March 8, 2013

As millions of grief-stricken Venezuelans thronged the streets of Caracas after the untimely death of 58 year-old President Hugo Chavez, memories flooded back of Sept. 1970, when an equally flamboyant, controversial leader, Egypt’s Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, suddenly died of a heart attack, aged only 52.

Nasser’s death convulsed Egypt in grief. People felt their beloved father had died. Westerners couldn’t understand Egypt’s anguish. After all, Nasser lost two disastrous wars with the Israelis and one in Yemen. He made a mess of Egypt’s economy, created a huge, sullen bureaucracy and secret police, and ruled by strength of personality rather than proper institutions.

In spite of these grave mistakes, Egyptians adored Nasser as a hero, the man who restored their dignity after millennia of foreign rule, an incorruptible leader who genuinely loved his people and cared deeply for them. Egypt’s rich elite and the Western powers hated Nasser. But, in the end, his rickety Arab Socialism lifted the bottom stratum of society out of direst poverty and pushed Egypt into the 20th century.

Nasser was a Great Satan to the former European colonial powers, Britain and France, and to the British Empire’s heir, the United States. After Nasser nationalized the British-run Suez Canal, Western media scourged Nasser as “Hitler on the Nile,” a communist, and subversive.

A long line of other third world leaders was pilloried and vilified for nationalizing western-owned assets: Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran; Fidel Castro in Cuba; Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini; Libya’s Gadaffi; and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein for nationalizing their oil industries. Lt. Col. Chavez, fourth largest oil supplier to the US, was the latest, but certainly not the last.

Chavez was a “caudillo” of the old Latin American model: an oversized, boisterous, macho personality loved by women; a man enraptured by is own voice, impatience with the rules of democratic government, indifferent to the needs of commerce and industry. For journalists, what a delightful change after the EU’s mind-numbing politicians.

Hate “Robin Hood” Chavez or love him, the fact remains, he managed to cut Venezuela’s shocking poverty rate by half in the last ten years. He used Venezuela’s oil bonanza to build schools, hospitals, clinics, low-cost housing, universities. His government seems to have been fairly honest by usual Latin American standards. He started no wars, sent no drones to kill people, avoided torture. Chavez won 13 of 14 elections, fair and square, according to foreign observers. Venezuela’s voting system proved more reliable that Ohio’s or Florida’s.

But the feisty colonel could not resist relentlessly criticizing the United States and its allies, daring to denounce the Yankee “Empire” – which is not supposed to exist. Chavez voiced the endemic anti-Americanism found across Latin America that continues though the era of direct US military intervention and occupation seems to be over.

Washington, which saw Chavez as Fidel Castro II or another Che Guevara, launched an anti-Chavez propaganda war. To Washington big power/big money circles, Chavez was disobedient, insulting, and dangerous.

Claims are already being made his death was due to some high tech poison. This sounds unlikely –though, of course, there were the 600 plus attempts on Castro’s life, and Yasser Arafat’s likely 2004 murder.

Chavez founded a club of anti-American pipsqueaks, composed of Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Iran, and assorted foes of the US, further enraging Washington. Israel joined the anti-Chavez jihad, quietly backing his conservative opponent Enrique Capriles, who is of Jewish descent. Brazil gave Chavez quiet support.

It’s hard to believe that “Chavismo” can long continue without the mercurial Chavez. His dour socialist successor, Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver, has the charisma of a flat tire. But Venezuela’s military so far appears to be behind Maduro. Elections will be held in a month. Many Venezuelans, fed up by soaring crime, collapsing infrastructure and bureaucracy, want change. But a sympathy vote for Chavez, particularly among women, may carry the day.

Yet it also seems clear that Chavez’s grandly proclaimed Bolivarian Revolution to remake Latin America, uplift its impoverished people, break US domination of the continent and implant revolutionary socialism, has run its course. The loss of Chavez and the soon to exit Castro brothers means that Latin America is headed into calmer, more productive but certainly far less colorful and exciting times.

