Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May 17/06 - On Chávez's London show: not all are impressed

The Times' editors are not impressed, join the club!

The Times May 16, 2006

Chav politics

The Hugo Chávez show is bad burlesque

The “private” visit of Hugo Chávez to London has proved enjoyable for those who feared that 1980s nostalgia was not what it used to be. There may be well-meaning souls prepared to view President Chavez with an open mind. According to his promotional material, the Venezuelan leader is all that stands between enlightenment and President Bush inflicting his twisted values (such as democracy, the rule of law and market economics) on the entire world. Señor Chávez, in his spare time, rescues his country’s grateful poor while rekindling a Latin American sense of purpose and identity.

But if it is wise to judge a man by his friends, those inclined to give the visitor the benefit of the doubt might want to reconsider. It was not just the Central Casting collection of faded radicals in his thrall. Having waited since the failure of the Sandinistas to spark the (inevitable) anti-Yanqui revolution two decades ago, their excitement was understandable. Ken Livingstone’s presence added authenticity. It was good to see Harold Pinter there, a man who once had something relevant to say (about Eccles cakes), but a long, long time ago.

More significant than those present were the absentees who would surely have wished to be present at the lionising of the self-proclaimed Anti-Bush. Robert (Mugabe), Kim Jong Il (The Dear Leader) and Muhammad (Ahmadinejad) are comrades who were otherwise engaged. Señor Chávez’ eclectic choice of friends suggests a man so deeply affronted not to have merited inclusion in Mr Bush’s original axis of evil (he is also an enthusiastic defender of Saddam Hussein) that he is keen to create a new club of the touched.

President Chávez demands attention, not just because he can wear a natty suit and, on occasion, employ moderate tones. Because of rocketing prices, Venezuela’s oil revenues have quadrupled since 1998, giving him economic and political clout that he is exploiting with relish. His credentials as a leader of heroic stature would be laughable if not so grave. On his watch, poverty rose as oil prices climbed for the first time since records began. Murder has tripled, making Caracas the continent’s killing capital. His disrespect for property, the rule of law and press freedom is now threatening to infect Bolivia. Corruption is endemic. He may be elected, but he talks of remaining in power until 2031, and is no democrat.

Fortunately, many see through him. Candidates in Peru and Mexico embraced by him have seen their support fall. The President’s next stop is Libya and a meeting with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, a man who abandoned pariah status for something approaching acceptability. Señor Chávez would do everyone a favour if he embarked on a similar personal journey.