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In Venezuela, a clash of Kings

By Gustavo Coronel

February 4, 2004 - When Bill Fletcher, a member of the Board of TransAfrica Forum visited Venezuela at the invitation of the government, he felt so enthusiastic about the Chávez revolution that he gave a speech suggesting that Chávez and Martin Luther King Jr. belonged in the same group, that both men had cultivated the same ideals. This did not sound right to many people in Venezuela, as King was a leader who fought for the brotherhood of men while Chávez has been fighting to exclude 75% of the Venezuelan population from his illusory revolution. A few weeks after Fletcher's disgraceful comparison, Don King, a King that should more accurately be compared to Chávez, visited Venezuela and quickly shouted "Viva Chávez" (In reality, he confused the Spanish words of the shout and ended up shouting "Chávez se va," Chávez goes, before the terrified translator put him back on track).

In Spanish we have a saying: "Dios los cria y ellos se juntan." Roughly translated, "God creates them and they get together," to illustrate how kindred spirits come closer, embrace and start to call themselves brothers. Martin Luther King would have never visited Venezuela to support Chávez, seeing the manner in which the Venezuelan politician has used race to divide his country and to promote social hate. He would have denounced these maneuvers as a criminal act. Don King, on the other hand, was ready and willing to visit Chávez because, as he says, "Power is everything and you have to get close to power." This is why he defines himself, in politics, as a "republicrat," or, in baseball terms, as a switch hitter. He was a Clinton man and now he is "1000% behind George Bush," whom he recently called "a creative, innovative and decisive leader." This suggests that his approximation to Chávez is based on reasons more materialistic than idealistic. He might be thinking of staging a championship fight in Venezuela, all expenses paid by the revolution. This is the way he operates.

Don King, like Chávez, is a highly controversial figure. He has killed two men, one in 1954 and another in 1966, while Chávez promoted and led, in 1992, a bloody and unsuccessful coup which caused the death of more than one hundred innocent persons. They have both been in prison after being tried and have served shortened sentences. Both are shrewd and ruthless operators. King says that he agrees with Machiavelli about being feared as the most important thing for a man. Chávez is a bully who threatens his adversaries, at every possible opportunity, with strong retaliation. Both hide behind racism to further their objectives. King has been successful at avoiding trials claiming that juries are racially charged against him. Chávez often accuses his political adversaries of opposing him because he is a zambo (of mixed Black and Indian blood).

It would be fair to say that King is much more of an unsavory character while Chávez is more an autocratic and egocentric political leader. King has been accused of tax evasion, money laundering and of stealing money from his fighters but, so far, he has not been convicted of any of these charges. He once claimed the protection of the Fifth Amendment to refuse answering the questions about his connections to mobster John Gotti. Chávez has not been accused of similar crimes but he has been accused of ordering the massacre of Puente Llaguno, in April 2002, where Venezuelans died at the hands of killers and of pilfering the nation's money in ill planned and populist social programs. He has been criticized for using the taxpayer's money in expensive suits, expensive watches and incessant traveling in a very expensive presidential aircraft all so he can fulfill his ambition of being a world leader.

In Venezuela we are witnessing a clash of Kings. On the one side, a King who was an accomplished civic leader and a master of peaceful, non-violent resistance, a strategy which the opposition to Chávez has often advocated (Elias Santana, Leonardo Carvajal). In the other corner, a King who feels like a fish in the water surrounded by violence and dirty tricks, a master gambler for whom pragmatism rules over ideals. In this spiritual and moral clash of Kings, only one can prevail. Chávez himself has said many times that no one can be with God and with the Devil at the same time. By embracing Don King and calling him "his brother" he has chosen sides, revealing his true nature.

My prediction is that this clash will be won by Martin Luther King, by KO.

A note about the title: I am currently reading the second volume of George R.R. Martin's magnificent saga "A song of ice and fire," titled precisely "A clash of Kings." I could not help borrowing it.

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