STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
The Thuggery of Chavez?
By Staff News & Analysis - December 19, 2009

Hugo Chavez's (pictured left) prime-time climate speech began with a lie and ended with a bang, as assembled world leaders cheered on the socialist strongman during a rousing attack on all things capitalist at the Copenhagen climate conference. The Venezuelan president used the international forum Wednesday to slime developed nations for creating an "imperial dictatorship" that rules the world, urging his audience to "fight against capitalism," the "silent and terrible ghost" that was haunting the elegant conference chambers in the Danish capital. "I promise I won't talk more than others have talked this afternoon," he said at the start of a rambling, 25-minute diatribe that outshot other speakers by a full 20 minutes. In the wide-ranging speech, he called capitalism the "road to hell" responsible for poverty, murder, AIDS – and even unfair climate agreements, the Toronto Star reported. Calling on spiritual leaders as varied as Jesus, Muhammad and Karl Marx, Chavez bellowed that climate discussions were going on behind closed doors and draft agreements remained "top secret." "The text presented is not democratic or inclusive," said Chavez, who has made it a practice in his native Venezuela to close opposition newspapers, radio stations and TV networks, and jails dissident politicians on spurious charges. – Fox News

Dominant Social Theme: Chavez, an anti-freedom thug.

Free-Market Analysis: Some of our editorial team have spent an extensive amount of time in Venezuela recently and now we will tell you the truth dear reader as we have come to understand it about Chavez and those surrounding him. It is somewhat different than Fox, the New York Post, Murdoch et al. would have you believe.

First, the bad news about Chavez – especially from a free-market point of view. He is indeed set on becoming president for life, or for a long period of time anyway, it would seem. To do so, he is gradually consolidating power and nationalizing industry and generally creating an authoritarian state. He is also, shades of Animal Farm, putting in jail gradually, colleagues who helped him reach the pinnacle of power. And he seems to live richly and well in numerous abodes and ranches available to the head of state.

The currency controls he has initiated are especially agonizing. He is determined to bring the bolivar down internally to a 2/1 ratio with the greenback, and thus he is flooding Venezuela with dollars to cheapen them. The outside ratio is between five and six to one, so all that Chavez is really trying to do, day to day, is strip his people of their wealth by up to two-thirds. It really is intolerable, since everybody in Venezuela uses greenbacks, and there is literally no way to import greenbacks legally except on your person on a plane. If you try to receive greenbacks via banks, Western Union, etc., you will receive the Venezuelan "standard" ratio of two-to-one (two bolivars to one dollar).

These currency controls are among the most difficult aspects of Chavez' regime. But there are certainly others. He is a military man and Venezuela is increasingly militarized. Young men with big guns are everywhere on the streets of Caracas and many of them drive black motorcycles and wear black uniforms. It is all very 1984ish.

Having said this – he is consolidating power, impoverishing Venezuelans and nationalizing industry – it is also important to point out why Chavez has accumulated power and why he has been successful on the national stage. The explanation in a word is poverty.

Driving into Venezuela from the airport there, one is liable to be overwhelmed, if one is human, by the poverty that is evident on the hills on the way in to Caracas. Venezuela is very hilly in and around Caracas and the hills are very steep, almost cliff-like. As you drive into Venezuela, you will see, if you drive during the day, the spectacle of thousands, tens of thousands, of tiny miserable dwellings latched onto these hills. They are like the hives of wasps or other insects in that they tend to be clustered in various places, seemingly without logic. Visualize the slums of Buenos Aires elevated and perched on cliffs and you will have a vague idea of the kind of sights that will greet you on the way to Caracas – which is itself a city that has seen better days but nothing like the surrounding region.

It is this impossible poverty, these squalid, crumbling, elevated shacks without plumbing or even roofs, that provides Chavez with the source of his power. In the past years, he has set up outreach programs that have provided schools, health care and other basic services to the animal-like environs of millions of Venezuelans throughout the country. Those in Caracas, especially the middle class, are vexed by Chavez, and increasingly so. But many in the countryside will still apparently follow Chavez – as one person explained to us – with their eyes shut. If he had the guns, Chavez could perhaps, even now, after many years of his reign, build an army of millions. His power lies with the impoverished.

Chavez is no buffoon. Nor do we believe, as some who are especially suspicious might, that he is an agent of an extracurricular power elite. His power base is apparently anchored in the incredible Venezuelan poverty that has existed for centuries without sufficient amelioration. This is another way of saying that the Western mercantilist system, especially as it has been administered in the past century or so by the Anglo-American axis, has not benefitted hundreds of millions in South America (not to mention elsewhere). These people have lived like beasts, or worse, at a time when many in the West have enjoyed elevated levels of prosperity.

It is easy, if you have not been to Venezuela (and it is not a prime tourist location currently) to mock Chavez as just another strong-arm authoritarian bully. But he himself has reportedly said that "socialism Is love" (it is a way of buying votes, anyway) and he shows it to the poor people of Venezuela who in countryside-districts have seen, tangibly, in brand new schools and clinics, the love he says he bears them. Those who benefit from his largesse will vote for him, and may keep him in office, unless his growing greed and native lust for power gets the best of him.

After Thoughts

We would like to return to Venezuela in more articles. Suffice it to say, for now, that Chavez is not an unusual creature, one sprung fully formed from the forehead of some unknown god. If he is anything, he is a nightmare of the West made manifest by the very policies that have kept the Western power elite in control – the depreciation of fiat money, the lack of fair trade and the constant consolidation of Western power through military and economic means. Chavez is not alone by the way. We think his ascension to power (however long it lasts) is an expression of the times — and of historical and sociopolitical information increasingly available on the Internet throughout SA – and that the trends that have resulted in his ascension are not going to subside any time soon.

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