Eric S. Margolis copyright 2013

This post is in: Oil, Venezuela, World Leaders

5 Responses to “The Colonel We Love To Hate”

  1. scissorpaws says:

    Given the US’s horrific history with Latin America from Mexico south, one can’t but cheer for Castro and appreciate the difficulty with which leaders such as Chavez are faced. Nicaragua and before that Chile come to mind. CIA assassination of Chile’s democratically elected leader, Allende, and then Reagan selling arms to Iran to fund the Contra thugs to ruin whatever chance Nicragua had to escape banana republic status. Including blockading Managua. One is forced to reconsider Saddam Hussein again and again when judging him by the quality of his enemies, the low lifes the likes of Cheyney and Rumsfeld and Wofowitz. Another clever PR job like the “weapons of mass destruction” and “The first clue could be a mushroom cloud?” All the moreso considering the mess the chickenhawk deserters and dodgers left behind. The three hundred pound gorilla plays tough. Blunt force trauma seems to be its preferred negotiating tactic.

  2. solum temptare possumus says:

    What will limit this colonialism is the ever increasing demand for “long chained varied length and shaped carbons”; Crude Oil.
    As the economies of the world rebound, the demand will increase; the result of US democratric foreign policy.
    So with this demand comes incremental price increase. Eventually it will be to expensive to ship cheap goods from other countries that rely on container ship for transportation.
    Then is reborn “Regionalism”. Unemployment will disappear or at the least diminish; yielding an upswing in the standard of living of the poor.
    For nations like Venezuela, the poor can only gain from such an outcome, as their contribution to the United States insatiable thirst for Petroleum, will only yield greater wealth. Irregardless of the elected leader.
    Want your elecrticity and personal transportation? Then Pay for it!
    ad iudicium

  3. Whatever the severely subjective western media want to say or do about Hugo Chavez, he sure served the poor, who suffered for so long under the heels of the western powers. No wonder the US has accumulated such vast wealth.
    If I can go and feed my family with the fruits of someone else`s garden and orchard by just helping myself to it, because I am stronger, I can get very well to do too, but is it fair and in keeping with the high moral values I like to claim to embrace?
    The scourge of cruel colonialism has never been eradicated, just shifted from one master to another. Or should I say, stolen by one brigand from another? Look at all the other Latin American countries and how they have fared since their earliest days, starting under the Spaniards and now the US. The west seems to have learned from the mistakes made to take out Yasser Arafat. This cancer, that struck Chavez is easier for people to accept as a normal disease.
    Look how many people accepted the suicide explanation about Salvador Allende. I line up all these people and see, that their common denominator is their political persuasions. The same was the case with the Vietnamese and other Asian countries. And who sponsored all the assassination attempts on Fidel Castro?
    Maybe I seem very cynical, but can I help it, when no capitalist leaders ever die under the same kind of mysterious circumstances?
    Capitalism is a great system, but like any other human endeavor, it needs to have strictly adhered to rules and laws, which it had long ago, but started to erode long ago. And as the controls weakened, the rot grew worse, until now like what happened to the Roman empire, collapse set in. The Roman empire fell apart due to the same rot and corruption, that has claimed every other empire in history.

  4. stage1dave says:

    Sometimes I wonder why Canada can’t produce a PASSIONATE politician such as this, & then I remember Dr. Foth’s nostrum of “passion being un-Canadian”…unless we’re at a hockey game…or the parents are…

    Anyhow, I found the MSM & the entrenched power centers’ reaction to Chavez almost as fascinating as the man & his accomplishments. The absolutely rabid hatred that is directed at anyone who challenges the conventional wisdom is educational in itself, & serves as an accurate indicator that feudalism has never really disappeared. It’s institutionalized.

    It’ll be interesting to watch what happens within Venezuela in the near future. I certainly appreciated the man’s ability to “connect” with his own population, probably because Canada is full of “leaders” who apparently are able to connect only with the 1%.

    I’m not looking forward to growing older in a country full of Kevin O’leary wanna-be’s led by CPC talking heads; it won’t be very entertaining!

  5. Overall, Chavez was a huge benefit to not only Venezuela but also the balance of South America. He improved the quality of life for may of his countrymen (countrypersons?) and established a sound infrastructure beginning. He did this at the expense of foreign owned industry that was responsible to no one, except the companies ‘bottom line’.

    It is unlikely that his successor will be as successful.

    Chavez left the world with his job only half done… and, the world is diminished by his passing.

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