Posted on 06-03-2013
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Hugo Chavez lost his battle with cancer yesterday.  The Venezuelan President who was recently re-elected to another term leaves behind a tumultuous legacy.  A man who reveled in taunting the West and consorting with the rogues gallery of the world, he also was genuinely loved by many of Venezuela’s underclass.

It is hard not to review the reign of Chavez and come back with a feeling of a wasted opportunity.  Chavez identified a legitimate problem in Venezuelan society.  Like many resource rich countries Venezuela’s oil wealth did not trickle down to the masses.  Under Chavez poverty levels in Venezuela dropped (as they did across Latin America) and the rise in oil prices allowed him to fund a number of populist policies.  Yet a lot of the largesse was wasted in crony politics, subsidizing Fidel Castro, funding other leftist politicians across Latin America.  The vaunted Bolivarian revolution is proving unsustainable (and hypersensitive to oil prices).  Crime has risen, inflation has skyrocketed, corruption is high and nationalization policies have led to a brain drain in the professional class who have emigrated to more welcoming shores.

A bigger problem for this blogger was Chavez’s authoritarian instincts.  He was a walking example of how winning elections does not make you a democrat.  The judiciary was packed with his cronies, opposition press was muzzled and after losing a referendum on amending the constitution he issued decrees on those provisions in any case.  Under the guise of leftist and anti-imperialist solidarity he funded terrorist movements like FARC and embraced tyrants like Gaddaffi.

As the Economist notes, now comes the reckoning.  For now reflexive anti-Americanism will rule the day.  Chavez may have squandered the opportunity to rebuild Venezuela’s infrastructure, but the oil resources are still available for a wiser ruler to use it for the benefit of the masses as Chavez originally intended.  For that to happen Venezuela needs to avoid any other megalomaniacal Caudillos.

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Posted on 12-10-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Hugo Chavez was re-elected to another 6 year term this week and his crumbling “Bolivarian revolution” will go on for now.  This was by no means a totally fair election given that Chavez used the full powers of incumbency and his grip on government controlled media against his opponent.  Yet his margin of victory dropped, a combination of a united opposition rallying around a strong candidate and the economic mismanagement of Venezuela by Chavez and the soaring crime rate.  Chavez is the forerunner or recent autocrats who hold on to power by semi-free elections but show no respect for the checks and balances and respect for institutions needed in a democracy.

The future though is murky.  Chavez has suffered from cancer in recent years.  While Chavez earned some deserved plaudits for noting that Venezuela’s oil wealth did not benefit its masses, his populist mismanagement and white elephant projects have dissipated the benefits of that oil wealth.  Hollywood stars like Danny Glover and Sean Penn who bask in the Caudillo’s glow fail to note Chavez’s assault on a free press and independent judiciary and support for narco-terrorists like FARC.

So nothing changes for now.   Chavez will remain a thorn in America’s side, Cuba will get their freebies and Venezuela’s economic malaise will continue.

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Posted on 25-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

I posted earlier in the week that Gaddafi’s Latin American friends other than Daniel Ortega were not sticking their necks out for him.  The silence of the garrulous Chavez was particularly unusual.  The Caudillo finally broke his silence a few hours ago on twitter by embracing Fidel Castro’s theory that this was an American plot to invade Libya.  Tweet below:


Vamos Canciller Nicolás: dales otra lección a esa ultraderecha pitiyanqui! Viva Libia y su Independencia! Kadafi enfrenta una guerra civil!!less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

The tweet translates as follows: “Minister Nicolás [Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro]: Teach the far right yankee lovers” a lesson! Long live Libya and its Independence! Gaddafi is facing a civil war!”

Some context:  “pitiyanqui” literally translates to little Yankee.  It is an insult Chavez created to mock opponents he deemed to be Yankee lovers.  The tweet followed a statement by Maduro echoing Castro’s theory that the United States was creating a movement to topple Gaddafi.

Even a blowhard like Chavez cannot bring himself to openly support Gaddafi like Nicaragua’s Ortega did.  So he wraps himself in his reflexive anti-Americanism to try to mask his support for Gaddafi. Kinda pathetic.

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Posted on 22-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

With his back to the wall, his army crumbling and parts of his navy defecting to Malta, Muammar Gaddafi has lashed out at his people with little restraint.  This presents his pals abroad with a dilemma.  After providing an open embrace to Libya’s leader for the last decade, what do they do when he resorts to large scale bloodletting.

