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Viva la Revolucion! Viva Shaavez!

By Alexandra Beech

11.09.05 | Where there is love, torture falls by the wayside; and the love that New Yorkers feels for Chavez will be sated soon.

Later this week, New Yorkers, investors, and academics will face the man who has besotted them for the past six years.  Unfettered by the pesky opposition (which is now exhausted and demoralized), and aided by a climate which is focused on other matters (Katrina and local elections),  they will embrace the man who rages against Bush.

First, there are the regular New Yorkers. Liberal on their best days – when they read the New York Times and listen to NPR – they are mesmerized by that great new Latin hero who has raged against the Bush administration. Many of them have visited Cuba on strange little visas, circumventing US laws. They whisper about Castro’s successes in health and education. Jutting out their chins with that air of knowing things the rest of the country doesn’t, they discuss “Shaavez from Venezuela.” High on $5 Starbuck sludge, they (don’t) know enough about Venezuela to have opinions.

- Chavez and Castro are good friends. Check.

- Chavez has a lot of oil. Check (Literally. It’s his. He controls every single aspect of the oil industry.)

- Chavez hates Bush. Check. (Here, they salivate a little.)

- Chavez was overthrown, and placed in power two days later. Check. (They also blame Bush for that.)

From this point, their knowledge dribbles to foam...

- Bush wants to assassinate Chavez. Wrong. (That is Pat Robertson, when he’s not hawking protein pancakes.)

- Bush is going to invade Venezuela. Wrong. (He can barely handle Iraq and New Orleans.)

- Chavez has helped the poor. Wrong. (Poverty has increased.)

When Chavez visits New York at the end of this week, these New Yorkers will attend a support rally at the Riverside Church, sporting their well-trimmed Lenin-like goatees.  They will try to shake his hand, and congratulate him for resisting Bush’s attempts to oust him. They will discuss Venezuela’s social programs, the Cuban-supported clinics that have sprouted in poor neighborhoods, the literacy and educational programs, and the funding of leftists causes. Wearing that obsequious revolutionary image on their t-shirts, they will crown Chavez the Che of the 21st Century.  

These New Yorkers will not discuss the rise in Venezuelan poverty. They will not discuss Venezuela’s political prisoners. They will not discuss the cases of torture. They will not mention that the country’s judicial system is no longer autonomous. Nor will they lament that the country’s legislative branch is controlled by Chavez, who also controls the electoral system, the attorney general, and the ombudsman. Nor will they question the rise in violent crimes in the past few years.  They will not mention that poor Cuban neighborhoods now lack free clinics, as entire medical staffs have been relocated to Venezuela.  They will not question where billions in oil revenues have vanished.

They will only foam with delight at the sight of a man who hates Bush, and they will scream Viva La Revolucion! 

Then they will go home and turn on their televisions. They will complain about Bush’s power in the selection of new Supreme Court Justices.  They will denounce the treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. They will complain that Republican Congressman are using Hurricane Katrina for corporate benefit. They will denounce that poverty has increased under Bush, crying out especially against the images of Louisiana’s poor.  Even as poverty under Chavez has increased, they will wish that Bush had Chavez’s proclivity towards the poor. Anyone who trails Venezuela’s oil revenues can see that Chavez is the reverse Robin Hood – he robs from the poor and gives it to the rich.  But that doesn’t matter, for the twisted syllogism is always the same: Bush is bad. Chavez hates Bush. Ergo, Chavez is good.

Then there is the business community, which has always loved Chavez.  At least they’ve never hidden their admiration for a man who thumbs his nose at convention, at workers, at strikes. This is a man who will fire 18,000 workers – half the oil industry – because they dared to oppose him.  This was a man who said he would rather hire foreigners than Venezuelans, if that meant restoring production. This was a man who was willing to make deals with any company to resume production, who was willing to destroy oil fields and lakes – any natural environs – to keep the dollars flowing. Yes, he was a populist, but like Castro, he knew he had to keep foreign investors happy.  That meant paying foreign debt, even as the debt to his own people was growing higher every day. What investor would not love a man with so many exploitable weaknesses?  Who would not love a man who could sell his own people with a handshake and nod?

When he speaks at the Council of the Americas at the end the week, Chavez will be lauded by the business community, which will clap with thunder at his jokes.  Even Republicans will celebrate him, ignoring that he called Bush an asshole, that he called the United States the worst empire in human history. Where there’s money, there’s love.

Finally, there is academia, that sleepy community that is always a few years behind the curve.  Their desire to embrace Chavez will be sated at Columbia University, where Chavez has been invited to speak in a presidential forum. Who can blame academic ignorance? Professors, after all, spend most of their time buried in old texts and newspapers, or surrounded by post-pubescent idealists who lack the funds to actually travel to the places they purport to defend.  One day they rage against the IMF, and the next they claim allegiance to Chavez, resting under their posters of the Che, bought at that cool little store in the Village. Pass the bong and let’s talk about the revolution, man.

No doubt, Chavez will be the Belle of the Ball in New York this week. Even as the Venezuelan poor live a post-Katrina reality every day.  Dying on the street like dogs, scavenging garbage dumps to feed their children, lacking running water and phones for communication, surviving on colorful promises that never quite seem to materialize.  

If New Yorkers don’t do much about the poor in their own ghettoes (very similar to the poor in Louisiana), don’t expect them to care about the poor in Venezuela.  But they will congratulate anyone who hates Bush, so Viva la Revolucion!

Note: The author of this editorial is a Liberal Democrat who lives in New York.

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