Chavez

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Sep 4 11:08:36 MDT 2001


[The latest New Yorker magazine has a long profile of Hugo Chavez by
Jon Lee Anderson that is as informed as it is jaded. This excerpt
should give you a sense of whether it is worth $3.50 to spend on the
issue, which unfortunately is not online.]

Chavez is a natural showman. During his regular radio and television
shows, ''Aid, Presidente," which are broadcast live and go on for
hours, he scolds his critics, threatens his enemies, sings (with
gusto but badly), recites poetry, cracks jokes, and generally hams it
up. He tells his viewers, in excruciating detail, what he has done,
or is going to do, reminisces about his childhood, quotes John
Kenneth Galbraith (he admires Galbraith's theories in "The Affluent
Soeiety" about the social inequities of modern capitalism, and he
calls himself a Galbraithiano), Marx, the Bible, and, most of all,
Simon Bolivar. If he has been travelling, Chavez usually points out
on a map the places he visited, gives folksy pocket histories of them
and extols their natural beauty, and describes the people he met.
After he visited the rural town of Zarate in late March, for
instance, "Alo, Presidente" included a video of him assisting
military doctors during an operation, (He held a flashlight.) Turning
to the audience, Chavez quipped, "You see? Now I can even do
surgery!"

This kind of thing plays well with poor Venezuelans, but others find
his monologues irritating. "Did you see our Clown Prince last night?"
is a typical response. Many white middle-class Venezuelans despise
Chavez, and there is a cruel, self-comforting snobbery implicit in
their comments about him. For example, "El peon ha tomado la finca"-
"The peon has taken over the farm." A prominent financier of
impeccable Iberian ancestry invited me to lunch at his house, and, as
his black servant brought our drinks, he told me, his face stretching
with disgust, how "embarrassed" he felt to have 'ese mono'--that
monkey--as his President. Chavez is isolated from most of the
business leaders in Venezuela because, as a former State Department
official said to me, "I don't think they know how to talk to him.
They've probably never met anybody like him before, except maybe
their houseboy."

Last year, Chavez signed a five-year renewable agreement to provide
Cuba with a third of its oil needs at heavily discounted prices. In
partial repayment, Fidel agreed to dispatch hundreds of Cuban
teachers, doctors, and athletic instructors to Venezuela. The first
three hundred Cuban sports instructors showed up in April, and Chavez
welcomed them in an open-air stadium ii Caracas. "The arrival of the
Cub: Sports instructors is part of a strategy' he said to the crowd
there, "Just as Cuba took its own revolutionary path, with its own
characteristics, forty years ago the Bolivarian revolution is taking
its first steps today."

A week earlier, I had attended a rally protesting Chavez's
education-reform bill, which calls for the expansion of specially
funded public schools for impoverished children. Several hundred
Cuban teachers are already at work in such schools. The crowd at the
rally, about three thousand people, was solidly white and
middle-class, except for one dark-skinned man who was selling coffee.
They had assembled in an outdoor shopping arcade in front of a
McDonald's. As an antichavista civic leader spoke from a stage, the
demonstrators milled about, took videos of one another, and held up
little plastic Venezuelan flags and signs saying "We Want Citizens,
Nor Militiamen," "Don't Mess with Our Kids," "No to Cubanization,"
"Education Yes, Indoctrination No," and so forth.

Opposition to Chavez is still disorganized and fragmentary, although,
there have been protests and strikes by trade unionists who feel that
he is trying to dilute their power. When he is challenged, Chavez
becomes defensive and calls his critics "oligarchs" and "liars," and
accuses them of conspiring to sabotage the government. After a
rancher was murdered by a group of peasant land invaders this spring,
spokesmen of the Venezuelan cattlemen's associate blamed Chavez for
inciting the violence with his constant talk about the needs of
Venezuela's landless farmers. They warned that if the invasions
continue they would defend themselves with guns. Chavez threatened to
arrest any ranchers who tried to organize Colombian-style
paramilitary vigilante groups. "There is only one legal armed force
in Venezuela," he warned in a television address. "And I am its only
commander-in-chief. Don't forget that."


--
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 09/04/2001

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