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Chavez: The next American Idol
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-06-05 08:14:41
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When everybody was talking about Venezuela’s Che I was a bit sceptical! When everybody was talking about the Venezuelan economic miracle I was wondering and when the Spanish king told Chavez to shut up I was relieved.

Nobody knows what would have happened to Che if he was alive and the myth of his death created an icon the size of a rock & roll star; but judging from his brief life, the things he said and the things he did, I doubt if he would have become a relic like Castro. Che always put humans before anything, including ideologies, and you might think that I am being romantic but I feel that it is sacrilege to compare Che with Hugo Chavez.

Hugo Chavez often makes me feel like he’s coming out of a reality show called the "American Revolutionary" where all the scenery and the scenario are inspired from Woody Allen’s film Bananas. I even went so far to read a couple of his speeches to find out that a big part of them didn’t make sense. He's a populist who is ready to say anything so long as the audience will scream his name happily. Of course giving petrol in ridiculous prices, especially to the poor, and the ones who needed it is good and if you put aside the greediness of the oil companies there is a reason for putting taxes on the petrol. The money the states make supposedly goes back to the people by creating schools and hospitals, but please don’t tell me that Venezuela has solved all these problems - do they have enough schools and perfect hospitals? I think Venezuela is far from having a good education and health system.

And then there is another catch that holds me back when it comes to Chavez, the man is always too ready to protect and demonstrate about USA and the EU, emphasizing their lack of respect to the poor and defenceless. He’s talking about human rights and Guantanamo, yet at the same time he’s building his own Guantanamo. Venezuela hasn’t manage to champion human rights, on the contrary, Hugo Chavez found himself a lot of times having to excuse his actions with the opposition, the students, the workers and a number of other issues but his latest decision with the law for spying he definitely touches the limits that will turn him from a controversial leader to a dictator.

His excuse was to guarantee national security, prevent assassination plots and military rebellions. Leave aside the national security excuse, it has been used so many times and for so many reasons that it has lost the meaning; in the end we will hear even bin Laden talking about Afghanistan’s national security and we will not be surprised. Prevent assassination? From the very beginning Hugo Chavez has shown signs of persecution mania and with a little help from CIA’s war games it turned into an obsession. The thing is how far it goes his feeling that he is an assassination target and how far it goes his problem in see enemies around who want to kill him.

Don’t forget that we have another contemporary example of a leader who sees enemies everywhere who try to kill him, Africa’s caricature Hitler Robert Mugabe. And Mugabe has taken it one step further, first he accuses his victims for being English spies that follows with the accusation of assassinations against him - it will end with a dead body in the wild. Is this the path that lies in front of Chavez?

And where does this enemy and spy identity stop? For a man with a persecution mania anybody who’s opposing him can easily become a spy, an instrument of the enemy and in this case anybody can be the enemy depending on the mood. In Mugabe’s case just everybody who opposes him is an English spy. This new law also demands from the Venezuelans to cooperate with the secret services and the police into unveiling enemies of the state and spies. But we have lived the same much too often in the past where a personal dispute was enough to lead people in front the firing squad.

Last, the excuse for military rebellion really made me laugh because it definitely has the flavour of South American banana dictatorship threats and I think it was mainly for internal use warning Venezuelans, it is either a military junta or me!

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Emanuel Paparella2008-06-05 13:44:14
Perhaps the key to better fathom the enigma that is Chavez lies in seeing him as the next Italian idol, or ideologue, in the tradition of Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” Like his bosom friend Castro, he is addicted to the idol of power buttressed by an ideology which he hardly understands and hiding under an alleged socialist concern for the poor; the trick of every dictator (from both banana republics and countries competing with capitalism such as China) who has substituted the Nietzschean “will to power” to the Aristotelian “will to truth.” In Bernano’s Diary of a Country Priest there is a heated discussion between two priests on concern for the poor expressed in revolutionary fervor. At one point of the discussion one priest asks the other a cogent question: is yours a concern for the poor or envy of the rich? In that question lies the solution to Chavez’s enigma as well as that of every ideologically driven dictator contemptuous of democracy and the traditions of his people. Some scholars claim that Machiavelli was a humanist. One wonders.

Emanuel Paparella2008-06-05 14:00:20
P.S. On the idolized Che, here is a revealing excerpt from an essay titled "The Resurrection of Che Guevar" by a man born and raised in Cuba: Samuel Farber (in The New Politics, Vol. 7, no. 1, 1998); it confirms to a certain extent the importance of the question in Bernano's book:

"By the time he left Guatemala in 1954 in the aftermath of the overthrow of the constitutional government of Jacobo Arbenz orchestrated by U.S. imperialism, Guevara was thoroughly politicized, accepting a Stalinist view of the world. This was true in both the generic sense that he had become a staunch supporter of the political model represented by the USSR of a repressive one-party state owning and controlling the economy without any democratic popular controls, independent unions, workers' or civil liberties, as well as in the narrow literal sense of his great admiration for Joseph Stalin. Thus even before his Guatemalan experience, when Guevara traveled through Costa Rica and witnessed first-hand the awesome and terrible power of the United Fruit company, he wrote to his aunt Beatriz telling her that he had sworn "before a picture of our, old much lamented comrade Stalin that I will not rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated." Another letter to the same aunt was signed with the words "Stalin II." (p.62 and Anderson, p.167) More important was the fact that when Guevara visited the USSR in his capacity as one of the most important leaders of the victorious Cuban revolution in November of 1960, he insisted on depositing a floral tribute at Stalin's tomb even against the advice of the Cuban ambassador to the USSR.(p. 181) It is important to remember that this was more than four years after Khrushchev's revelations of Stalin's crimes.

Emanuel Paparella2008-06-05 16:38:41
(continued from above)
This is how the rather lenghtly article concludes:

"In the last analysis, however, the political question remains: was Che Guevara a friend or foe of emancipatory, liberatory politics? The historical record is clear; Guevaraism is incompatible with the struggle to build an egalitarian and democratic society, a society in which working people decide their own fate without reliance on "well-intentioned saviors."

It appears that Chavez does have in fact something in common with Guevara: they both thought of themselves as "well intentioned saviors of the people" and did not exactly cherish a democratic approach to politics. In short, they were both Italian Machiavellian idols.

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