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Why Americans should be united against Hugo Chavez   September 20th, 2006


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In this time of extremely bitter partisanship that started with the results of the 2000 presidential election, were made worse by the differences of opinion over Iraq, were fanned by the likes of Michael Moore and his Fahrenheit 9/11 and the entire 2004 election cycle, and have reigned supreme ever since, it seems that there is little that unites America. Liberals call conservatives "fascists" and conservatives call liberals "terrorist sympathizers." In such an environment, are we capable of being united about anything?

Maybe, maybe not. But as Americans we should unite against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Chavez is the current socialist president of Venezuela. While he claims to embrace democracy and rejects the assertion that he is a dictator, his eventual election to the presidency came after his failed coup attempt of 1992 that lead to the death of fourteen soldiers and over a hundred civilian and military injuries. Although he and his co-conspirators took it upon themselves to circumvent democracy with their coup d'etat, it was ultimately unnecessary as the president they were trying to unseat (Perez) was removed from office the following year on charges of corruption--evidence that the Venezuela political system was capable of dealing with such abuses through legal channels and that an illegal coup was not necessary.

After serving two years in prison for his treason against Venezuela through his participation in the coup attempt, he was pardoned in 1994, as was his co-conspirator Francisco Cardenas. In 1998, Chavez conducted a populist presidential campaign that was funded, in large part and hypocritically, by millions of dollars in illegal contributions by two large foreign banks. In that campaign, he promised to abolish the traditional political system of Venezuela, end corruption in the government, and eliminate poverty in Venezuela. In 1999, the Venezuelan constitution was rewritten by a group that consisted almost entirely of Chavez supporters; the new constitution greatly increased the power of the president and weakened the power of the legislature. In 2000, Chavez was re-elected under the new constitution. Interestingly, his primary opponent in the 2000 election was his co-conspirator, Cardenas, and between the two of them they took 97% of the vote. Cardenas is now Chavez's ambassador to the United Nations . Thus it would seem highly questionable whether the 2000 election really gave Venezuelan citizens much of a choice: They had to choose between the lesser of two evils that had, just eight years earlier, been traitors to their country. In 2004, an effort to recall Chavez was initially impeded by the government and its supporters were subject to intimidation, but eventually lead to a recall referendum in which Chavez supposedly was victorious with 60% of the vote in his favor. That recall, while endorsed by ex-president Carter, included an exit poll which indicated the exact opposite result: Chavez being recalled by 60% of the voters , and a significant lack of transparency and obstructionism during the whole recall process led US News and World Report to agree that there was compelling reason to believe that Chavez only retained his presidency due to massive fraud.

It seems doubtful whether Chavez has actually improved the situation of the poor in his country or whether or not his government is any less corrupt than others; in fact, it has recently been said that corruption threatens Chavez's regime . And although he supervised the creation of the new 1999 constitution that limits a president to two terms, he has now said that he will call for a referendum to allow him to continue to be president beyond the constitutional limit .

Chavez engaged in traitorous acts against his country, was imprisoned, accepted illegal campaign contributions from rich multinational companies while ostensibly being interested in helping the poor, he orchestrated the creation of a new constitution that gave him more power as the president, his only subsequent election has been against a co-conspirator of his 1992 coup attempt who is now his ambassador to the U.N., it would seem he was recalled by the people of Venezuela in 2004, his government is rife with the same corruption as previous Venezuelan governments, and he is already talking about trumping the new constitution so he can continue on as the leader of the country.

There is nothing we see in Chavez that warrants any measure of our support. The fact that Chavez has achieved the goals of his 1992 coup attempt under the guise of democracy does not change the fact that he is operating as a virtual dictator. As the 2004 referendum showed, Chavez will not refrain from using intimidation and fraud to stay in power. Although Chavez is facing a re-election challenge in December of this year and even though millions of people have marched in the street to protest him in the past, it seems unlikely that the elections will show anything but a Chavez victory--Chavez will not allow anything else. It is then likely that Chavez will, as promised, launch a referendum as to whether or not the constitution should be changed to allow him to continue as president beyond the two-term constitutional limit. Again, we'd be naive to think that that referendum will show anything other than support for Chavez. Every indication is that this is a populist dictator in the making.

In the last couple of years, however, Chavez has been making headlines not by helping his people or eliminating corruption in his country, but by a domestic wag-the-dog campaign in which he has attempted to convince the citizens of Venezuela that an American attack is imminent, and by a more-recent international campaign that is best charactertized by its anti-American rhetoric. Clearly his domestic effort is intended to try to unite Venezuelans against the supposedly imminent American attack, thereby distracting the citizens by whatever complaints they would otherwise have against Chavez as they move towards their December election. The international campaign against the United States seems aimed at reinforcing the domestic wag-the-dog campaign and an effort to gain prominence on the world stage in support of Venezuela's bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

In the last few months, Chavez has supported Iran in their nuclear ambitions , allied himself with Syria , hopes to meet with the leader of North Korea , and has threatened to stop selling oil to the U.S. . Clearly, Chavez has engaged in a very irrational foreign policy that is allying Venezuela with some of the most dangerous rogue states in the world. He is trying to form a bloc of nations allied against the United States. And just today, he suggested that the U.N. be moved from the U.S. to some other location, and he offered Venezuela as an option . While all of this is, in part, due to his opposition to the policies of President Bush, he has also made it clear that he is opposed to the "American empire", and that doesn't refer to Bush alone. In all probability, Chavez will be in power for many years after Bush is long gone. While many countries may not be fond of Bush, there's a difference between tolerating his presence for another two years and actively creating an anti-American alliance that will probably exist long after Bush leaves. In fact, I have a hard time imagining Chavez leaving power by any means short of his own death or a political uprising against him by the people of Venezuela.

As Americans, we should also not lose sight of the fact that as Chavez courts potential allies to join his anti-American alliance, he's creating an alliance of some of the least stable and irrational governments on earth since those are the ones that are willing to voice their support of his anti-American crusade. Iran, Syria, North Korea. At least two of those countries are either in, or about to join, the nuclear club, and all three are considered to be outposts of state-sponsored terrorism. Just this week, Iran signed an agreement with Venezuela to produce gun powder and small aircraft in Venezuela . Gun powder?

Regardless of your views of President Bush, the fact that Chavez is opposing him should not lead you to somehow believe that Chavez is your friend. The fact that many in the U.S. do not agree with Bush or his policies should not blind them to the reality of how Chavez got to where he is, his socialistic policies, his lack of attention of the poor in Venezuela that make up 50% of its population, and the fact that he is actively trying to recruit rogue states into an alliance against our country.

Ironically, Chavez retains his power using the exact same tactics that many accuse Bush of using regarding election fraud. Would it not be reasonable and consistent for those that make those accusations against Bush to also hold Chavez to the same standard? Yet it seems that some of the people that accuse Bush at the same time excuse Chavez. By doing so, they do a disservice to the very American and democratic ideals that they claim to support.

Back in the 80's, the U.S. treated a certain Iraqi dictator as a friend because he happened to be opposed to the U.S.'s greater enemy in the region, Iran. A decade later, he became our enemy and the resulting conflicts have now torn apart the unity of our country. Some Americans that approve of Chavez are some of the same people that accuse past American administrations of stupdity in supporting Saddam in the 80's. But these same people apparently have not learned the lesson from that experience: That the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. That Iraq was opposed to Iran didn't make Saddam any less of a brutal dictator. Likewise, certain Americans need to realize that the fact that Chavez opposes President Bush does not make him a friend of American opponents to Bush.

Americans have far more things in common with each other than things that divide us. One of the things that should unite us is Hugo Chavez.

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