There Goes One of Washington’s Favorite Bad Boys
by Eric Margolis: Can
Chuck Hagel Stop the Pentagon Juggernaut?
of grief-stricken Venezuelans thronged the streets of Caracas after
the untimely death of 58-year-old President Hugo Chavez, memories
flooded back of Sept. 1970, when an equally flamboyant, controversial
leader, Egypt’s Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, suddenly died of a heart
attack, aged only 52.
convulsed Egypt in grief. People felt their beloved father had died.
Westerners couldn’t understand Egypt’s anguish. After all, Nasser
lost two disastrous wars with the Israelis and one in Yemen. He
made a mess of Egypt’s economy, created a huge, sullen bureaucracy
and secret police, and ruled by strength of personality rather than
In spite of
these grave mistakes, Egyptians adored Nasser as a hero, the man
who restored their dignity after millennia of foreign rule, an incorruptible
leader who genuinely loved his people and cared deeply for them.
Egypt’s rich elite and the Western powers hated Nasser. But, in
the end, his rickety Arab Socialism lifted the bottom stratum of
society out of direst poverty and pushed Egypt into the 20th
a Great Satan to the former European colonial powers, Britain and
France, and to the British Empire’s heir, the United States. After
Nasser nationalized the British-run Suez Canal, Western media scourged
Nasser as "Hitler on the Nile," a communist, and subversive.
A long line
of other third world leaders was pilloried and vilified for nationalizing
western-owned assets: Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran; Fidel Castro in
Cuba; Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini; Libya’s Gadaffi; and Iraq’s Saddam
Hussein for nationalizing their oil industries. Lt. Col. Chavez,
fourth largest oil supplier to the US, was the latest, but certainly
not the last.
a "caudillo" of the old Latin American model: an oversized,
boisterous, macho personality loved by women; a man enraptured by
is own voice, impatience with the rules of democratic government,
indifferent to the needs of commerce and industry. For journalists,
what a delightful change after the EU’s mind-numbing politicians.
Hood" Chavez or love him, the fact remains, he managed to cut
Venezuela’s shocking poverty rate by half in the last ten years.
He used Venezuela’s oil bonanza to build schools, hospitals, clinics,
low-cost housing, universities. His government seems to have been
fairly honest by usual Latin American standards. He started no wars,
sent no drones to kill people, avoided torture. Chavez won 13 of
14 elections, fair and square, according to foreign observers. Venezuela’s
voting system proved more reliable that Ohio’s or Florida’s.
But the feisty
colonel could not resist relentlessly criticizing the United States
and its allies, daring to denounce the Yankee "Empire"
– which is not supposed to exist. Chavez voiced the endemic anti-Americanism
found across Latin America that continues though the era of direct
US military intervention and occupation seems to be over.
which saw Chavez as Fidel Castro II or another Che Guevara, launched
an anti-Chavez propaganda war. To Washington big power/big money
circles, Chavez was disobedient, insulting, and dangerous.
already being made his death was due to some high tech poison. This
sounds unlikely –though, of course, there were the 600 plus attempts
on Castro’s life, and Yasser Arafat’s likely 2004 murder.
a club of anti-American pipsqueaks, composed of Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia,
Argentina, Iran, and assorted foes of the US, further enraging Washington.
Israel joined the anti-Chavez jihad, quietly backing his conservative
opponent Enrique Capriles, who is of Jewish descent. Brazil gave
Chavez quiet support.
hard to believe that "Chavismo" can long continue without
the mercurial Chavez. His dour socialist successor, Nicolas Maduro,
a former bus driver, has the charisma of a flat tire. But Venezuela’s
military so far appears to be behind Maduro. Elections will be held
in a month. Many Venezuelans, fed up by soaring crime, collapsing
infrastructure and bureaucracy, want change. But a sympathy vote
for Chavez, particularly among women, may carry the day.
Yet it also
seems clear that Chavez’s grandly proclaimed Bolivarian Revolution
to remake Latin America, uplift its impoverished people, break US
domination of the continent and implant revolutionary socialism,
has run its course. The loss of Chavez and the soon to exit Castro
brothers means that Latin America is headed into calmer, more productive
but certainly far less colorful and exciting times.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2013 Eric Margolis
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