The Venezuelan President aligns himself with dictators, human rights abusers and notorious narcoterrorists
WHICH INTERNATIONAL leader publicly threatens to blow up his country’s oilfields, supports Iran’s nuclear programme, says that the Falklands belong to Argentina and believes that Robert Mugabe is a “true freedom-fighter”?
The answer is none other than Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela, who readily antagonises and hurls insults at the leaders of other nations, including Tony Blair, whom he called an “ally of Hitler”. Next week London will have the dubious honour of a visit by Señor Chávez, hosted by none other than its mayor, Ken Livingstone.
Emboldened by a huge windfall of petrodollars due to climbing oil prices, Señor Chávez has no shortage of international cheerleaders. He has become the voice and leader of the resentful of our world. From Argentina to the offices of the Greater London Authority, almost every person bearing a grudge against capitalism, free markets, democracy and the rule of law support his “revolution”.
Once an island of stability in a region ravaged by coups d’état and dictatorships, Venezuela under President Chávez has become the source of instability in Latin America. The Chávez administation has, for instance, a cosy relationship with the FARC, the Colombian narcoterrorist group. When Rodrigo Granda, its leader, was captured in 2004 by bounty hunters on the streets of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, Señor Chávez’s irrational reaction was telling. He suspended relations with Colombia, Venezuela’s second-largest trading partner, claiming that the Colombians had violated national sovereignty. Granda not only had been living in Venezuela and been given citizenship, but his wife and stepdaughter were allowed into the country in 2002 thanks to orders from the Minister of Interior and Justice.
Senor Chávez, commanding billions from PDVSA, the state-owned oil company, interferes in the domestic politics of neighbouring countries, supporting all sorts of radical movements across Latin America. He put his weight behind Evo Morales, Bolivia’s recently elected populist and anti-business President. He is doing the same in Nicaragua, supporting Daniel Ortega, the former Sandinista President; and in Peru he is publicly backing Ollanta Humala, a populist former army officer. The Peruvian Government has loudly complained to the Organisation of American States (OAS) about Señor Chávez’s interference.
Nonetheless the constant stream of insults uttered from Caracas is popular with many Venezuelans, as are his so-called misiones or social missions. It would be futile to claim that the medics he has introduced to the barrios or the subsidised shops in the poorest areas have not had a positive impact on the disenfranchised. But the facts are that after nearly eight years in power, crime, unemployment, corruption and poverty, the four issues that Señor Chávez promised to tackle, are on the increase.
But the mounting failures of his Government are not perceived by most Venezuelans to be of his making. They are seen as the fault of his ministers, whom he often berates in his many television appearances for the entertainment of his grassroot supporters. His virtually non-stop presence on TV helps to explain why he still commands a level of support that certainly does not correspond with the mediocre performance of his administration.
Nonetheless Hugo Chávez remains the poster boy of the world’s Left. His misiones, while commendable, shroud a raft of anti-democratic actions. In spite of his military background few people outside Venezuela seem to be aware of the militaristic nature of his regime. Señor Chávez, though democratically elected in 1998, has appointed more than 80 military officers to his Government. The most recent case is the appointment of Colonel Francisco Arias Cárdenas, a comrade in the failed coup of 1992, as Venezuela’s new representative to the UN.
Under Señor Chávez, Venezuela has ceased to be a real democracy: it now exists instead in the murky twilight world between democracy and dictatorship, where there is still a free press and a nod to holding elections. But the opposition parties pulled out of the elections to the legislative assembly last December on discovering that the electronic voting system had been rigged; an allegation that OAS and EU observers confirmed. All 165 members of the assembly are now Chavistas.
In contradiction to the Constitution, he appointed 12 supporters to the supreme court to give him a majority among the judges. He has done away with any resemblance of accountability or separation of powers. The confiscation of private property or the shredding of contracts are now routine occurrences, decided unilaterally and without consultation by the President.
His cheerleaders claim that Señor Chávez is a “social democrat”, while conveniently brushing aside that he supports and aligns himself with some of the world’s worst dictators and human rights abusers. This “democrat” is hell-bent on inducing war in a country that hasn’t seen armed conflicts in more than a century. This “democrat” uses the State as an apparatus of persecution against his political opponents. This “ democrat” does not allow free and transparent elections. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that the rights of Venezuelans are under chronic and systematic abuse.
It saddens me that some British public figures applaud a visit by President Chávez. Less than a year ago, London was struck by terrorist bombings — yet its mayor is welcoming a man who befriends and supports terrorists.
Aleksander Boyd is a Venezuelan writer living in Britain