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Chávez and Mugabe: Plutarch would not have bothered

By Gustavo Coronel, July 25, 2004

Southern Rhodesia was an African jewel when Mugabe took it over almost 25 years ago. Novelist Doris Lessing tells us in "The Tragedy of Zimbabwe," (The New York Review of Books, April 10, 2003) that when independence was reached, blacks "looked forward to a life of plenty and competence that existed nowhere in Africa. . . . But paradise was to have an infrastructure, and by now its going, going, almost gone." The man associated with this calamity, says Lessing, is Robert Mugabe. Although today Mugabe is widely execrated, adds Lessing, blame started late. The outside world looked on him with benevolence, although all the early signs of the coming disaster were there. He surrounded himself with North Korean bodyguards, a gang of murderers and rapists but people seemed to overlook this. He started, says Lessing, to say the right things: blacks and whites must work together. He promised to fight corruption and tried to limit his collaborators to one property. However, Lessing says, when these collaborators started to steal, Mugabe did nothing. When Mugabe came to power he had the goodwill of his people. Even those who did not vote for him were initially prepared to forget their differences to work together. Lessing says that in all villages of Zimbabwe the general belief of the people was; "Mugabe will do this and that." Yet, he preferred to restrict himself to an ever-smaller circle of cronies. He gave refuge to a hated Ethiopian dictator, Mengitsu (still there) and became a good friend of the corrupt prime minister of Malaysia, Mohammed. Although in the 1980’s the corrupt Mugabe government sold the grain given to the country by the United Nations, leftist and Marxist intellectuals from all over the world defended Mugabe with passion.

The people from Zimbabwe, says Lessing, are too patient and prefer to joke about their misfortunes and dream about better times. But they already say that if they can get rid of Mugabe, they will be able to create a better country. This is difficult to do because, Lessing says: "Mugabe has created a caste of greedy people like himself" so that, even if he is ousted, a similar crook will take his place.

Mugabe has promoted racial hate. His anti-white rhetoric is the worst in Africa but the blacks of Zimbabwe do not hate the whites, in spite of Mugabe's hateful speech. Mugabe has focused this hate on the white farmers and has promoted a "land reform" which has ruined the country. But Mugabe himself has made a fortune. The money he has made has served to buy the loyalty of the army officers who are the only ones who can oust him.

Mugabe, says Lessing, hates Tony Blair and firmly believes that Blair is obsessed about killing him. In Zimbabwe no one thinks that Blair spends one minute of his time thinking about Mugabe, but Mugabe is convinced that this is the case. This is what is known as paranoia.

The so-called land reform has been equally disastrous for white and black farmers and, as a result, the people of Zimbabwe are going hungry. Mugabe is rejecting the donation of food by foreign governments and uses the food available in the country as a political tool. The government claims to be producing some 2.4 million tons of grains while the UN estimates the crop in less than one million metric tons. It is said that Mugabe is importing Chinese farmers to grow food since the farms taken over by the "reform" are idle because the machinery was not maintained properly.

Only a few days ago Mugabe castigated private charities, aid organizations and NGO's for "interfering in domestic affairs of Zimbabwe." He said some of these organizations should be closed down and their members arrested as traitors. "We cannot allow them to be used as conduits of foreign interference," he said. He added that no one could give Zimbabwe lessons on human rights. The law he wants passed is similar to the law Zimbabwe already passed in 2002 giving the government power to close independent media. 31 journalists were arrested as the result of the application of that law. More than 200 people have been killed by the political violence generated by government gangs and police.

In the financial scene Zimbabwe owes the International Monetary Fund some $300 million since 2001. The IMF is giving Mugabe still another extension of six months to see if he pays his debts.

The chronic neglect and consequent decline of Zimbabwe's health care sector is dramatically illustrated by the fact that the new ambulances are ox-drawn.

However, in contrast with the miseries described above, Mugabe said last Tuesday in parliament that "Zimbabwe is undergoing an economic revival." He arrived in a Rolls Royce, under heavy police and military escort, accompanied by his young and pretty wife Grace, smartly dressed by a Paris establishment. He said that land "reform" would continue, that people should be patriotic and resist foreign interference. In a recent event, the African Union Summit, UN Secretary general Kofi Annan said that "There is no clearer wisdom than knowing when to pass the torch to a new generation." Who did he have in mind?

