What's the Deal with Hugo Chavez?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I love The Daily Show but it’s on far too late for this Captain. Therefore I watch them replayed the next morning on The Comedy Network while getting ready for work. One thing that I love about the show (and its spinoff, The Colbert Report) is that they interview (albeit for a mere 5 minute segment…) authors of current non-fiction works many of which deal with current affairs and politics. A number of the books on my Amazon wish list have been ones that they’ve highlighted on The Daily Show. Last night’s guest was Nikolas Kozloff author of Hugo Chavez : Oil, Plitics, and the Challenge to the U.S.

Chavez fascinates me. I admit it. Not in the same way as Fidel Castro. It’s hard to describe. The rise of a dictator? Perhaps. Saviour of South America? Debatable. A thorn in the side of George Jr.? Definitely. That last one doesn’t bother me in the least.

Don’t misconstrue this interest for support. I’m not in favour of any one person having complete, unchecked control over a nation and some of his actions are frightening to say the least. Shutting down public television stations, trying to change the Venezuelan constitution to remove any limits to his term, demanding direct access to money in the central bank/treasury. The establishment of a “popular militia” alongside the regular military. None of these things strikes me as a “good thing”.

And yet, while the rest of us in the western “civilized” (hah!) world shudder with fear at what the future holds, Chavez’s popularity continues to soar not only in his own country but throughout South America. According to a Reuter’s article, he’s using the now state controlled petroleum industry (Venezuela is a member of OPEC) to help combat poverty and institute educational and health reforms. Why wouldn’t he be popular? On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart brought up the suggestion that perhaps Chavez could be (or sees himself as) the next Simon Bolivar.

I wouldn’t go quite that far perhaps but who knows what might happen? Who’s to say that all of South America (although according to Stewart’s guest, Brazilians aren’t supporting him as strongly as the other South American nations) won’t rally behind Chavez and his anti-American, anti-poverty bandwagon. The world might just be about to see the next major revolution.

Before we get too high and mighty up here, how many of us (in Canada) would love to be able to pry American hands (no offence) of our lumber, water, and other natural/renewable resources that we’re slowly losing control of? Chavez’s methods might smack of tyranny and despotism but he’s getting things done. I’m all for anyone who’s anti-Bush (remember when he visited the UN waving a copy of Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance and called George Bush Jr. the devil? Good times at the UN) but it would be certainly be preferable to achieve their aims in a less violent, less dictatorial manner.

I, for one, will be paying a lot more attention to El Presidente Chavez from now on. I suggest we all do the same, with equal parts interest and caution.


Wandering Coyote said...

I wrote a post about Chavez in spring of 2006 after The Hour did a four part series on him. I don't mind the guy or his policies, except this most recent one that changes the constitution so he gets longer terms. While I like what he does, anyone who believes strongly in democracy should be willing to have the people have their say in a timely manner.

SME said...

I don't know quite what to make of Chavez, either. So far he has allowed freedom of the press and free speech, but now that he's going to be a real dictator - benevolent or not - he could do away with those things too.

I just saw Revolucion, a doc about him, and he definitely thinks of himself as Bolivar. He calls his reforms the Bolivar Revolution.

Avid Andy said...

Earlier this summer...maybe late spring... I met a couple of Venezulean teachers. They were here for two years in a teacher exchange program. They say Chavez is not popular with the middle or upper class and losing support of the poor. They painted the picture of an out of control ego-maniac who is ruining their counry. They said it makes them angry that other countries aren't realizing what is actually going on there. We are watching a dictator dismantle a country. Taking control of the government from the people is never a good idea in any country no matter who is in power...who knows who will replace them.
One of them was drinking straight Johnny Walker at them time saying it tasted like Christmas, but I'll still take her word for it.

SME said...

I gather the middle/upper class folks despise him, but in the film they weren't specific about why. Tho he was democratically elected, he ran virtually unopposed because the other major party boycotted the elections in protest...but they didn't say what they were protesting, exactly. I guess you have to be there to know what's really going on.

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