When Hugo Chavez goes, can Venezuela avoid a bloody power struggle? Ben Cohen writes about why it's long past time for America and the rest of the world to pay attention to a growing security threat, and possibly even turn an enemy into a friend.
For too long, the Obama administration has treated Chavez like a harmless, if irritating, eccentric, rather than a potential security threat. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to turn an enemy into a friend, by building on the opposition's strong showing last October. Washington's policy should therefore emphasize two points: one, that it will not recognize the legitimacy of any regime that comes to power without a fair election; two, that should Chavismo elect to survive the Chavez era by any means necessary, its leaders will find themselves on the end of the kinds of punishing sanctions already applied to Syria
Venezuela is a violence-plagued mess, with an economy hamstrung by rampant inflation and unemployment. "Bolivarian revolutionary" Hugo Chavez has turned himself into a caricature of a Latin American strongman, scaring off foreign investors with confiscatory nationalizations, shutting down opposition media outlets and annoying neighbors like Colombia with bellicose threats.
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Venezuela's dictator-lite Hugo Chavez is telling his patriotic countrymen to drink locally-produced fruit juice instead of foreign soda. There is a disturbing subtext here that Ben Cohen discerns in Commentary:
In common with other forms of dictatorship, Chavismo is based on the idea that there is nothing more important than the relationship between the leader and his people — hence, Chavez believes it is his duty as well as his right to tell Venezuelans what to consume. No matter, then, that Chavez has yet to prove that the contents of "Uvita," whose manufacturer's mission is to "promote the socialist development of western Venezuela," are in fact healthier than the imperialist soft drinks he bemoans. Such detail is doubtless a bourgeois trifle.
Lefty anarchist intellectual Noam Chomsky used to be Venezuelan strongman president Hugo Chavez' most uncritically adoring fan. He cited the soldier-turned-politician as a driving force for improving equality and reducing poverty in Latin America. In return, Chavez plugged Chomsky's books at the United Nations.
RC: With Hugo Chávez in Cuba the last several weeks a lot of people are saying this shows there is too much reliance on one man because everything appears to have almost stopped in his absence, at least in the political sphere. What's your take? Is there too much reliance on one man and his charisma?
NC: Anywhere in Latin America there is a potential threat of the pathology of caudillismo and it has to be guarded against. Whether it's over too far in that direction in Venezuela I'm not sure but I think perhaps it is.