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The damaged Chavez brand

By Aleksander Boyd

Brussels 02.06.06 | In the corridors of power, whether in Brussels, London, Washington D.C. or Sao Paulo there is one certainty: Hugo, the caudillo running Venezuela to the ground, is a growing menace that needs to be contained. Long gone are the halcyon days when every populist utterance from the strongman was received with utmost contentness. To the contrary the wind has changed and Hugo finds himself increasingly under the weather. No one, lest of course the brain-dead resentidos sociales of no political consequence, appears to be buying into his lacklustre rhetoric for one simple reason; his actions speak volumes.

In his recent European tour he was shunned by democrats from both sides of the political divide alike. Luis Yañez-Barnuevo from Zapatero's Socialist Party (PSOE) told us yesterday, for instance, that he was absolutely shocked by the mediatic abuses of the Chavez regime he witnessed recently in Venezuela as part of the European delegation of electoral observers deployed in last December legislative elections, acknowledging the extremely adverse conditions that the Venezuelan people face. Contrast that with the views of English conservative MEP Charles Tannock who, upon return from observing Uribe's re-election, assured me that people in Colombia have recouped lost liberties and are feeling as optimistic towards the future as they possibly can, owing to the incredible deeds of one president that puts, for real, the welfare and security of his countrymen above all else in the to-do list.

Certainly embracing Castro and Mugabe, halting commercial relations over captures of narcoterrorists and praising criminals of international calibre in energy summits have diminished greatly the value of the Chavez brand.

And one can interpret, as tide-turning signs, changes in world opinion when major news conglomerates such as the BBC, The Times, The Frankfurter Allgemeine or Agencia EFE open up and publish criticism with respect to a man and a 'revolution' that until very recently were the favourite dish of the deprived-from-successful-examples-to-showcase global left. It's comforting to hear conservative opinions on Chavez, but, better still, condemnation from European socialists, for let us not forget that the ideology-lacking political arm of Chavez, read his party Movimiento Quinta Republica, could not manage to get into the club of the International Socialist.

The term de rigueur in Europe is integration; Chavez's autocratic unilateralism, wanton disrespect for the Rule of Law and abhorrence of democratic principles will never be accepted in a civilised and interconnected world. And that was the take away message of our visit to this town: Europeans have seen that kind of specimen before, now it is the time for the opposition to demonstrate maturity, unity of principles and democratic commitment. Having walked along the Rhine and having crossed three countries in a week gave me a sense of hope: trade, progress, wellbeing and freedom are achievable goals if belief in those matters is shared by enough people. One can only hope that said premises are of paramount importance to all Venezuelans who, ultimately, will have to face the music, rise up to the challenge and recoup the lost liberty.

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