Latin America’s great socialist hope turned out to be just another banana republic autocrat.
Hugo Chavez probably defined himself first and foremost as an anti-imperialist, to which end he allied himself to Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, Belarus as well as having strong links to Qaddafi, al-Assad and Mugabe. A few characters on that litany of international villains have strong enough imperial interests to suggest that Chavez was not so much an anti-imperialist as an anti-American as well as evidently being quite in favour of authoritarianism. Despite this fondness for the tyrannical, Mr Green has made a point of denying that Chavez himself was a dictator and claims that he has a mandate to lead the country based on his victory in ‘clean’ elections. Mr Green may be confused on this issue as he goes on to detail a portion of the evidence that demonstrates why this is not true including the imprisonment of a judge that freed a critic of the regime, dismantling the free press and rigging the constitutional assembly to cement his hold over the country! Omitted from these relatively soft-pedalled accusations relating to Chavez’s election practices is the fact that during the most recent election the state-media was the only one allowed on the airwaves, he banned exit polls as entire cities questioned the irregularities of the electronic voting system and then he deployed his troops, bristling with the 100,000 new AK-47s, into the streets and threated his opposition, Henrique Capriles Radonski (whom he has labelled a ‘low-life pig’, a ‘secret Zionist’, a ‘Nazi’ and a ‘homosexual’) with civil war should he win the election. It seems that Mr Green made the case for Chavez’s elections being fraudulent well enough without this addition, the non-sequitur notwithstanding, but it doesn’t hurt to bear it in mind.
There is also the old accusation that the US sponsored the coup in 2002 against Chavez. When one looks at the history of US foreign policy in South and Central America the claim makes perfect sense; it is an almost unbroken sequence of illegal ‘Dirty-wars’, CIA backed coups, assassinations and atrocities but eleven years later in the era of Wikileaks the only evidence that has been produced to support this claim is that it seems sort of like the kind of thing that the Great Satan would do. Everything that we know about US involvement suggests that the sum of their actions were to provide a very limited warning to Chavez, an extremely hostile neighbour, that a coup might be coming. I wouldn’t bet a single Venezuelan Bolivar (£0.11 and plummeting- Venezuela now boasts the highest inflation rate in the world) that the United States weren’t involved but these are the kind of claims that require evidence.
Chavez’s regime bears close resemblance to that of Muhammar Qaddafi’s which also in its nascent form did seemingly great work in equalising wealth and raising the living standards of the poor, propelled by ever increasing oil exports and one-off payments from the crudely nationalising everything within reach – while simultaneously dismantling political and journalistic opposition. What vector can anybody imagine Chavez’s career following as he amassed power and his economy, infrastructure and support crumbled?
This speculation aside, it is a more concrete indictment upon Chavez to examine what the people of Venezuela are left with in the wake of their leader’s death: A kidnapping rate five times that of Columbia, a ballooning homicide rate that is now the fourth highest in the world and three times what is was when Chavez assumed power, soaring food prices, fleeing doctors from hospitals with not ten per cent of the supplies they need, a shattered judiciary and a media that has been stripped of all but the ruling party’s propagandists. Mr Greens wishes to give credit to Chavez for not being as bad as some other Latin American despots which in itself I don’t think is a particularly sensible position, but it seems that all Venezuelan’s are only lucky that he died before he could stoop that low. The only thing to regret about Chavez’s rather prompt demise is that it deprived the Venezuelan’s of a proper sic semper tyrannis moment.