We do not have to be a Plutarch to realize that in Chávez and Mugabe we are dealing with a clear case of parallel lives. Of course, Plutarch wrote about distinguished parallel lives, not about the parallel lives of little men destroying their societies. Anyone who read the summary of Mugabe's performance, given above, would need no further proof that Mugabe and Chávez belong in the same category of political leaders. The parallelism is almost perfect. Chávez has realized that he and Mugabe are spiritual twins and that led him to invite Mugabe to Venezuela early this year, when he was served with an exhibition of military brutality by the Venezuelan National Guard.

In the case of Venezuela and Chávez we can also talk about "The Venezuelan Tragedy," except that it does not come after 25 years but after only six years. As in the case of Mugabe, Chávez also had at the outset a clear majority and strong support, even from those who did not vote for him. He also promised to fight corruption but he also gave in to the greed of the military and the gangsters who surround him. Today, Venezuela is a tragic case of hyper corruption, due to a combination of high government income and a total lack of ethics and accountability on the part of public officials. As Mugabe did, Chávez has surrounded himself with foreign bodyguards, not North Koreans but Cubans. When Chávez started his presidency all Venezuelans believed that he could be different. But today he is ruling with his family and a close group of friends, all highly uncultured. He invited former dictator Perez Jimenez to his inauguration. He has protected corrupt Aristide. He has made friends with the terrorists and murderers who make up the Colombian guerrillas. He visited Sadam Hussein in Iraq. We have a saying in Venezuela: The quality of the traveler is known by his suitcase. Chávez's suitcase is really pathetic, full of gangsters.

The people of Venezuela are patient and joke about their misfortunes, just as in Zimbabwe. We also claim that getting rid of Chávez will put us, once again, in the path to progress. Chávez has created, as Mugabe has done, a caste of greedy and corrupt people but he has not had the time to consolidate this mafia. In fact, this mafia is crumbling down at this very moment.

As it has happened with Mugabe, Chávez has found or has bought a group of leftist, greedy intellectuals that are writing nice things about him for a fee. As long as the money is coming to these websites and journalists, they will keep singing his praise.

As Mugabe has done, Chávez has promoted racial hatred. This hate has been directed to all whites, to the middle class, to the Catholic Church, to the media, to civil society, to the oligarchs that, according to him, make up the sector of society to be exterminated. In his pathological hate he sometimes reverses roles and paints himself as the white hero (Florentino) while describing the opposition as the black devil. But also as in the case of Mugabe, this promotion of racial hatred has had very little acceptance among the Venezuelan people, who has lived in harmony for many years and will continue to do so, long after Chávez becomes an unpleasant memory.

Chávez, as Mugabe, is buying the loyalty of a corrupt military group. However, this is a very shaky arrangement, since there are honest military officers who are not inclined to be bought while there are many greedy military officers trying to get into the act. The whole set-up is very fragile and is keeping Chávez awake at night trying to figure out who is loyal and who will rebel.

Chávez (as Mugabe) believes that someone is after him. In his case the person is Bush. As a result he is obsessed with antagonizing him. He is paying a lot of money to discredit Bush, except that, if Kerry wins, he will probably be more anti-Chávez than Bush is.

The Venezuelan land reform in Venezuela has proven to be as disastrous as in Zimbabwe. It has no organization, no technical back up, any system. By sending his brother to Cuba as Ambassador, instead of running the reform, Chávez has given up on this farce and has tried to replace it with social, urban programs, which have become the new way to make new millionaires among the revolutionaries.

Mugabe claims that food production is more than twice what it really is. Chávez claims that oil production is 35% more than it really is. Mugabe imports Chinese farmers and Chávez imports Cuban "doctors."

Mugabe attacks NGO's. Chávez attacks NGO's. They both claim that these organizations are traitors to the fatherland, bla bla bla. Mugabe does not allow food from foreign countries to enter the country, in order to alleviate the misery of the people of Zimbabwe. Chávez refused to accept US help to alleviate the plight of the people of Venezuela when the mudslides of northern Venezuela took place. The twins show an identical spiritual pettiness.

Chávez passes laws, which will render democracy impossible, just as Mugabe has done. And, as in the case of Mugabe, he goes on record to affirm that "everything is fine in Venezuela, that all is progressing, that Venezuela is improving."

Mugabe and Chávez are two of a kind. They will go on record as tragic enemies of their countries. Their biographies are not what Plutarch had in mind, more suitable for Corin Tellado.

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