Hugo Chavez & the Bolivarian Revolution

Chavez is no different than America’s G.W. Bush. Their populist rhetoric is filled with the same types of tricks to get people frothing at the mouth and enemies scurrying for safety or arming their troops. The population that they target is virtually the same, the uneducated. The primary difference is of course the message. Where Bush preaches prosperity and “freedom” for his American People, Chavez proclaims that he will bring forth a new socialist Bolivarian revolution where the people own the nation.

According to about 90% of people I spoke to, Chavez is full of shit and quite dangerous. Allow me to clarify who these people are. I spent two months in Venezuela and traveled extensively, although I spent a majority of time in the Andes. I talked with taxi drivers, grocers, hotel staff, my family, university professors, business people, you name it. I saw some Chavistas -you couldn’t miss them when they were present. Always in groups, they would often wear the colors of the new revolution and make a lot of ruckus. We were on a ferry to Margarita Island and there was a large group of Chavez supporters (about 20) who had just graduated from one of the “misiones.” They all had the revolutionary hats and all other accouterments of the revolution. They staked off a corner of the ferry and began to cheer and toast and make a whole lot of noise. It seemed to make everyone quite uncomfortable, as Venezuelans are generally quite polite.

The interesting thing that I noticed was that when one of them got up to move around the ship without one of their colleagues, he/she walked head down; lacking the confidence boasted just a second before leaving the group.

There doesn’t seem to be any other better yardstick to measure a leaders success than community economic development. After all, one of the main responsibilities of a democratic leaded in today’s world is to ensure economic stability and a humane standard of living for it’s citizens right?

Chavez has been handing out money left and right on the international scene. He has also purchased automatic weapons, helicopters, war ships, and other weapons. He routinely takes trips around the world spreading his gospel of a new socialist revolution –trips mind you that must cost the revolution and pretty penny. He has changed almost every symbol of Venezuela’s past. Every flag, coin, bill, official stamp, you name it has to be remade with the new revolutionary symbols. It’s impossible to imagine the cost of changing every official image so that Bolivar’s horse can run the other direction.

There are other things too which he is changing that we in North America don’t hear about. For example, every town and city in Venezuela has a “Plaza Bolivar.” Each plaza is quite similar. There is always a statue of Bolivar in the center, and the rest of the common is lined with benches and walkways. There are always trees and colorful shrubs too. The plaza is the proud gathering place of every town and some of them are over a century old. Chavez has decided that the plazas must be representative of the revolucion. So, many are being demolished, only to be rebuilt in the new revolutionary style.

The frightening thing about the face-lift of official symbols and the plazas is that it is in effect eliminating the countries identity. This not only seems absurd economically but it stinks of fascism too.

So what about all the community programs he boasts about, and the Cuban doctors in the barrios you ask?

The roads are in horrible condition. I heard about a village south of Merida called Santa Cruz that had been completely wiped out by a flood last year. One of my cousins owns a small sporting goods store; one of her employees lost his life in the flood. The flood razed the town. Many were left homeless and hopeless. Months later the government had not been to the site, the roads were still demolished, and not a single home had been built to assist the people who lost everything. I remember now that the person telling me this story was getting really angry because at the moment Chavez was giving money to Bolivia for a road betterment program. He had also announced that he would help Argentina clear their overwhelming international debt. Many felt cheated and deceived.

People hardly had good things to say about the Cuban doctors. Not that they were not capable, it is widely accepted that Cuban doctors are well trained. The problem is that many Venezuelan doctors were being displaced, and many were moving away to work in other countries. This type of mass exodus also happened with many of the oil industry engineers who were displaced when Chavez took over a few years ago. Anyone who was not with the revolution was fired. In fact, many people told me the same exact story about what happened to those who signed the referendum. If they worked for the government, they were fired. All who signed the referendum were black listed and unable to find work in the public sector.

I will give one more example of the loss of democracy. Historically, academic institutions in Venezuela have remained fiercely independent. Student unions have always been extremely powerful and riots often erupt anytime that the political situation seems grave. While we were in Merida there were riots. We were on the south side of the city and the schools were in the north so we didn’t get the direct effect of it. In short, there were gunshots and Molotov cocktails and tanks.

Student elections were on the horizon. The academic board of the university is not in anyway affiliated with the government. However, the government was forcing a seat, it wanted to control the political powers of the university. The candidate Nixon who was set to win the elections as he has for the past few years was suddenly accused of a violent sexual crime. Riots ensued, and Nixon went into hiding. I read the papers every day. It made little sense to me, as I didn’t have much background about student politics. But the bottom line is that the government wanted to be in charge of the political movement, killing the universities independence and forcing the revolutions “ideals” on the students through the curriculum. It meant nothing to slander the current student body president without a witness or formal charge, and force him into hiding fearing for his life.

Some of what I have written may sound exaggerated to you. You may think that I am an anit-Chavista, that I am an “escualido” (the people who are not Chavez supporters are called the squalid people).

Because of his charisma and anti Bush stance, Chavez has won the hearts of many people across the world that feel dissatisfied and deceived by their own governments. To use a well-worn cliché - if things are too good to be true well then, they probably aren’t true. Time always uncovers all secrets. If I am wrong the world will be a better place and nothing will be lost. But I fear that I am right, and that Chavez is throwing around a lot of money that people of the nation desperately need. He is buying the world’s love and admiration with oil money (and the rumor is that oil production has never returned to the levels before the takeover so he is spending money that will be generated in the future). I have heard my friends on the West Coast proclaim him as a hero to be admired. But his own people know better, they have seen this type of corruption before and they are only hoping that something will give before things get too bad.

Please feel free to write m with any comments you may have. I am quite interested to hear what you have to say.

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