GLOVER COLUMN: U.S. leaders grimace at Chavez

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 11, 2007

Much to the chagrin of the political leaders of the United States, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was sworn in to a third term as the president of Venezuela on Wednesday.

His socialist policies and friendly relationship with Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba, have earned him the ire of many political leaders in the Americas. Of course that wouldn’t be near the problem that it seems to be escalating into if not for the control over the oil production of the country that is the fourth-largest supplier of the United States.

During his inauguration, Chavez echoed his political mantra when he stated &8220;socialism or death&8221; during his speech, in which he promised to hasten the countries movement toward a socialist state. He even went as far as to claim that Jesus Christ was the &8220;greatest socialist in history.&8221;

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To compound matters, Chavez has a history of distrust that boarders on paranoia when it comes to the political agenda of Washington, especially in regards to their view of his leadership. He has stated he feels the powers that be in the U.S. government had a hand in, if not orchestrated, the military coup that briefly removed him from power in April of 2002. He has called President Bush both a &8220;pendejo,&8221; which translates into a vulgar term for an ignorant mule, and &8220;the devil.&8221;

Chavez has even had the audacity to say that he will use &8220;oil diplomacy&8221; to further his political agenda, not that oil hasn’t been used as a political tool before, but no other leaders have had the gall to use such blatant terms.

Of course this could be contributed to the fact that Chavez has very little tact. And that would be expected from a man who was born to two schoolteachers and raised in a thatched palm leaf house. Chavez pulled himself up by his bootstraps to get where he is today, and military bootstraps at that.

Chavez attended college at a military academy where he received a degree in Military Arts and Sciences. He later pursued a master’s in political science but left school before finishing, which may be part of the reason he lacks diplomacy &045; he must have missed that semester.

After serving in the Venezuelan military for quite some time, Chavez lead a coup attempt in 1992 that failed miserably and landed the future leader in jail. Chavez’s public statement to the rest of the rebels to lay down their arms following the coup was nationally publicized. In it he stated that the governmental overthrow was over &8220;por hora&8221; &045; &8220;for the time&8221;.

Chavez was sent to prison, the president he attempted to overthrow was later impeached and Chavez gained the attention of the public, even the hearts of some. He was pardoned after a two-year imprisonment.

Chavez ascended to the presidency in 1999. He immediately stopped the privatization of many industrial sectors that were planned, including the oil sector. That same year a constitutional assembly drafted the 1999 Venezuela constitution that among other things lengthened the presidential term from five to six years, though it placed a two term limit on the presidency.

Chavez’s military experience and coup attempt have gained him popularity among the populace of Venezuela. His socialist policies, which draw stinging remarks from the majority of the continent, have gained him the respect and loyalty of his citizens. Chavez has used his oil money to rebuild many social programs that were in disarray and, in many, cases inexistent.

His socialist rhetoric that has raised the hairs of many politicians in the United States have simultaneously grabbed the attention of many South American states that have been struggling in the capitalist system, which they cannot seem to break into. His anti-United States orations have given many in his country and other countries of the region a demon to blame for their plight.

And it seems that the U.S. politicians and maybe certain members of the media have decided to fight fire with fire and demonize Chavez, which might be an easy objective. He has quite a few quirks that lend themselves to demonization.

He is socialist, which to many in the United States correlates to communist and thus evil (see the bastardized political systems improperly labeled communism during the Cold War). He also has strong opinions and apparently lacks the desire or ability, you pick, to sensor himself.

But from an outside view he and Bush could be held in the same category. Bush has a problem separating emotions from political decisions. He and Chavez both feel the need to reference their religious beliefs when explaining their political moves. And the seemingly imperial wars of the United States that are perceived as being perpetrated by Bush are more appalling than the socialist movement instituted by Chavez to some.

What politicians in Washington need to remember, something they have been forgetting in recent years, is that Venezuela is a sovereign nation. They can make their own decisions about whom they want as president, no matter how quirky he may seem. While his agenda might not be the path that those in power in Washington would have chosen had they been in charge of the election, they must understand that they are not the people who make that call, nor should they be.

The people of Venezuela made their choice of whom they want representing them, knowing full well Chavez’s policies. If he wants to lord oil over the United States, with the blessing of his citizens, the U.S. populace and leadership will have to take it, find new energy sources or tap the oil wells in Alaska. That is unless they are as bad as Chavez wants to portray them.

Brandon Glover is a staff writer for The Times. He can be reached at (334) 289-4017 or by e-mail to