Hugo Chavez is known for his inflammatory, anti-capitalist, and anti-American remarks. The Venezuelan president, who emulates Fidel Castro and strives for socialism, referred to the president of the United States in September as the "devil," and just last month, after being re-elected, claimed his victory as "another defeat for the devil, who tries to dominate the world," according to The New Yorker.
Chavez doesn’t stop there either. He has all kinds of opinions about how America should be doing things.
In a rare interview in New York City with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Chavez spoke of the war in Iraq. The Venezuelan president reflected with amazement and disgust that America ever thought Iraq would receive it well. He called Americans insane and noted how he knew the Iraqi people would receive U.S. soldiers with resistance, not flowers.
Chavez also warned, "If the imperialist government of the White House led an invasion against Venezuela, well, the war of 100 years will be released!"
Chavez also believes he knows how America should spend its money. He hypothesizes that if America would cut its military funds in half and then withdraw its troops from around the world, it could donate all the money to the poor countries of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Chavez even has an opinion about John F. Kennedy, believing that he was assassinated for telling Americans to "listen to the South!" Likewise, Chavez believes he himself may be assassinated for believing in the civil liberties of South America.
Chavez advocates what he calls "socialism for the 21st century," according to The New Yorker article. He often bounces back and forth between radical ideas. In his recent re-election campaign, Chavez toyed with the idea of making Venezuela operate completely on a barter system.
Chavez’s appeal lies in his seeming dedication to the well-being of the poor. According to CBN’s Web site, Chavez spent $4 billion in oil profits on social reform projects last year alone. Venezuela’s state money is currently being used largely to fund neighborhood food programs.
To Venezuela’s largely poor population, Chavez’s social attitudes make the most sense. According to CBN’s Web site, "Chavez is the revenge of the poor on a society that before never seemed to care about them." For these people, Chavez is a savior ready to drag them out of the corrupt former capitalism they lived under, to a socialism that will put bread on their tables and clothes on their children’s backs.
Yet Chavez’s rule is also riddled with contradictions. Although he claims that "today there is total freedom in Venezuela," others will argue otherwise.
Opponents of Chavez’s revolution say that their experience has been anything but liberating.
Maria-Corina Machado, a mother of three and an opposition leader to Chavez, is facing prison time for accepting grant money from the National Endowment for Democracy, a program of the U.S. Congress. Her group "Sumate" used the money from the grant to educate citizens in democracy. Chavez’s government, however, accused Machado of fraternizing with the U.S. in a plan to overthrow Chavez.
"This is a country where anyone who dares to think and speak differently from the government is seen as an enemy," Machado commented.
Freedom of speech is also questioned under Chavez’s regime. Local Venezuelan TV talk show host Leopoldo Castillo has had to learn how to curb his tongue due to a new censorship law that forbids insulting Chavez.
Castillo remarked, "David Letterman, every day, in tonight’s show, he makes fun of President Bush. Nothing happens. Here, with a new law, if you make fun of the president… you can go to jail."
Even Chavez’s anti-American attitudes are paradoxical. Although Chavez harshly criticizes capitalist countries, he does not mind trading with them. The United States continues to play a pivotal role in Venezuela’s economy by being its largest customer.
Venezuela is America’s fourth largest oil supplier. Likewise, America is important to Venezuela. The U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter to Venezuela, accounting for a third of its imports.
Despite Chavez’s fierce anti-American comments, the two countries’ ties have actually tightened. Trade between the two has risen 36 percent in the past year. The New Yorker sums up the paradox of Chavez’s reign: his anti-Americanism is essential for his global appeal, while the economic performance of his regime is dependent on American consumers and companies.
The contradictions surrounding Chavez are confusing and difficult. Reed Davis, an associate professor of political science here at SPU, commented that Chavez’s behavior is, "…worrisome. He’s emulating the old strongmen of Latin America, only this time he’s cloaking his motives in the rhetoric of the left, not the right."
Davis also expressed concern over Chavez’s ongoing arms acquisitions and stated that he could do a lot of damage to Latin America.
Chavez’s politics, although confusing and scary, seem to be here to stay. He remains the most popular politician in Venezuela today and plans to keep it that way, no matter the means.
In a challenge to America and its government on CBN’s Web site, Chavez gloated, "I bet a dollar to Mr. Bush to see who will last longer, him there in the White House or this Venezuelan, Hugo Chavez, here in the Miraflores Palace. Let’s see who lasts longer, Mr. Bush."
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Title: U.S. aids Chavez | Author: Christina Petifils | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2007-01-31 | Internal ID: 5386