There are those who are duped into admiring (or making excuses for) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez* because he blusters about anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, anti-Americanism, socialism, and flaunts supposed concern for the poor. Of course, that gives him a free pass for what actually amounts to the worst sort of fascism and shredding of human rights.
The difference between “right wing” dictatorships and the left wing sort is mainly in the rhetoric; but the leftist ones are actually more dictatorial, in trying to control more of the economy.
Chavez first tried to seize control through a 1992 military coup, for which he was rightly jailed. Winning power in 1998, he keeps it by following the Dictator’s Handbook (which I’ve blogged about): enriching his cronies and followers at the expense of everyone else, while crushing opposition by rigging the constitution, suborning the courts, emasculating stroppy local governments, relentless propaganda and lies, shutting down noncompliant newspapers and TV stations, imprisoning opponents on phony charges, confiscating their property, and otherwise bullying them with plain old violence. All the while posturing a bleeding heart for the downtrodden masses.
During Chavez’s time in office, Venezuela garnered around a trillion dollars in oil revenues, but typical of “resource curse” countries where such wealth serves only to keep bad governments bad, has little to show for it. Its economic growth rate has been lower than for all the other major Latin American nations, and the lowest of all the OPEC countries (which of course includes other resource-curse nations).
But what do you expect from “socialism” which, Chavez or “Bolivarian” style, actually means destroying a population’s wealth-producing capabilities by undermining private property rights and rule of law, and any chance to get ahead except by playing the regime’s dirty game, while replacing competitive industry with state control bent to political purposes?
A recent Associated Press report capsulizes the rest of the story: “soaring murder rates, inflation, crumbling infrastructure, and poor government services. Venezuela now ranks among the most violent and corrupt places on earth.” Chavez has also been caught shipping weapons to the Colombian guerilla movement, actually a drugs-and-kidnapping gang.
Chavez faces voters on October 7. His opponent is Henrique Capriles, who seems capable, smart, decent, articulate, and well-intentioned. Government controlled media has been smearing him, including a strong anti-Semitic appeal (Capriles is Catholic, but with holocaust survivor grandparents). Chavez has probably bought off enough support, and bamboozled enough, that despite wrecking Venezuela’s democracy, economy, institutions, and society, he may yet actually win a fair vote. Though one can well question the fairness of any vote in today’s Venezuela given the many roadblocks faced by the opposition campaign and the climate of intimidation.
But Chavez has previously declared that an opposition victory, ending his “socialist” project, will simply not be permitted. Will he follow the playbook of Iran’s Ahmadinejad — one of Chavez’s typically disgusting best buddies — who lost a re-election bid but held onto power by killing enough objectors?
* Including Hollywood types like Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey and Michael Moore, and the usual gaggle of academic and limousine lefties.