Hugo Chavez’s meteoric rise on the world stage has as much to do with his defiance of Washington as it does with his leadership of a hemispheric revolution. At great personal risk, Chavez has consistently lashed out against his witless nemesis, George Bush, and the coterie of sycophants who do his bidding.
Last Friday, it was Bush’s poodle Tony Blair who entered the Chavez crosshairs. Blair has been Bush’s main ally in the illegal occupation of Iraq and the ongoing war of terror. In Parliament this week, Blair admonished Chavez that he should “respect the rules of the international community,” ignoring his own gross violations of the UN Charter and the Nuremburg Tribunal. Chavez responded to Blair with a hearty salvo:
“Don’t be shameless, Mr. Blair. Don’t be immoral, Mr. Blair. You are one of those who have no morals. You, Mr. Blair are not one that has the moralty to criticize anyone about respecting the rules of the international community . . . You are an imperialist pawn who attempts to curry favor with ‘Danger Bush-Hitler, the number one mass murderer and assassin there is on the planet.”
“Go straight to hell, Mr. Blair,” Chavez roared.
What Chavez lacks in discretion, he makes up for in candor. While the feckless US Congress quivers at every edict issued from the White House, the barrel-chested Venezuelan fires off another round of grapeshot at the fraudster-and-chief:
“Bush is the world’s greatest terrorist” . . . a madman . . . [who] thinks he owns the world and now is making plans to invade Iran, and plans to invade Venezuela, too . . . The American people are going to have to tie him down one of these days, because if they don’t he’s capable of destroying half the world.”
Chavez is the polar opposite of his archrival, George Bush. Raised in a dirt floor shack, Chavez worked his way up through the ranks of the elite paratrooper corps dreaming of becoming a baseball player and moving to the United States.
Bush, on the other hand, is a patrician slacker, who drank his way through high school and college, went “missing” during his tour with the Champagne Unit of the Texas National Guard, and ran three companies (Spectrum, Arbusto, and Harken) into the ground. He finally, found his niche in politics when he realized he could translate his family name and connections into political capital. Since then, he has faithfully served the corporate interests that catapulted him to the presidency; providing lavish subsidies to industry giants, tax cuts to the wealthy, and deregulation to nearly every area of commerce.
The divisions between Chavez and Bush are more than just personal. Chavez imagines a world where government is deeply involved in the health and welfare of its citizens and where certain guarantees of security are provided under the rule of law. He has worked tirelessly to actualize a modern Bolivarian Revolution, loosening the centuries-long grip of colonial rule and binding the continent together in a shared vision of peace and cooperation.
He’s become the bane of the petro-oligarchs who see his efforts to redistribute some of Venezuela’s vast oil wealth into social programs as a direct challenge to their authority. (Ironically, Chavez’s attempts to share oil profits are not nearly as extreme as the many programs initiated by FDR under the New Deal. Even into the 1950s the highest tax rate for anyone making over $200,000 was 92%. This “socialistic” redistribution of wealth explains the explosive growth of America’s middle class following the Second World War)
Chavez has provided clinics and schools in every barrio in Caracas; ensuring that even the neediest citizens will enjoy federally funded health care, literacy programs, and a minimal standard of living. His vision of social justice is sharply contrasted to that of Bush who has consistently hacked away at education, public television, Medicaid, student loans, and the crumbling social safety net that provides vital resources for the destitute. In Bush World, the solitary function of government is to enhance the wealth of America’s privileged few.
While Chavez is working to create a nationally-owned web of oil and gas pipelines that will knit the continent together, Bush is pursuing a global resource war that has destroyed much of Iraq and killed tens of thousands of innocent people. The Chavez approach requires partnership and cooperation, whereas the Bush strategy is merely a continuation of smash-and-grab imperialism.
Chavez is correct to dismiss Bush’s wars as an expression of “savage capitalism,” the likes of which Latin Americans have endured for more than a century.
Starting in the “lost decade” of the 1980s, the policies that sprouted from the “Washington consensus” have increased poverty and despair throughout the continent on an incalculable scale. The IMF and World Bank forced austerity measures, deregulation, privatization of public services and resources, as well as painful cuts to social programs and education. The “free market” policies have curbed hyperinflation, but left 128 million Latin Americans living on less that $2 a day.
Chavez’s political fortunes are due in large part to the widespread rejection of the exploitative neoliberal policies and market-oriented reforms that have failed to reduce poverty. His ascendancy has breathed life into a vision of socialism that is essentially non-ideological, but deals with the immediate needs of the people and the obligation of government to meet those needs.
Chavez’s new found wealth and celebrity presents a serious challenge to Washington. The Pentagon issued a report two years ago that warned of the dangers of “radical populism” spreading through Latin America. The Bush administration is concerned that real democracy will take root in the region and undermine the dominant role of US industry.
Equally worrisome is Chavez’s threat to divert vital oil supplies going to the United States to foreign tenders if Washington continues meddling in Venezuelan politics. (Venezuela currently provides 15% of US oil imports.)
Chavez’s star seems to be rising just as Bush’s is beginning to fizzle. While Bush is mired in scandal and war, Chavez is grabbing headlines by promising to give away $4 billion in aid to his neighbors, provide assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and donate cheap heating fuel to the needy in Massachusetts. His generosity has enhanced his stature as a world leader while America’s moral authority vanished sometime between the carpet bombing of Falluja and the sadistic treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Chavez’s popularity has only grown with every scathing brickbat he hurls at the Bush claque. The public obviously enjoys seeing David tweak Goliath’s nose while the giant stumbles blindly from one bloody conflict to the next.
“We are happy that the maximum representatives of the assassin and genocide Empire attack us and call us what they like,” Chavez boomed. “If the dogs are barking, Sancho, it’s because we are riding.”
Chavez’s comments elicited a sharp response from Donald Rumsfeld who said, “We’ve see some populist leadership appealing to masses of people in those countries” that is “worrisome”. Chavez “was elected legally -- just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally -- and then consolidated his power.”
That’s a stretch even by Rumsfeld’s standards.
Nevertheless, Chavez dismissed the Defense Secretary’s remarks saying, “Let the dogs of imperialism bark . . . that’s their role, to bark. Our task is to consolidate this century and the real liberation of our people right now.”
In recent months, Chavez has been aggressively trying to buy weapons from Russia anticipating another American coup or (possible) invasion. (He said that he has proof of a US plan code-named Balboa that was worked out under the Bush administration) He has vowed to cut off the flow of oil to the US if the Bush administration makes another attempt on his life and promised a century-long war if the US invades. Nevertheless, the prospect of hostilities hasn’t intimidated the effusive Chavez or caused him to tone down his rhetoric.
“The imperialist, mass-murdering, fascist attitude of the president of the United States doesn’t have limits,” Chavez said. “I think Hitler could be a nursery-baby next to George W. Bush”.
Chavez undoubtedly grasps the gravity of his situation and the likelihood that Bush will take military action against him sometime following an attack on Iran. As he noted last week when he was awarded the prestigious Jose Marti prize by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization:
“They will forever try to preserve the US Empire by all means, while we do everything possible to shred it.”
Chavez is persisting with his ambitious plans for agrarian reform, public housing, free health care, and redistribution of wealth. He is reshaping Venezuelan politics and influencing the way we think about governments’ obligations to its citizens.
As Chavez said, “The world needs development and peace, and the only road to peace is justice.”
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: email@example.com.
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