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Hugo Chavez: Titan or Tyrant?

Whilst drinking my flat coke and watching bad Foxtel documentaries, I decided to research an accused thorn in the side of the United States and see if all the fuss is a reasonable assumption of the Venezuelan’s character, Hugo Chavez. Depending on your political inclination or country of birth, you would probably either consider the man a saint or a sinner.

He is a politician with a mean streak who is never afraid to ruffle a few feathers. He boasts an improving economy that benefits state profits but relies heavily on the price of oil. Additionally Chavez has increased spending on social policies, committing 60% of his government revenue to the cause. Anyway, I will have a look at his record and see if we should feel bad either loving or hating the man.

Historically (since 1959) the political stone in the boot of the United States has been the communist ruled Cuba, just off the coast of the Sunshine State Florida. The emerging pain in the region of Latin America is the Chavez ruled country of Venezuela. Unlike Cuba, Venezuela has vast oil reserved that, since Chavez’s reign began, has improved the economy of the nation – until the global financial crisis where inflation began to rise and the economy went into a recession. Chavez was elected to his office in a democratic election and has been re-elected three times. Similar to Cuba, Chavez has a socialist centred political agenda raising the living conditions for the poorest of his constituents. Hugo has created socialist policies focusing on the health and education sectors but despite this, poverty and crime are still extremely prevalent in Venezuelan society. He invented the political philosophy of ‘Bolivarianism’ for which he employs a nationalistic, 21st century version of democratic socialism.

The improvement in the country has created a great amount of wealth for the Venezuelan government for which it is able to spend more on defense. This rise in defense spending along with a reportedly US$4 billion loan from Russia, for the modernization of its army, has worried many in the United States. Factions in the US have accused the Venezuelan government of supplying the revolutionary organization FARC with weapons. The U.S. has created an embargo on military equipment to the Venezuelan Government, which has forced Chavez to look elsewhere, such as Russia, China and Iran. These countries have been happy to equip Venezuela with many missiles, top of the line radar, fighter jets and helicopters. The rise of military power in Venezuela is considerable, but considering the strength of the U.S. military any attack on the United States or her close allies in the area would surely be suicide.

In my opinion, conservative writers need not worry. These American writers still consider the economic improvement and difference of opinion in ideologies in Venezuela to be an automatic threat to its regional dominance. Venezuela, although historically diplomatically sociable to the U.S., has recently had strained relations with the super power. The Chavez government has been critical of United States’ assassination of Osama Bin Laden and the NATO invasion of Libya that ended in the death of his former friend Muammar Al-Gaddafi. On the other hand, it was the first foreign nation to offer humanitarian aid in the wake of hurricane Katrina, which ultimately was rejected by the American government. Does this sound like the actions of a state that is accused of having involvement with terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and is considering buying missiles from Iran that could be used against the United States? Or maybe it was a way to gain support from the American public in the wake of a poor natural disaster rebuild by the Bush Administration. Either way, Venezuela was awarded a gold star in the eyes of the international community for its actions post-storm.

According to his own website, Mitt Romney considers the socialist oppression of the people of Venezuela and Cuba to be detrimental to their own lives and goes as far to say that these nations have “provided a safe haven for drug traffickers, has encouraged terrorist organizations and has even invited Iran” into the region. According to his view, Barack Obama has neglected the democratic allies such as Columbia while “reaching out to nations that are working against our interests and values”. As far as fixing the socialist problem in the region, Romney keeps his cards close to his chest, instead promising to improve trade relations with his liberal cousins as well as containing drug cartels and organized crime in the area.

Obama has taken a less aggressive stance towards Chavez and his socialist policies. His foreign policy in general has been more liberal in dealing with policies and ideologies the American government disagrees with. A White House spokesperson offered their congratulations on the result of the election contested earlier this month. His views are different to a number of American writers that have labelled Chavez a ‘dictator’ and the election fixed. This being said, generally the relations between the two have been okay – disregarding a bit of harmless banter.

Oliver Stone considers the hostility of the press on Chavez as a Neolithic interpretation due to his masculine, ‘bearlike’ appearance. There are times where he has appeared arrogant in the international press, for example reminding President Obama that he should look internally before criticizing others, after Chavez was criticized for his dealing with Cuba and Iran. Chavez has also called Hillary Clinton a spy who works for the State Department and then challenged her to resign. The list goes on and on for example referring to the George W. Bush as the “devil” and Tony Blair as an “imperialist prawn”. With all this aggressive verbal bashing of hostile world leaders, this suggests a level of arrogance and invincibility on the personality of the world leader. Maybe he is just a flamboyant public speaker who sometimes lets his emotions get the better of him.

Hugo Chavez is a controversial figure in the international arena, his socialist ideals and loud mouth has meant he will be a prominent figure in the annals of early 21st century history. Personally, I like free market capitalism as much as the next guy, but surely if his socialist agenda continues to be successful in improving the lives of the Venezuelan people, then a simple ideology is no reason to condemn the man. I hope he continues to fight crime and corruption that currently plagues the nation. The major reason for his dealings with countries such as Cuba and Iran seems to be a direct challenge to perceived American imperialism and global policing of the international arena. Venezuela has no direct threat to the United States but its prosperity may bolster its influence in the South American region. Hugo Chavez is not an expansionist; he instead uses diplomatic channels in his border disputes with both Guatemala and Columbia. Chavez in my opinion is not a tyrant but he could be considered a titan, he is a popular, larger than life personality and as a general rule has a positive impact on the people of Venezuela.

–  Callan Tree, The State, (University of Western Australia, Perth)


(Featured Image: Paternité by ¡Que comunismo!, Flickr, Creative Commons)


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