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Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chávez: God creates them and they get together

By Gustavo Coronel

February 28, 2004 - Arriving in Venezuela after a long plane trip from Harare, Zimbabwe's despot Robert Mugabe rapidly proceeded to fall asleep while Chávez was giving a speech and went on to drop the replica of Bolívar's sword presented to him by Chávez. Robert Mugabe, said the beaming Chávez, "is a true warrior of freedom."

Mugabe has been in power for 24 years. A few days ago, during the celebrations of his 80th birthday, he announced to the silent population of Zimbabwe that he would rule for five more years, putting him in a league with Fidel Castro, although a very distant second. During these 24 years Mugabe has managed to convert Zimbabwe into one of the most backward countries in the world, ranked 145 among 174 nations according the United Nations, a drop of 15 places in the last 5 years. His regime has been increasingly descending into aggressive totalitarianism and racism. Only last year, in June 2003, a coalition of African American organizations denounced him as the leader of an "increasingly intolerant, repressive and violent" government. One of the persons signing this letter to Mugabe was Bill Fletcher, the president of TransAfrica Forum, the same person who just visited Venezuela and compared Chávez with Martin Luther King. This goes to show that Mr. Fletcher still has not seen the glaring similarities between Mugabe and Chávez and, just in case, I am not talking color or mannerisms but all important political ideology and attitudes.

They are not identical twins, of course. Mugabe seems to have been well educated. He has a Master's degree in Economics from the University of London. He was a teacher for some years until he became a full time politician. Chávez has had a very spotty education and his theatrical attempts at teaching have usually ended in embarrassment, as he has misspelled words in front of the children. But their political evolution is becoming more and more similar as time goes by. Of course, the world already knows that Mugabe is a despot but it is only starting to suspect that Chávez is also one. Similarities include:

"Both surround themselves with a cabinet stacked up with cronies. Chávez with Giordani, Isturiz and Rangel. Mugabe with Moyo, Made and Chinamasa. These men are supposed to solve the problems that they, themselves, have created!

* Both have presided over the economic and social collapse of their countries, Venezuela dropping 24 places in the Human Development Index, Zimbabwe 15 places, both during the last five years.

* Both rely in the military brass, which they control through the giving of special privileges and absurd non-meritocratic promotions.

* Both are presidents of the country and presidents of their own political parties, and do not think much of such a dual role representing one of the many varieties of political corruption.

* Both have started "land reforms" which are leading their countries into agricultural collapse, as the few existing efficient production units are arbitrarily taken over and given to those who do not have the knowledge and the technical assistance to make them productive.

* Both have created paramilitary bands of armed thugs. In the case of Mugabe, his thugs are accused of systematic raping of women. In the case of Chávez the thugs are paid to harass political dissidents, up to the extreme of stoning the coffin of our last Cardinal and spitting on religious images.

* Both exhibit the same menacing attitude against private business. Being in power longer, being more advanced than Chávez in the path of totalitarianism, Mugabe has actually confiscated numerous private companies: sugar corporations, lands, and South African interests. Chávez, so far, has only threatened with doing so, since he does not yet feel strong enough to really do it.

* Both have blood on their hands. Mugabe has been accused of murdering and torturing many of his opponents. Chávez has not done so yet but his failed military coup of 1992 and the massacre his followers engineered in Caracas, in April 2002, left well over a hundred Venezuelans dead.

* Both exhibit total disdain for international civilized co-existence. Mugabe has broken Zimbabwe's ties with the Commonwealth and forced the European community into sanctioning his government. Chávez is doing all he can to create a political crisis with the US and is leading Venezuela into a tragic situation of international isolation. His government is fast becoming a rogue and pariah government while Zimbabwe's already is.

* Both think of themselves as being above the Law. When Mugabe says: "I will be in power five more years" he is not being modest. After all, he has already been there for 24 years. Chávez says: "I will be in power until 2021" because he has to catch up with Mugabe. Chávez, in saying this, reveals his totalitarian nature, as he cannot possibly rule until 2021 within constitutional means. He clearly pretends to become a dictator.

* Both have big mouths, not in the physical sense, but in the sense of talking too much. They are boastful and love the sound of their own voices.

* Both are insensitive to social and economic issues and totally oriented to political survival. They would not care less if their countries went bankrupt, as long as they survive in power.

* Both are signing an agreement for "economic" cooperation, a pathetic case of the blind leading the blind.

Chávez has already given ample signs of his preferences for allies: the Colombian guerrillas, the Cuban dictator, the coca grower, the flamboyant Libyan Colonel, the former dictator Hussein and, now, Robert Mugabe. In Venezuela we say: "Por la maleta se saca al pasajero." Roughly translated: You can know all about a traveler by looking at his suitcase.

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