Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Authoritarian Democracy and Elected Dictators, Oh My!

American televangelist, Pat Robertson (whose right-wing Christian followers overwhelmingly supported George Bush in the last two elections) recently advocated for the assassination of Venezeulan President, Hugo Chavez. While the Bush administration has distanced themselves from his comments, they certainly have not condemed them. None of this is suprising. The US Central Intelligence Agency has declared Venezuela a "top potentially unstable country" and its leader an "elected dictator." It is obvious that they are struggling with how to deal with Chavez, whom journalist Greg Palast referred to as, "round and brown" like the legions poor African and Indigenous people who elected him.

Chavez is a former paratrooper who led a failed-coup in the early 90's. He spent two years in jail before being pardoned. Incidentally, Fidel Castro was also jailed following a failed first attempt to overthrow American-backed dictator Batista in Cuba in the 1950's. Upon release Chavez turned political and was democratically elected only to survive a US-backed coup in 2002 and a recall referendum in 2004 (which his government made a constitutional amendment to allow). The CIA and US State Deparment have further labeled Chavez a "negative force in the region" and a "threat to democracy." It is clear that Chavez, also a friend of long-time thorn in the side Fidel Castro, is an enemy of the United States.

Chavez made headlines last October when he stated, "We Venezuelans, we Latin Americans, have no reason to honor Columbus. Christopher Columbus was the spearhead of the biggest invasion and genocide ever seen in the history of humanity." Chavez encouraged his citizens not to celebrate Columbus Day, but instead remember October 12th as a "Day of Indian Resistance." To be fair, Chavez has also had his problems in dealing with Indigenous issues, particularly as it relates to resource and mining operations. He has endured numerous Indigenous-led protests demanding that he respect their rights. While he should be applauded for his words of support of Indigenous issues I agree that he should be held accountable for his actions.

I encourage you to make up your own mind. Balanced coverage can be hard to come by, but if you dig deep enough, you will find enough news and opinions to begin shaping your own views. Chavez has been an outspoken critic of US imperial policy and for this he has attracted a lot of negative attention. Both he and Castro have offered poor Americans cheap gas, free education and free health care. He has introduced social reforms, land reform and suggested a rethinking of their energy policy. The latter may ultimately lead to his downfall. Venezuela is the 5th largest oil producing country in the world and supplier of 8% of the United States' annual consumption.

Keep your eyes and your mind open. Do your own research and come to your own conclusions. An excellent place to start is with Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America, a chronicle of imperialism from 1492 to just prior to Pinochet's reign of terror in Chile. Further, think how southern issues relate to Indigenous people here in North America. I believe the eagle and condor share a common fate.

W (the nice one)


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