Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Don't cry for me, Venezuela

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, soldier and politician, born July 28, 1954; died March 5, 2013.

The Guardian's obituary perhaps summed it all up best: "Populist leader of Venezuela – a charismatic hero to the poor who denounced capitalism and persecuted his opponents." El Comandante was not exactly a dictator, but he was no Thomas Jefferson.

Some, like scholar Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, are quick to apply a "Che" Guevara-like hallow to Chávez: "The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe."

True. But Guardiola-Rivera (and legions of blinkered leftists) never confronts the crucial question: At what cost?

That's left to Venezuelan writer Francisco Toro (and many others): "Today millions of Venezuelans will weep tears of genuine anguish at his passing. ... It's just that, over the past fourteen years, he exploited that vein ever more ruthlessly, strip-mining the people's affection for the gratification of a monstrously overgrown ego and dismantling the institutions of democratic life in the process." As Toro outlines, those facts speak for themselves, too -- in spades.

And then there's Oliver Stone, this time on a mission to revise history before it's written. "Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chavez will live forever in history." That, I doubt.

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