So says President Chavez of Venezuela:
While the feckless US Congress quivers at every edict issued from the White House, the barrel-chested Venezuelan fires off another round of grapeshot at the fraudster-and-chief: “Bush is the world’s greatest terrorist”…”a madman”… (who) “thinks he owns the world and now is making plans to invade Iran, and plans to invade Venezuela, too…The American people are going to have to tie him down one of these days, because if they don’t he’s capable of destroying half the world.”
Chavez is the polar opposite of his arch-rival, George Bush. Raised in a dirt-floor shack, Chavez worked his way up through the ranks of the elite paratrooper-corps dreaming of becoming of becoming a baseball player and moving to the United States.
Bush, on the other hand, is a patrician slacker, who drank his way through high school and college, went “missing” during his tour with the Champagne Unit of the Texas National Guard, and ran three companies (Spectrum, Arbusto, and Harken) into the ground. He finally, found his niche in politics when he realized he could translate his family name and connections into political capital. Since then, he has faithfully served the corporate interests that catapulted him to the presidency; providing lavish subsidies to industry giants, tax cuts to the wealthy, and deregulation to nearly every area of commerce.
The divisions between Chavez and Bush are more than just personal. Chavez imagines a world where government is deeply involved in the health and welfare of its citizens and where certain guarantees of security are provided under the rule of law. He has worked tirelessly to actualize a modern Bolivarian Revolution, loosening the centuries-long grip of colonial rule and binding the continent together in a shared vision of peace and cooperation.
He’s become the bane of the petro-oligarchs who see his efforts to redistribute some of Venezuela’s vast oil wealth into social programs as a direct challenge to their authority. (Ironically, Chavez’s attempts to share oil profits are not nearly as extreme as the many programs initiated by FDR under the New Deal. Even into the 1950s the highest tax rate for anyone making over $200,000 was 92%. This “socialistic” redistribution of wealth explains the explosive growth of America’s middle class following the Second World War)
Chavez has provided clinics and schools in every barrio in Caracas; ensuring that even the neediest citizens will enjoy federally funded health care, literacy programs, and a minimal standard of living. His vision of social justice is sharply contrasted to that of Bush who has consistently hacked away at education, public television, Medicaid, student loans, and the crumbling social safety-net that provides vital resources for the destitute. In Bush-world, the solitary function of government is to enhance the wealth of America’s “privileged few”....
Chavez’s new-found wealth and celebrity presents a serious challenge to Washington. The Pentagon issued a report 2 years ago that warned of the dangers of “radical populism” spreading through Latin America. The Bush administration is concerned that real democracy will take root in the region and undermine the dominant role of US industry....
Chavez’s popularity has only grown with every scathing brickbat he hurls at the Bush claque....
“We are happy that the maximum representatives of the assassin and genocide Empire attack us and call us what they like,” Chavez boomed. “If the dogs are barking, Sancho, it’s because we are riding”.
Chavez’s comments elicited a sharp response from Donald Rumsfeld who said, “We’ve see some populist leadership appealing to masses of people in those countries” that is “worrisome”…Chavez “was elected legally- just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally-and then consolidated his power.”
That’s a stretch even by Rumsfeld’s standards.
Never the less, Chavez dismissed the Defense Secretary’s remarks saying, “Let the dogs of imperialism bark…that’s their role, to bark. Our task is to consolidate this century and the real liberation of our people right now.”
In recent months, Chavez has been aggressively trying to buy weapons from Russia anticipating another American coup or (possible) invasion. (He said that he has proof of a US plan code-named Balboa that was worked out under the Bush administration) He has vowed to cut off the flow of oil to the US if the Bush administration makes another attempt on his life and promised a century-long war if the US invades. Never the less, the prospect of hostilities hasn’t intimidated the effusive Chavez or caused him to tone down his rhetoric.
“The imperialist, mass-murdering, fascist attitude of the president of the United States doesn’t have limits”, Chavez said. “I think Hitler could be a nursery-baby next to George W. Bush”.
Chavez undoubtedly grasps the gravity of his situation and the likelihood that Bush will take military action against him sometime following an attack on Iran. As he noted last week when he was awarded the prestigious Jose Marti prize by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization:
“They will forever try to preserve the US Empire by all means, while we do everything possible to shred it.”
