dismissed ex-president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, as a lackey and lapdog of Empire. The Venezuelan president's relations with Peru's political elite had soured after he supported leftist Ollanta Humala against Alan Garcia, whom Chavez dismissed as the "candidate of the Empire, corrupt and an utter thief." When Toledo joined with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in an anti-Chavez front, Chavez attacked them on the basis that they "crawl drooling in front of the Empire," adding that, "all they produce in me is pity and nausea."
When Jose Maria Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, had the nerve to say that Chavez should reconsider his decision to revoke RCTV's broadcast license for having supported the anti-Chavez coup of 2002, Chavez responded, "Well, he's a complete asshole, from the 'a' to the 'e,' Dr. Insulza is pathetic, he should resign."
Chavez has also singled out former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who joined President Bush in the Azores to help deliver his capitulate-or-die ultimatum to Saddam Hussein just prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and also participated in Washington's viciously anti-Chavez propaganda campaign. Says Chavez: "This (Aznar) is of the Adolf Hitler ilk, a true fascist of the global right-wing, a lackey of George Bush, he's a guy that inspires pity and nausea."
After the prelate had warned of increasing authoritarianism in Venezuela, Chavez called Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriquez Maradiaga a parrot and clown of the Empire. Then he apologized, inviting the Cardinal to visit Venezuela and see for himself that he didn't know what he was talking about.
In July, Chavez lashed out at Venezuelan bishops after the president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Monsenor Ubaldo Santana, expressed their concern that Venezuelan constitutional reform might be developed by a "closed group" without the participation of "all the people." Chavez shot back that the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution dictates that "any reform" of the Constitution's text requires ratification by popular referendum, which ought to be known by the directors of the Episcopal Conference. "You (bishops)," said Chavez, "are ignoramuses, or corrupters, liars, deceivers . . . monsenors, read the Constitution if you're speaking out of ignorance . . . and if you're doing it out of corruption, you should take off your cassock." Chavez confessed to being "repelled" by "cynicism so great," which, in his judgment, is characteristic of the Venezuelan Catholic hierarchy.
Chavez has even taken on the Pope, accusing him of Holocaust Denial. The Pope had declared that Christianity was never imposed by force in the Americas, nor had it alienated indigenous peoples from their native cultures. Chavez wasn't buying it: "Here in America occurred something much worse than the Jewish Holocaust in the Second World War . . . nobody can deny it, not even His Holiness can come here to our own land and deny the indigenous Holocaust . . . they died by the millions."
2. He prioritizes need over greed.
This is unforgivable, since it means that foreign investors are not allowed to ignore the social consequences of their investments, a great irritant for those accustomed to a steady flow of profits from regions teeming with hungry and diseased people. In Venezuela, 80% of the population is poor, with blacks and Indians making up a disproportionate share of the impoverished majority. "Chavez," observes British journalist John Pilger, "is a threat because he offers the alternative of a decent society."
Thanks to Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution, a million Venezuelan children from shanty-towns now get a free education from the state, over a million formerly illiterate adults have been taught to read and write, secondary education has been made available to a quarter million children who had previously been excluded from this privilege because of social status, and almost the entire Venezuelan population is literate for the first time in its history. Moreover, ten thousand Cuban doctors have transformed the health system, helping set up 11,000 neighborhood clinics while the health budget has tripled. Chavez has also extended financial support to small business, built new homes for the poor and middle class, and enacted an Agrarian Reform Law that has distributed over two million hectares to tens of thousands of Venezuelan families.
In a speech to the Venezuelan Legislature in January, Chavez hailed his economic achievements, among them nationalization of the electricity and energy sectors in the face of "naked and Dracula-like imperialism." He highlighted a 10.3% growth rate in the national economy for 2006, which had allowed, he said, a 16.3% increase in consumption and a 31.5% increase in public and private investment. He applauded increases in tax revenue and the minimum wage, as well as infrastructure projects like roads and train routes, and the decline of unemployment to 8.8%. He pointed out that Venezuela could pay off its national debt all at once if it wanted to, since it doesn't represent "even one third of our Gross Domestic Product, whereas the U.S. debt is five times its GDP." He observed that "it isn't very convenient today to hold reserves in dollars," and said he had proposed to his colleagues in the region to "work towards a Latin American currency." He pronounced dependence on the U.S. a bad risk. "If that giant falls, the crash will shake the world," so that "the less tied to it we are, the better." He predicted that U.S. Empire didn't have much time left and had already started to resemble what Mao called "a paper tiger."
Nevertheless, Chavez is not without sympathy for the U.S. public. He has an ongoing program to provide cheap heating oil for poor people in the U.S., and recently stated that he would assist a revolutionary movement if it emerged in the country. Observing Washington's astronomical budget and trade deficits, he said that, "there could be a revolution in the United States," adding that if it comes, "we'll help them."
