Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Oct 5/05 - On banter as a predictor of action: Hugo Chávez and Co. vs. Democracy in the region

Two guys in a hurry: past, present and future (?) dictators discuss the future of Latin America

PMBComments: Hugo Rafael Chávez Frias, the best know member of the upwardly mobile Chávez clan from Sabaneta, Barinas State, Venezuela, is still a revolutionary wannabe when compared to his “Latin idols”: Che Guevara, Salvador Allende, Fidel and Raul Castro, Daniel Ortega and Shafik Handal.

Even so, it becomes clearer everyday that he too aspires to historical prominence and is more than willing to use (misappropriate?) his only differentiator - millions of our country’s bountiful oil wealth - to buy a cozy niche in the wicked pantheon of contemporary tormentors of democracy and freedom. This, and most certainly not the prosperity of the mounting poor of our country (10% more poor since 1999 according to the same Government that has received upwards of US$300 billion in oil revenues during the same period), is what really explains his restless meddling in other countries’ affairs and his frantic “anti-imperialist” banter.

In the Oct. 10, 2005 issue of Newsweek, Chávez responds candidly to Lally Weymouth’s pointed questions on friendships, leaving no doubt as to why Monday’s Washington Post Editorial on "Nicaragua’s creeping coup" is so on the mark (read both below).

For a man that has persecuted and cornered his opponents at home by branding them, among others: coupsters, non-democrats, possessed-by-the-devil, and corrupt, it is quite an act to ignore – and pretend others do also - the irony of the perverse ménage à quatre that links him with the no-need-to-define Fidel Castro, devilish Daniel Ortega and convicted peculator Arnoldo Aleman in a shameless effort to undermine the democratically elected government of President Bolaños. Particularly ironic since the only line Chávez’s apologists have left in their discredited arsenal is that “Hugo Chávez was elected democratically and deserves to be left alone”. So Hugo, keep telling us who your friends are and we will predict what you are up to…and when caught and convicted, please don’t blame others for your demise. PMB

Note: All this brings to mind - once again – the fact that a former U.S. Ambassador to both Nicaragua and Venezuela used to dismiss suspicions of Chávez real persona and intentions by stating “Do not judge him for his words, judge him for his deeds”. Today it would be interesting to hear John Maisto, now serving as the U.S. Representative to the OAS, apply his eponym and infamous Doctrine to events unfolding in Managua. They sure look like deeds to me; serious enough to merit a trip to Managua by State’s #2 Robert Zoellick to read the riot act to Chávez’s Nica cronies.


October 10, 2005 / Print Edition

Excerpts from Interview with Hugo Chávez by Lally Weymouth


Reportedly, one of your best friends is Cuba's Fidel Castro. Is that true?

He is one of my best friends.

Why do you admire him?

His valor, his courage, the way he has led the revolution for more than 40 years—in spite of a blockade and an embargo. Fidel is going to be 80 very soon, but this guy is filled with vitality. He is totally devoted to solving people's problems: health, education and work.


Experts in Washington claim you are encouraging radical groups throughout Latin America; that you're helping the FARC in Colombia; Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua; Shafik Handal and the FMLN in El Salvador, and Evo Morales and the MAS in Bolivia. Are you?

Shafik is a great friend. We are together in this same revolutionary effort, of course. Daniel Ortega is a close friend, and I think he will be a candidate in the next election. Evo Morales is my friend, another great guy and an Indian leader. Do you want me to support the extreme right wing? I am a revolutionary. Latin America today is going to the left and not to the right.

The Washington Post

Nicaragua's Creeping Coup

Monday, October 3, 2005; A16

MANY PEOPLE outside Latin America probably assume Daniel Ortega's political career ended 15 years ago when his ruinous attempt to install a Marxist dictatorship in Nicaragua ended with an election he decisively lost. The slightly better informed might suppose that his two subsequent electoral defeats, the allegations of corruption and child molestation that haunt him, or his single-digit rating in opinion polls have made him a marginal figure in Nicaraguan politics. Sadly, the truth is otherwise: Thanks to the weakness of the country's new democratic institutions, Mr. Ortega is close to regaining power and to broadening the Latin alliance of undemocratic states now composed by Cuba and Venezuela.

Mr. Ortega's comeback has been accomplished through a brazenly corrupt alliance with a former right-wing president, Arnoldo Aleman, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003 for looting the national treasury. Mr. Ortega's Sandinista Party supported the prosecution, then abruptly switched sides and formed a pact with Mr. Aleman against President Enrique Bolanos, a member of Mr. Aleman's Liberal Party who bravely chose to tackle government corruption. The left-right alliance has used its majority in the National Assembly to rewrite the constitution and stack the Supreme Court. In the past week it has begun stripping the members of Mr. Bolanos's cabinet of immunity so that they can be prosecuted before Sandinista judges on bogus charges. If this power play succeeds, Mr. Bolanos will be next. Meanwhile, Mr. Aleman, who stole tens of millions from one of Latin America's poorest countries, was freed from house arrest last week.

Mr. Ortega's goal is to force Mr. Bolanos to accept his constitutional rewrite, which transfers almost all presidential powers to Congress. That would effectively deliver Nicaragua to Sandinista control without one of the elections that Mr. Ortega keeps losing. Scheduled elections next year could then be manipulated. Already, the corrupt alliance has lowered the percentage of the vote a presidential candidate needs to be elected to 35, and criminal charges have been brought against one of the leading candidates. The Sandinistas will have plenty of money to spend, thanks to Hugo Chavez. Mr. Ortega recently announced that he had arranged with Venezuela's self-styled "Bolivarian revolutionary" for a supply of subsidized oil.

Compared with Mr. Chavez's aggressive intervention, attempts by the Bush administration and other outsiders to save Nicaraguan democracy so far look feckless. The new secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, tried to broker a political compromise but pronounced himself frustrated when Mr. Ortega ignored his appeals to stop undermining Mr. Bolanos's government. The Bush administration managed to win congressional passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement this summer, but Mr. Ortega has blocked its ratification by Nicaragua.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick is due to visit Managua this week in what officials say will be an attempt to bolster Mr. Bolanos and persuade Mr. Aleman's right-wing supporters to abandon their self-destructive alliance with the Sandinistas. As happens so often in Latin America during the Bush administration, high-level intervention arrives late. It does have one thing going for it: Eighty percent of Nicaraguans say they oppose the Ortega-Aleman pact. Nicaragua's rescue will depend on people power, inside or outside the polls.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company