Other than the usual pro-forma comment accusing the US of hypocrisy in Egypt and plotting to take over that country, Venezuela’s caudillo has been uncharacteristically quiet.  He cannot be happy at the repeated rumors (angrily shot down by both sides) that Gaddafi fled to his country (or the ease with which people like me made the assumption).

But two of his ideological comrades have finally spoken out.  Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega called Gaddafi to express support.  The former Sandinista dictator had no words of sympathy for a populace assaulted by its own head of state.

Fidel Castro appears to have been a bit more circumspect, largely focusing on the alleged upcoming NATO invasion of the country. He avoided taking a position on the atrocities based on the difficulty of deciphering the news coming out of Libya thanks to Gaddafi’s military blackout.  Much easier to fall back on anti-American paranoia than condemning a dictator who just went on state TV promising to kill his countrymen.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales has come closest to a critique of his former buddy by issuing a pro forma statement of concern for the loss of life.

The dilemma facing Gaddafi’s Latin American friends highlights the risk of embracing rogues merely because they are enemies of your real or perceived enemies.  For countries that spend so much time criticizing the United States, it is a pity they did not learn from the harm to America’s reputation abroad for supporting apartheid South Africa, Zaire’s Mobotu Sese Seko and other third world dictators under the banner of anti-communism.  It is a lesson that Hugo Chavez, who actively seeks out the embrace of despots, and his acolytes need to learn.

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Posted on 11-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Venezuela’s bloviating caudillo reaffirmed his totalitarian bonafides by supporting China’s outrage at the award of the Nobel peace prize to Liu Xiaobo.  I wonder what it will take for his celebrity allies in the United States like Sean Penn to come to grips with the realities of Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution.  When Chavez came to power, his charge that Venezuela’s oil riches had not been shared with its great unwashed had a certain resonance.  A decade later the mask has slipped.  His incompetent handling of Venezuela’s economy has led to food shortages and inflation.  Rising crime is taking its toll on his popularity.  Meanwhile he has supported leftist terrorists in neighboring Colombia and squandered Venezuela’s oil surplus in shoring up self admitted failures like Fidel Castro.  A reflexive desire to poke a finger in Uncle Sam’s eye has led to embraces of despots from Tehran to Beijing.  Given his attempts to muzzle his own opposition and internal media, it is no surprise Chavez has defended the despots in Beijing.

Meanwhile China’s has stepped up its hysterical outbursts against the award by placing Liu Xiaobo’s wife under house arrest.  It remains to be seen who accepts the award on Liu Xiobo’s behalf.

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Posted on 26-03-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

A few weeks ago Sean Penn whined that people called the elected Hugo Chavez a dictator and went on to say that “[t]here should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.”  See link.  Evidently Hugo Chavez agrees.  Escalating his attack on private media (most of Venezuela’s private TV stations have been shut down on his watch), Chavez arrested the owner of the only remaining critical TV channel for remarks “offensive” to the President.  See link.

Guess what Mr. Penn, that is dictatorial conduct.  Far too many people equate democracy with elections.  If Sean Penn evidently thinks so on the left so do many on the right (unless of course the Democrats use their mandate from the last election to pass health care, which is rank tyranny).  When Afghanistan and Iraq went to the polls many Republicans eager to claim political victory hailed the establishment of democracy.  Yet casting the democratic franchise is just a small part of creating a democratic state.  Far more important is creating democratic institutions that respect the rule of law, leaders who understand that approval at the ballot box does not free them from any constitutional limitations and most important the willingness of leaders to accept repudiation by the voters who put them in office.

Chavez fails on many of these counts.  He has packed the Venezuelan Supreme Court with cronies making that institution a rubber stamp.   He has used the institutions of the state to muzzle dissent, notably by his attacks on the press.  More recently when the public rejected his power grab by public referendum he was forced to accept the result by threat of a military coup.  These are the dictatorial tendencies, albeit one who cloaks himself in populist tendencies.  People forget that Chavez’s first attempt to seize power in the 1990s was by an attempted coup before he turned to the polls.

