Let’s Call a Populist a Populist.
If you’re a U.S. citizen, you should dislike Hugo Chavez, the loudmouthed president of Venezuela. If you’re not, you probably cannot help but admire the audacity and the genius in his tirades against George W. Bush.
Chavez, after all, is a populist, and the only South American one in recent years who has stuck to his guns after being elected. And remember, even if he has rolled back some of his country’s democratic institutions, there is still a critical press in Venezuela and the Jimmy Carter Institute validated Chavez’s last re-election. Chavez leads a country that is bitterly, bitterly divided. But it is also one in which he holds the electoral majority. Sound familiar?
Chavez, like most Latin Americans, distinguishes between the United States and U.S. policy. He has never called our country the Great Satan. Rather, he has specified that the man we elected is, in turn, “Mister Danger,” “A donkey,” “an alcoholic” and now “Satan.” But we cannot take these comments totally out of context.
Good ol’ Hugo imagines himself to be a folksy gaucho, a cowboy—like Bush, in a way. His speeches are filled with literary references and allegories that play up this image. All of the names given to Bush above either come from Venezuelan folk tales or novels—with the exception of “alcoholic,” which was closer to verified fact.
Those names are something that many, if not most, of our hemispheric neighbors recognize. Chavez becomes the gaucho outsmarting the devil, the ordinary Venezuelan fighting American imperialism. And when he says Bush leaves a stench of “sulfur” behind him, we must remember that Anti-American sentiment is not simply a concept in the Western hemisphere’s third world: it is palpable.
Venezuela is not a powerless country in our hemisphere. While many countries shy away from closer relations to it, they do not ignore Chavez. He is a strong voice in OPEC, though he doesn’t control it by a long shot. He is a powerful voice against U.S. policy in an age of anti-Americanism.
President Chavez sounds like a raving lunatic to us, but his words are savvy and hold truth for many. He is, as Time magazine called him, “Crazy like a Fox.” We may want to ignore him, to deny him entry to the UN … we may even want him to just shut his trap. But we cannot treat him like a fool.
Posted by Austin Richardson, Senior Writer