Chavez: Desperate, Delusional, and Dangerous

It’s ironic – and tragic – that as the world celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Communism’s defeat in Europe, the comic-opera that is Hugo Chavez’s “21st century socialist” Venezuela is descending to new lows of absurdity. Beneath the buffoonery, however, there’s evidence that life in Venezuela is about to take a turn for the worse.

By buffoonery, I mean President Chavez’s decidedly weird statements of late. These include threatening war against Columbia, advising Venezuelans that it is “more socialist” to shower for only three minutes a day, telling his fellow citizens to eat less because “there are lots of fat people” in Venezuela, eulogizing convicted murderer Carlos the Jackal as “a revolutionary fighter”, defending Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as a “brother”, and wondering whether Idi Amin was so bad after all.

It’s not unusual for Latin American caudillos to say things that suggest a growing detachment from reality. The truth, however, is that for all Chavez’s eccentricities, it would be a mistake to dismiss these comments as nothing more than egomaniacal ravings.

It’s no coincidence that the noticeable uptick in Chavez’s verboseness corresponds to a radical downturn in Venezuela’s economy. On November 17th, Venezuela’s central bank announced that the country had experienced its second quarter of negative growth. In other words, Venezuela is officially in recession. But while most politicians would consider this a cue for policy-change, Chavez decided to question the entire GDP methodology. “We simply can’t permit”, he said, “that they continue calculating GDP with the old capitalist method.”

One reason for Venezuela’s declining economic fortunes is the fall in global oil prices since July 2008. Given Venezuela’s heavy dependence on its vast petroleum resources, this was bound to affect its economy.

This, however, is exacerbated by deteriorating economic and social conditions throughout Venezuela that flow directly from Chavez’s “21st century socialist” policies. Amidst other data released on November 17, Venezuela’s central bank reported that private sector activity declined 5.8% and inflation was averaging 26.7%. Further complicating matters has been the drying-up of foreign capital. Outsiders are increasingly reluctant to invest in a country where nationalization of private property is a routine occurrence.

Then there’s the rationing. Chavez’s price-controls on goods such as agricultural products have undermined an indispensible element of a prosperous economy: i.e., free prices. Hence food, water, and electricity are increasingly rationed in Venezuela. Naturally there are ways to circumvent this, most notably the black market and corruption. But these merely contribute to Venezuela’s growing crime epidemic, as Venezuelans turn against one another in their daily struggle to survive.

In this light, some of Chavez’s recent remarks seem less odd and far more calculated. His exhortations to eat less and take shorter showers, for instance, sound like a man trying to rationalize growing shortages of essentials.

The same economic problems may explain Chavez’s efforts to generate foreign policy crises. It’s an old tactic routinely employed by most authoritarian regimes, and plenty of Venezuelans know it. The vice-president of Venezuela’s Catholic bishops’ conference, Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardoso, for example, recently described Chavez’s recent war threats against Colombia as an attempt to cover up the grave crisis now engulfing Venezuela.

But Chavez is not simply relying upon conjuring up a parallel universe to legitimize Venezuela’s deteriorating economic situation. He’s also bolstering his position through increased repression.

This takes many forms. One is his regime’s habit of billeting soldiers on university campuses whose students demonstrate against Chavez’s policies. More recently, the government asserted total control over all schools’ educational curriculum. Protestors against this new educational law were taken into “detention for investigation”. As Venezuela’s Catholic bishops noted, this represents a reversal of the principle that people are normally investigated first before being arrested.

Given the Catholic Church’s prominence in highlighting the illusions and oppression increasingly used by Chavez to shore up his regime, it’s hardly surprising that his intimidation tactics are increasingly being directed against the Church.

Apart from the daily threats made against priests and now-routine public abuse of bishops by government officials, Chavez’s latest gambit is to threaten to confiscate Catholic churches, buildings, and other property in the name of “protecting the national patrimony”. Indeed, plans to this effect have already been announced for parts of the capital Caracas. The historically-aware will know that the very same tactic was employed against the Church by European Communist regimes after World War II.

But however much one might detest Chavez, he is not a stupid man. A fool would not have been able to gain and hold power for so long. Yet reality is starting to catch up with Venezuela’s leftist strongman. Unfortunately that’s no consolation for Venezuela’s long-suffering people for whom religious, political, and economic freedom are increasingly mere memories in a daily world characterized more by fantasy than truth.

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  • cpageinkeller

    Chavez, a Marxist, has essentially destroyed the economy of Venezuela in a relatively short time. Oil money, the source of Chavez’ sop to the socialists, is on the decline both because of oil prices and because of neglect/poor administration of the nationalized companies.

    As the money dries up, so does Chavez’ influence in the region and his ability to perturb the governance of other countries.No where is this more evident than in tiny, heroic Honduras. Honduras’ stand in favor of Constitutional Government and the rule of law is indeed encouraging. Against large odds, lots of money, and the opinions of the PC world (including the first Obama decision), Honduras did the Constitutional thing: removed a president trying to be a Cnavez’ clone, established an interim placeholder government, and successfully held orderly, valid elections on November 29. Significantly, protest and violence was insignificant, voter turnout was 61% and the Zelaya call for a boycott was ignored.

    We should celebrate this victory on the part of Honduras and pray that it will be the first “domino” in the region. Perhaps there is hope for Nicaragua, Argentina, and other leftist-leaning countries.

  • louapa

    Dear Fellow Americans and Christians;
    You see and yet do not SEE, you hear and yet do not HEAR…pray to God The Father, God The Son, God the Holy Spirit, as what we now see and hear in the USA is a progenitor of what Chavez has done in his kingdom!
    God Bless America and America Bless God….
    pray in this Advent tide for His return.

  • kent4jmj

    When we talk about freedom these three things, religious, political, and economic freedom, are inextricably tied.

    In our country erosion of economic freedom is probably the easiest to see. However I believe that the other two are equally under attack.

    The amount of anti catholic hate and rhetoric is frightening. Just go to any social network site and you’ll see it. Digg is interesting as it tabulates + and – diggs along with the comments. The numbers ate always anti religion.

    As for politics it seems clearer that both parties have the political processes for electing folks in a strangle hold. It is also clear that the parties are so close in to each in practical terms that their is really only one party. Where is the freedom in that?

    What positions champion Freedom in these three realms? In economics it would have to be Austrian economics and its understanding of Free markets.
    In politics it would seem to be the Libertarianism that gave us our constitution and its vision of limited government.
    I would suggest that practically speaking if we saw an increase in one we would see an increase in the other two seeing as they are bound together. There are also some Trinitarian overtones as well.

    Just some thoughts.

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