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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Peter Mork

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Peter Mork

Last Build Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2006 22:19:28 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

The Man Who Controls Venezuela

Sat, 18 Mar 2006 22:19:28 -0600

Who would have thought at the time that some seven years later this man would be one of the most recognizable faces in world politics? One month his face is seen worldwide after televangelist Pat Robertson suggested he should be assassinated and the next Chavez is on CNN predicting the United States will soon be dropping bombs on Caracas in an effort to take over Venezuela's oil fields. More recently, he received world attention for his "Anti"-Summit of the Americas in Mar de Plata, Argentina, an attempt to derail the real summit opening the following day. Now, this past December, headlines read his coalition of political parties have taken 100% of the seats in the Venezuelan Assembly after opposition parties withdrew from the election. Love him or hate him no one can deny that Hugo Chavez has made sure the world knows his name. And not only do people across the world know his name, many admire him to such a degree that Chavez has reached celebrity status. For example, in a recent BBC interview with Chavez favorable questions and comments poured in from abroad. A reader from Irvine, California stated "I think you are a bright light amongst an otherwise dim group of world leaders - a Bobby Kennedy for Latin America" while a man from Saint John, Canada chimed in "I admire your work and your perseverance against all the critics. Stand strong and best wishes bringing prosperity to Venezuela!" One published comment in particular seemed to sum up the feeling of many who took the time to write in: "Many people around the globe appreciate you dearly." But what has he done to earn this goodwill? And more importantly, does he deserve it? The most obvious reason for Chavez's international support comes from his oil funded social programs for the poor, combined with his anti-Bush rhetoric. But it is more complex than this simple recipe. While Chavez's Barrio Adento program raises eyebrows due to the uniqueness of bringing thousands of Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for oil, the goal of bringing healthcare to the needy is not confined to his government. It is actually one of the most common themes pushed by politicians of all stripes. In Chile's presidential election in late 2005 one of the promises made by Joaquin Lavín, the furthest right-of-center candidate, was the construction of numerous new medical facilities to help the underprivileged. Likewise, Bush himself campaigned on building or improving 1,200 healthcare sites to serve millions in rural areas. His administration, like Chavez, has spent hundreds of millions accomplishing this goal. Nor is the world in any shortage of politicians who condemn President Bush. While Chavez definitely pushes these limits, as he did when he labeled Bush "a killer, a genocidal murderer and a madman," criticizing the President of the United States is one of the easiest ways for politicians worldwide to score points with their constituents. What does set Chavez apart from others is what many find to be his charismatic, albeit edgy, personality. This was reflected in an article by Robin Lustig, the BBC reporter who spoke with Chavez in the interview mentioned above. The title of the piece says it all: "Hugo Chavez: Charming Provocateur". This personality in turn leads to a distinctive style of governance. For, not only does Chavez set up government programs for the poor, but if you are lucky enough to be one of the calls he takes on his weekly Sunday television show, Aló Presidente, he will personally change your life. Callers who describe serious medical problems are told that they will be flown to Cuba for treatment, often in the President's own plane. Others who are unemployed but have an interest in maybe budgeting or math, are told that the president of their government bank, Banco del Pueblo Soberano, is always in need of people and will immediately be calling to offer them a job. Chavez is Santa Claus and Jerry Springer all rolled into one and many people in the country love him for it. It is also hard not to crack a smile, whether in disbelief or in sincere humor, wh[...]