An Education Long Overdue For Hugo Chavez

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez is not known for his political polish. When thinking of Chavez, the words hyperbole and bluster easily come to mind. The former tank commander often sounds paranoid about the possibility of his assassination or overthrow. In fact, in 2005 he made world news by telling the press that America was developing plans to assassinate him. The United States Department of State would reject his accusation as “wild.”

Chavez was first elected President of Venezuela in 1998 and he has served two terms. He was elected on a platform of aiding Venezuela’s poor majority. Since his election event, Chavez’s government has moved Venezuela in an authoritarian direction. In speeches, he has often verbalized that he hates America, democracy, and capitalism.

In September 2006, Hugo Chavez delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he referred to US President George W Bush as “the devil”. He has also called Bush a “donkey because he (Bush) is very ignorant about the things that are actually happening in Latin America and the world”.

In fact, Chavez’s hatred for America runs so deep that he has endorsed the theory that the attacks of 9/11 were planned and carried out by the Bush administration as pretext for going to war. In recent years, Chavez has increased his relationship with the authoritarian governments of Cuba and Iran. He is now a close ally of Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Venezuela is traveling down the road to an authoritarian government under the leadership of Hugo Chavez. Foreign Policy Magazine says that Chavez has “updated tyranny for today” and “is practicing a new style of authoritarianism”. The article adds that Chavez has achieved absolute control of all state institutions that might check his power, and has unrivaled political control. The magazine notes that, more importantly, “Chavez commands the institute that supervises elections, the National Electoral Council” and says, “If democracy requires checks on the power of incumbents, Venezuela doesn’t come close.”

Hugo Chavez thinks that he knows how everyone should behave, eat, and think. Indeed, he thinks he knows what’s best for everyone. However, Chavez uses the politics of his moral crusade to enhance his own personal power and prestige. In effect, Chavez is a real life rogue dressed as a moral, political, father figure in Venezuela.

Chavez has been using his consolidation of power to dictate his version of acceptable behavior in Venezuela. He is using the government of Iran as a model to apply morals of behavior in his country as well. In September, 2007, Chavez went on a moral crusade against beer, whisky, luxury cars, and Barbie dolls. His government is heavily taxing beer, alcohol, cars, and artwork to discourage consumption by the people of Venezuela.

“We’re one of the countries that consumes the most whisky per capita in the world. We should be ashamed,” Chavez said recently on national television. “I’m not willing to continue offering dollars to import whisky in these quantities. What kind of revolution is this? The Whisky Revolution? The Hummer Revolution? No, this is a real revolution!”

Chavez also wants to discourage people from covering food with too much hot sauce. He wants people to exercise regularly and eat low-cholesterol foods. He wants parents to stop buying Barbie dolls and breast reconstruction surgeries for their daughters. He states: “Now some say, ‘When my daughter turns fifteen years old, we’re going to give her phony breasts.’ What a horrible thing! It’s the latest degeneration.”

Chavez would like to be the President of Venezuela for life. He recently initiated and campaigned for a constitutional “reform” package that would have dramatically increased his power, removed presidential term limits, and moved the country further away from democracy. In an election setback for Chavez, the voters of Venezuela last month narrowly defeated the Presidents “reform” package. The result is that Chavez will not be able to seek reelection under the current constitution in 2012.

Maybe it was the Chavez tax on the beer and whisky. Maybe it was his tax on cars. Maybe it was the Barbie doll or the food or the lifestyle preaching. Whatever the reason, the election results showed that the voters in Venezuela have agreed with the King of Spain, Juan Carlos when he recently told Hugo Chavez to “shut up”. This recent verbal exchange between Juan Carlos and Hugo Chavez came at the end of a government summit in Chile.

Maybe with these political setbacks, both inside and outside Venezuela, Hugo Chavez can learn to stop his political hyperbole and blustering long enough to listen. Indeed, for him it would be an education that is long overdue.