The Hugo Chavez story
by Posted Tue, Jun 17 2008
There is more than one way of looking at the rise to power and the government of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
The first would be to look at him as a man of dictatorial bent intent on destroying individual freedom, press freedom, the rule of law and other democratic practices to build a regime that will keep him in power indefinitely.
The second would be to see him as an anti-free enterprise leader who sees the United States not as a benevolent force from the North but as an exploiter of Latin America that must be opposed.
The third is to view him as a megalomaniac who wants to replace American influence throughout Central and South America with a Latino influence and is using his country’s oil money to further that cause.
All of these views went into consideration of Chavez during the mid-winter meeting of the Inter American Press Association held in Caracas, Venezuela, in March. None of the discussion there gave Chavez any credit for any benefits his policies have brought to his own country, Latin America or other places around the world, including the United States.
But there is a fourth way to view him and that is as a well-meaning but seriously misguided populist who is trying to create a new way in the Western Hemisphere in which the hegemony of the United States would be challenged and the dominance of North and South American business organizations would be brought under control if not nationalized.
The editors and publishers at the Caracas meeting did not want to have anything to do with that sentiment. In a world where increasingly the news business sees issues in terms of deep black or pure white, where there are no shades of grey, the members of IAPA from time to time show themselves as leaders of an absolutist movement. That is not good for the news business and, more importantly, it is not good for the maintenance of strong democracy.
In fairness, Chavez did nothing to try to create a good relationship with the leaders of the Western Hemisphere’s news business. First, he tried to make it impossible for the organization to conduct its meeting in his country. Then he organized a counter meeting a few blocks away devoted to what was called “media terrorism.” Media terrorism was, apparently, anything that opposed Chavez in the news business. He has nationalized the nation’s most popular television station — RCTV — for doing just that, and he has made it difficult for some newspapers to obtain the foreign currency needed to purchase newsprint outside the country.
But having said all that, the ability of the news business to report and express itself is still tolerated. Chavez has played by democratic rules. He has lost as well as won elections, and he lost a key referendum last year that would have suspended the two-term limit on presidents. He will have to leave office in 2012 unless he goes for another referendum and it passes. And Chavez has shown a willingness to use Venezuela’s oil wealth elsewhere to ease the burdens of poverty in countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba. None of that has been well reported. And generally, when it is, it is with the idea that Chavez has an ulterior motive.
Chavez’s grievances against the United States actually coincide with those of many members of IAPA. The United States has been at times heavy handed in its dealings with Latin America and at time neglectful.
Chavez almost certainly sees himself as the heir to Fidel Castro’s mantel of anti-American socialism. His nation’s oil wealth and its supply of 13 percent of all the oil the United States imports makes him a much more difficult problem for an American administration than Castro ever was.
And Chavez certainly does not exhibit any diplomatic savoir-faire when he goes to the United Nations and denounces the president of the United States as a “devil.”
Among Chavez’s anti-Washington activities has been the founding, with six other Latin American nations, of the Bank of the South to compete with the World Bank, the International Money Fund and the Inter American Development Fund, all headquartered in Washington, D.C. and controlled by the U.S. government.
Latin American leaders see the Chavez move as an important one. The Associated Press quoted Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as saying “Only strong and united can South America occupy its rightful place among nations. This will be the first international bank truly controlled by the nations of our continent.”
It is too bad that the Latin American publishers and editors do not see the shades of grey in the Hugo Chavez story. The citizens of the Western Hemisphere would be better off if they did.