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Dr. Evil and Mr. Hood

By Alexandra Beech

27.08.05 | Just when Venezuelans were recovering from the information maelstrom ignited by Pat Robertson’s call for Chavez’s assassination, another editorial surfaced on August 25th bound to cause further consternation. In "Chavez can have a calming influence on Latin America,” The Washington Post’s Marcela Sanchez writes that she’s “starting to think that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez can have a calming influence on Latin America.” She then extols the latest achievements of the Venezuelan government, including its offer of “flexible financing” to Cuba, and other Caribbean and Latin American nations. “Chavez promises more jobs and revenue in the region with plans to build a $2.5 billion oil refinery in northeastern Brazil and purchase Argentine oil tankers.” Moreover, Chavez agreed “to cover Ecuador's oil commitments, helping to calm the global market and to reduce the strike's fiscal impact on the struggling nation.” Chavez, Sanchez muses, “is a modern-day, Spanish-speaking Robin Hood,” even if in Washington, she laments, he is considered “the greatest `negative force’ against democracy and the free market since the Cold War.” The truth, Ms. Sanchez concludes, is that Chavez is both a Robin Hood and ‘a negative force,’ and Washington needs to reshape its perception of him to include both his Dr. Evil and his Mr. Hood sides.

It seems that if there’s one thing that Marcela Sanchez has been doing when she’s not reporting for the local Univision channel, it is not thinking. For anyone who thinks about Chavez cannot conclude that he is a Robin Hood. Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor. Chavez stole from the rich and poor. Period. There has been very little giving to anyone, relatively speaking. With unprecedented oil revenues, Chavez has merely created social programs which run parallel to existing ministries in need of investment. Under Chavez, poverty has increased significantly. Even with price controls, the poor today have less purchasing power than before. Furthermore, only those who support him have access to government benefits. Those – rich or poor - who signed a petition for the recall referendum are out of the loop. Those who benefit from the bonanza must pledge allegiance to the chief.

But Ms. Sanchez knows this. In her editorial titled “No Point in Sanctioning Venezuela” published only six days ago, she pleads with the US government against drug decertification, writing that it “would undermine these avenues of engagement by discontinuing U.S. funds for all but the most urgent aid, as in the case of natural disaster. This is a mistake because these gestures represent the beginnings of a more constructive U.S. policy in Venezuela that takes the plight of its poor more seriously -- and also because Chavez's standing with the poor may be eroding.” In one week, Chavez went from being a president whose popularity with the poor is eroding to being a modern-day Robin Hood. With Robertson’s unpopular remarks barely off of our Internet screens, it’s popular again to think of Chavez as the Champion of the Poor. Shockingly, millions of dollars are disbursed to lobby groups in Washington to promote this erroneous image, but Ms. Sanchez seems more than willing to do it for much less.

Idealists would begin by saying that Chavez only stole Venezuela’s freedom and democracy. Both Pat Robertson and the Catholic Church in Venezuela agree on that. In a recent interview, Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, once a close friend to Pope John Paul II, described the current government as “the most detestable government in Venezuelan history.” He called on Venezuelans to invoke a constitutional article which allows them to disregard a government when it violates the country’s democratic principles. “Reconciliation,” he said, “cannot be turned into a superficial act and ought to be founded on the change in determined attitudes and behaviors that on balance are undemocratic and in violation of human rights.” He said that “for a long time here there is neither democracy nor Rule of Law. What we have is a veneer of democracy.”

That Ms. Sanchez has been hood-winked into believing that Chavez has a Robin Hood side is not surprising. After all, she believes that “Latin America today is not in the midst of a Cold War where externally financed leftist rebel movements wage guerrilla warfare against democratic governments.” That is only true to a certain degree, if one thinks solely of the influence of the former Soviet Union on Latin America years ago. But Marxists have grown much more savvy over the years. They’ve realized that a revolution gets much further in a business suit and “elections” than by impromptu attacks from the mountains. In this globalized era, financing the explosion of an oil pipeline doesn’t accomplish what financing a social explosion in front a presidential palace does, then calling it an “increasingly frustrated population...taking to the streets and demanding that their elected leaders deliver the goods promised by U.S.-touted reforms.” That she would think that those “protests” are spontaneous either reflects extreme naivety or a hidden agenda to promote a particular political bend. I hope, in her case, that it is the former, for the latter has only resulted in more conflict and suffering, at least in Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

Ms. Sanchez concludes that “Chavez's influence in Latin America is not all pernicious and, no matter how much it is hated, may be presenting solutions to Latin America's real problems in ways that Washington is not.” Chavez may be offering “flexible financing” to Latin American countries and the Caribbean. In fact, he may have rescued Ecuador from yet another brink of disaster. But at what price? Chavez has never given something for nothing. Ask the millions of newly nationalized citizens who were given identification cards and voter registration cards in one fell swoop, and who are now denied passports. Ask the Caricom nations who – for receiving favorable oil prices – refused to even consider denouncing the Venezuelan government when it flagrantly suppressed protests by torturing dissenters. By lending money or anything else, Chavez is dismantling whatever power the Organization of American States may have exerted in Latin America. He has practically erased the Democratic Charter, since no Latin American country will ever – as long as it owes him anything – dare raise a word against him. Just as no Latin American country denounced the torture that took place before the world during the G-15 Summit of 2004, no Latin American country will ever do so – as long as Chavez remains in power.

If that is not the most pernicious use of power, then I don’t know what it is.

The only positive element of Ms. Sanchez’s editorial is that, like Robertson’s meandering rant, it continues to call attention to Latin America. However, as history has sadly proven during the past six years, Chavez doesn’t have a good side, nor will his policies calm Latin America. Unless it is the kind of calm which precedes a storm.

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