3. He is immensely popular.
From the very beginning Chavez has striven to make his every initiative subject to the will of the people. The people have repaid him with overwhelming support.
In 1998, Chavez was elected with 56% of the vote. The following year a new Constitution was drawn up and approved by 88% of voters. In 2000, Chavez was re-elected with 59% of the vote. In 2002, Chavez was ousted from power for two days in a coup, but then rescued by the poor, with thousands of shanty-town residents pouring down into the streets of Caracas demanding his reinstatement. In 2004, the Venezuelan opposition attempted to oust him again with a recall vote, but Chavez won handily 58% to 42% in an election that Jimmy Carter called one of the freest he had ever seen. In 2006, Chavez was elected to another six-year term with an overwhelming 63% of the vote. He has recently announced that the revolutionary majority has sufficient support to remain in power until 2021 at least.
But perhaps more alarming than his domestic support is his international popularity. Demonstrators in the Philippines carry portraits of Chavez. Peasants in West Bengal come out in the tens of thousands to greet him in Calcutta. Hizbollah leaders in South Lebanon call him "our brother Chavez." Interviewed once by Faisal al-Qasim on Al Jazeera's, "The Opposite Direction," Chavez's to-the-point crispness and confident defiance of Empire won him considerable admiration among the show's 26 million viewers. Thousands of e-mails poured in to the network, the bulk of them asking, said a senior Al Jazeera journalist, when will the Arab world produce a leader like Chavez?
Perhaps one reason for his popularity is that Chavez, unlike the servants of Empire, is not addicted to holding office and swears he will depart the moment the people no longer support him. "I have always said that the day the people no longer want me, I won't cry, I'll leave." The security precautions U.S. hostility forces him to take deprive him of a personal life, and the permanent threat of assassination is hardly a pleasant preoccupation. He points out that the CIA is well equipped everywhere and that Fidel Castro alone "is a survivor of more than 600 attempts" on his life. "With today's technology," he says, "the risk is much greater" for anti-imperialist leaders. He calls the CIA "the most perfect killing machine" ever devised, with a mission to "destabilize without rest."
4. He commands and demands respect.
Unlike leaders in the U.S., who consider the general population a vulgar mass fit only to be bombarded with inane sound bites, Chavez actually respects the will of the people and strives on every occasion to make his policies accord with it. Moreover, he demands that visiting foreigners show similar respect, recently instructing his Vice-President and his foreign and interior ministers to expel foreigners that speak badly of the democratic government. "Any foreigner that comes here to denigrate us as Venezuelans, our free, democratic, and legitimate government of Venezuela, has to be, with all respect, dropped off at Caracas International Airport and told: 'Here is your suitcase, sir, get out of this country.'"
Chavez made these remarks the day after Manuel Espino, the leader of the National Action Party of Mexico, said in Caracas that the Venezuelan government was an example of the "demagogic tendency, populist and authoritarian, which infringes on the liberties and fundamental rights of the citizens." He accused Chavez of planning to stay in power forever and called his non-renewal of RCTV's broadcast license "an outrage." Chavez, criticizing the failure of his government to respond to the attack, said that, "No foreigner, whoever he may be, can come here to attack us. Whoever comes with that in mind has to be thrown out of the country. It can't be allowed, it's a matter of dignity."
5. He's a socialist.
A close friend of Fidel Castro, Chavez makes no bones about the fact that the Bolivarian Revolution is committed to "21st Century socialism." In fact, in a ceremony swearing in nine new leaders of the Bolivarian Armed Forces in the Caracas Military Academy on July 18, Chavez said that in Venezuela there's no longer an issue of socialism or capitalism, but rather what kind of socialism. "We aren't going to duplicate any model. . .," he said, adding that "without doubt it will rise on a foundation of authentic democracy . . . Democratic, because it is rooted in the sovereignty of the people, not in a man, a 'caudillo,' or the State." He swore that "we are going to dedicate ourselves with great effort to critical investigation and thought, in order to avoid a socialism that "degenerates." He said Bolivarian socialism is a Christian socialism that at the same time respects atheists, and an ecological socialism possessed of ethical values. His outgoing minister Raul Baduel said that "we should separate ourselves from the Marxist orthodoxy that considered democracy with its division of powers as merely an instrument of bourgeois domination," adding that "they also committed errors of an economic nature in socialist countries," such that it was necessary "to be on guard so as not to repeat them."
When the Soviet Union collapsed to much fanfare in the West, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano declared that giddy capitalist triumphalists were burying the wrong corpse - socialist idealism rather than the ossified Soviet bureaucracy. Chavez has dug the former up and proven it isn't really dead. How can Washington not hate him for that?
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