Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A Counter-Eulogy for Hugo Chavez

Wasn't it a little ironic, last week, to hear people "RIP"ing a man who had such an unhealthy enthusiasm for the exhumation of his own political hero? Perhaps "rest in peace" is not quite the right phrase.

Chavez was a perfect example of how easy it is to dupe the Western left: paint yourself as a socialist and an anti-imperialist and you can do what else you like. Chavez proliferated nukes, expressed contempt for the Monroe doctrine and laughed with Ahmedinejad about the idea of nuking the US. He armed illegal organisations like the Tupamaros, La Piedrita, the FBLN and Colombian guerrilla forces. He had a never-ending reservoir of praise for brutal and oppressive regimes, governments and war criminals, including Robert Mugabe, Idi Amin, Ahmedinejad, Kim Jong Il, Assad and Gaddafi. He espoused conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the moon landing and reckoned capitalism killed life on Mars. No, seriously.

But the real problem with Chavez was his contempt for democracy. He attempted a coup d'├ętat in 1992, for which the Guardian crowd spared a moment of wistful admiration. He shut down more than 30 radio and television stations for being critical of his government; imprisoned people without trial for years; imprisoned people for crimes of opinion; fired tens of thousands of public employees for signing a petition for a referendum. He prevented his opponent Leopoldo Lopez from running for office, on a charge levelled by Chavez himself, despite the fact that the courts had not found Lopez guilty. During the Chavez reign the homicide rate of Venezuela tripled, but only 11% of homicides led to a conviction because judges were clamouring to prove alliegance to him. Even from his death-bed he had a supreme court judge fired for disagreeing with his politics. By systematically undermining the agents of democracy this way - the media, the courts, the politicians - he made himself a democrat by name only.

Freedom of speech, Rosa Luxemburg wrote to remind Stalin in 1940, is only freedom of speech if it's free for everyone. Allowing freedom only to those you agree with contradicts the whole cause. Well the same goes for free elections: Chavez disavowed a referendum in 2007 because he lost it. Manipulated the elections in 2010 to make sure the opposition didn't get more than a third of seats in Parliament even though they got 51% of the vote. (His margins of victory continued to shrink even in spite of this bullying. Some man of the people.) his defenders protest that at least his other election victories were bona fide, but this is just incidental. His corruptions of democracy make it clear that, had they not been, it all would have been to the same effect. By staging several elections, and cherry-picking which ones you think should count, apparently you can dupe vast swathes of people into thinking you're no dictator. If only fooling that people were that easy for the rest of us.

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