By the way, a nice indication of how low the New York Review of [Each Other's] Books has sunk, since the days when they printed real social and political criticism by the likes of Noam Chomsky, is the recent smear-by-innuendo-but-without-real-evidence piece on Chavez. The author writes:
The largest number of barrios is to be found at the eastern end of the city, in the area of Petare, home to some 600,000 of the city's four million inhabitants. This sprawling community is indeed poor, although in Venezuela, a country with a per capita income of $4,400, it is by no means the poorest. But my friends were right to say that crime and drugs are critical problems here. And Petare has chavistas, too—followers of President Hugo Chávez—possibly more chavistas per square foot, and more cohesively organized, than anywhere else in the country. It is in Petare that Hugo Chávez's ambitious social welfare programs are implemented most ambitiously, because he has turned the poor into his de facto party, and as a result, whether his presidency stands or falls can be determined by the residents of this barrio, which vies for a place with three cities for the rank of Venezuela's fourth-largest urban agglomeration.
One morning late in July, I went to Petare and toured the local branches of the various social welfare organizations created by Chávez in the course of his nearly seven years in power. My guide was María Milagros Reyes, a tough, enthusiastic woman from the top of one of the barrio's highest hills. Reyes is the director for ideology in Petare of the Comando Maisanta, an organization that was first created last year to get out the vote for a referendum on whether Hugo Chávez should remain in power.
Reyes has a position of some rank, and I worried that in her presence people might not want to express the doubts and reservations about Chávez I had heard among the citizenry, and even the chavista leadership, in other barrios, but in Petare that morning no one I met seemed to have any doubts —neither a young man in a storefront equipped by the government with five computer terminals, who was receiving free instruction on how to use the Internet and how to fill out on-line employment applications, nor the working women in a small office in that same compound, looking to place their children in one of the chavista child-care cooperatives run by housewives in every neighborhood.
Let's translate this to cut to the chase: Chavez's policies favor the poor, and the poor support him. To discredit that support, we need the innuendo that they might not speak frankly because of the frightening Ms. Reyes. The "citizenry" who "express the doubts and reservations about Chavez" turn out--only later in the article--to "come largely from the ranks of businessmen and former businessmen....[T]o the degree that they are nearly all members of the upper classes, they are deeply distrusted by the chavistas, who are overwhelmingly poor."
It gets better, though:
Súmate is a vote-monitoring organization, born in 2002 out of the need to mobilize disheartened anti-chavistas into participating in elections once again. Its role was to monitor the process of gathering signatures to demand a referendum on whether Chávez should continue in power. The opposition fought hard for this referendum: in 2003 its leaders presented more than 3,700,000 signatures for it to the National Electoral Council. The electoral council was disbanded and its ruling on the signatures was dismissed, so the opposition started all over again, defying hurdles set up by a new council almost at whim—that all the petitions be submitted in handwriting, for example, and in the same style of penmanship—and collecting, at last, 2.5 million valid signatures in 2004. And then they got trounced: the referendum was scheduled for August, and Chávez won with his largest vote so far, 59.1 percent of the total, in an election monitored, and held to have been fair, by the OAS and the Carter Center. (It helped Chávez's cause that the price of oil had climbed from $25 a barrel at the start of the referendum campaign to $33 by July, and that the economy, after two years of extreme negative growth, was racing forward at 14 percent.)
Súmate, which monitored the vote and led the signature-gathering campaign, was started by María Corina Machado, a slender, attractive, and very pale-skinned member of one of Venezuela's older, and wealthier, families, and by Alejandro Plaz, who is tall and sleek and descended from an old French immigrant family.
So an organization committed to "free and fair elections" is run by a scion of a well-to-do Venezuelan family who presumably does not fare well under Chavez's policies. The author implies that her organization's effort to secure a "free and fair election" was met with unfair resistance. (Note that the footnote in the original article does not cite any source verifying the claims about the election council's rulings.) But when an election deemed "free and fair" by outside observers (the same ones blocked from monitoring U.S. elections) is held, Chavez wins decisively...but that must be because of the price of oil, as though that somehow vindicates the efforts by the ruling classes to discredit the regime.
After pages and pages of these allegations by implication, the author makes clear where she really stands when, out of the blue, she writes:
Strongmen or caudillos like Chávez, and dictators, too, have always depended on fervent popular support to consolidate their hold on power.
The democratically elected leader of Venezuela, who by the author's own admission was elected decisively in a vote deemed by outside observers to be fair, all of a sudden becomes a "strongman"--who warrants comparison with "dictators" no less--who is opposed to "fair elections"! Perhaps this is what Hugo Chavez is; perhaps he is also Elvis Presley reincarnated; or perhaps he is a fairy princess dressed as a strongman. The difficulty is that no real evidence, as distinct from innuendo, is adduced in support of the article's conclusion. When did The New York Review of (Each Other's) Books become a house organ for Bush Administration propaganda? It is really quite disgraceful.