Hugo Chavez is an oddity. He does not seem to fear the omnipotence of previous and current empires. He seems certain of a future for his country that is not linked to foreign loans and influences, totally unlike most other non-Western, once-colonised countries. He does not even seem to care what Western governments have to say of his style of government. Or at least what their mainstream media babble on like religious fanatics hunting down a local witch.
Clearly democracy is in its death throes in Venezuela? Look, no one was killed, not a single voter reported being abused or forced to vote a particular way, and the elite controlled press wasn’t taken over by military personnel! What abomination! This dictatorship smells fishy!
Okay, enough of the silly ranting. I have to admit my own ignorance of Latin American politics before and after colonial rule. Venezuela didn’t get a single mention in my school history books. Only Mexico, when a beauty pageant was held there, I think. Besides, I was growing up under a dictatorship. More on that in the future, when the right memories come together to dance.
I thus confess that the first time I heard of Chavez was when he called Dubya “the devil.” Back then I thought “Wow, who is this idiot who wants his country nuked?” Of course, being a keen follower of Bushisms and other oddities, I chuckled. In that time I saw a lot of bad press about Chavez. As if he were the devil on earth!
Some time later I saw John Pilger’s “The War on Democracy” and heard a bit more from Chavez himself. The documentary was a little uneven and heavy handed in some parts, but it gave me a new perspective on the history of Latin American struggles. Pilger was too obviously in awe of Chavez, but that I suppose is forgivable if you think about the devilish image the Western press have made of him.
Fast forward to now, February 2009 with Hugo Chavez claiming victory in the Venezuela referendum. He and other politicians can now freely run for office again beyond the second term. If Venezuelans keep voting him in, he could remain president for life. What a thought! What a headache for those who cannot bear his open mouth!
Having grown up in a dictatorship, I can only say that at the moment Chavez does not seem to qualify as one. Not yet. Sure, the “poor” (read: elite) opposition have suffered a defeat. All that money and still not enough to take down a political opponent. But is a single one of them in prison? Is the local population bound by a silence for fear of disappearing in the night? Do all the newspapers carry the same stories?
You don’t know what a dictator is if you have never lived under one.
This article also appears on Helium.