It is not hard to see why so much of the American left approved of Chavez when he came to power.  Venezuela has been cursed with oil wealth that has rarely flowed to the improvement of its impoverished masses.  Venezuela’s long democratic tradition was gradually turning into oligarchy.  To his credit Chavez shook Venezuela’s moribund institutions out of their stupor.  But that does not excuse the blinders of a portion of the left to what Chavez has become, his embrace of authoritarian regimes across Latin America and the world, his support of the Columbian terrorist movement FARC and his destruction of Venezuela’s democratic institutions.  Like many of his authoritarian peers he considers himself indispensable to his country as seen from his comments about remaining in office for the next couple of decades.  In the meantime his economic mismanagement is wrecking Venezuela’s economy, his government has failed to stem a growing crime wave and many of Venezuela’s best and brightest are voting with their feet.

A thorough repudiation of Venezuela’s caudillo at the ballot box and his replacement by a more competent steward of Venezuela’s fortunes (whether from left or right) is long overdue.

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Posted on 19-01-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics) by Rashtrakut

It is not a pleasant start to the new year for Venezuela’s populist strongman Hugo Chavez.  With oil prices in decline there simply is not enough money for him to toss around for his pet domestic projects and to fund his rogues gallery abroad.  Economic trouble at home and rising crime are denting his popularity.

Then he commenced the year with a devaluation of the currency.   One suggested rationale was that it gave him more money to spend domestically to buy goodwill before the Presidential election (something his buddy Iran’s Ahmadinejad tried to do before rigging the elections).

But there are natural effects to such a move.  As Venezuelans worried that imports would double in price (and Venezuela is heavily reliant on them) they started shopping furiously.  So the next diktat went out to store owners warning them not to raise prices.  Now inevitably comes the next phase of nationalizing banks and supermarkets.

Venezuela is yet another country to be cursed with natural resources.  It makes it too easy for corrupt leaders to siphon off the money (Nigeria, Indonesia, Chad) or to blow it on populist largess (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela).  It is easy to sympathize with Chavez’s assertion that the oil wealth has been used to enrich a few, because it is true.  But rather than using the wealth to create sustainable avenues for growth in the future, he has squandered it on populist subsidies and quixotic support to Cuba and other dictatorships to tweak Uncle Sam’s nose.  Venezuela is now facing the effects of his mismanagement.  But with no viable opponent to his regime in sight yet, Venezuela’s caudillo is likely to be re-elected in the elections this fall.

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Posted on 15-01-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut
  • The New York Times on the difficulties on reporting a natural disaster and getting reporters on the ground (beyond twitter which continues to emerge as a suprising news source, though one that is hard to vet for accuracy).  See link.  Foreign Policy summarizes Haiti’s misery over the last 50 years.  The only country to win its freedom though a slave rebellion has been a failed state for some time now.  The earthquake removes what little government was left.
  • Newsweek takes a look at China’s love affair with rogue states. See link.  At least one can say that the Chinese actions are motivated by genuine self interest – preventing a collapsed state on its border (Myanmar and North Korea), locking up natural resources (Iran and Sudan) and trying to prevent another example of street protests toppling a regime (Iran). Contrast that with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez who squanders his country’s wealth in strategic alliances with rogue states, quixotic socialist largess to Cuba and a military buildup against Columbia primarily to stick his finger in the eye of the United States.
  • Another one from Newsweek commending the mainstream media for doing its job during the Harry Reid controversy and not allowing the ridiculous Republican talking point of equivalence with the Trent Lott comments to stand. Its not often I join in to give a nod to traditional media.

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Posted on 24-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Noticed this link on Yglesias with the odd praises of Chavez for characters ranging from terrorist Carlos the Jackal, to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to Uganda’s notorious Idi Amin.  Now that George W. Bush no longer occupies the White House the parade of American liberals legitimizing the populist Venezuelan demagogue by flying into Caracas seems to have died down a bit.  It is not easy for public figures to admit they were naive and taken in by a foreign authoritarian dictator.  But by largely remaining silent in face of Hugo Chavez’s erratic behavior, his evisceration of democratic institutions, his embrace of thugs and tyrants around the world largely because they are anti-American, and repeatedly trying to fund similar populist coups in Latin America they are guilty of the same hypocrisy that they alleged occurred under the Bush administration.

The tragedy of Hugo Chavez is that Venezuela’s creaky democracy had fallen prey to its bumbling elites and needed a jolt of popular legitimacy.  But instead of producing a Solon, Venezuela provided a Catiline with no respect for the rule of law and unwilling to learn from the failures of the command economy that ruined the Communist bloc.  One cannot criticize the bumbling elites who preceded Chavez without recognizing the failure of the so called Bolivarian Revolution to reach its proclaimed goals.

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