I feel like my man-crush on Hugo Chávez is slowly coming to an end.
“Dude, I’ve supported you throughout the years.
This is hard, but I think its time. We need to go our separate ways.
And for the sake of everything that we’ve shared, please, please don’t instigate a war… or Mr. Danger, will send his troops back to the Western hemisphere.”
— March 6, 2008
That was from a blog post I wrote five years ago, when Venezuela was on the verge of war with Colombia. A few months earlier I had come to fall in love with the antics of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
Towards the end of 2007, I was paid to “run the Internet” for a television network whose goal was to catalog all news as it was occurring across the web. Cashing in on “Web 2.0” and copying the infrastructure of a more popular social news aggregation site, our operation would air stories that had been voted to the top on our US and UK cable stations.
My job was to make sure good stories would win. The job paid decently but the infinite insignificance of the Internet got dull quickly. I’d spend eight hours a day wading through every dumb criminal story, weed protest, Illuminati scare, cat video, and 9/11 conspiracy. The job would briefly become interesting when news broke. And that’s when I really started to appreciate Hugo Chávez.
In the daily narrative of the news, Hugo Chávez would act as foil to George W Bush. Adversaries that would play out political moves on the world stage. Chávez would arrive at a podium of the UN General Assembly making a thizz face, explaining that it smelled of sulfur, the scent of the devil, because George Bush had just been standing there. Bush would add Chávez to the Axis of Evil. Chávez would respond by shipping free heating oil to poor people on the East Coast.
This light foreign policy sparring would unfold daily, making my time in the newsroom considerably more interesting. I’d post articles about what Chávez was up to and who he had offended. He was always, always on my mind. I even remember dreaming about him: At Hugo Chávez’s inauguration, his parents were more excited to see Paul Newman at the airport than to see their son start a socialist revolution.
I liked that Hugo Chávez played counterpoint to American Imperialism. He said everything we anti-Bush Americans wanted to say. And for a while it seemed like his Bolivarian revolution was making life better for more people in South America.
At the foundation of the revolution was the fight for South American economic and political sovereignty through participatory democracy, economic self-sufficiency, patriotism, equitable distribution of natural resources, and the elimination of corruption. Hugo Chávez wanted to create “a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans, and not machines or the state, ahead of everything.”
After coming to power in 1998, Chávez’s populist Leftism quickly spread throughout the region. From fellow Bolivarian Evo Morales in Bolivia, to social democrat Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, today nearly every country on the continent (less Colombia) is run by left-leaning leadership. This a positive shift from the politics of the previous generation, directed by ultra-conservative military juntas that operated US-supported “Dirty Wars.”
Chávez fought for regional self-determination through the establishment of ALBA, a bloc of Latin American countries which act as a counterweight to the imperial stranglehold of NAFTA. He used controversial measures like nationalizing industries — and while many contemporary capitalists will disagree, there is something to be said for expropriating an institution that has consistently slurped up the natural resources of your nation.
I’ve certainly had my issues with Chávez. I didn’t think he was justified in ramping up a war against Colombia. I don’t think it was very chill for him to run on a “president for life” campaign (which a majority of Venezuelans voted against). Chávez has been accused of massive corruption, intimidation, and voter fraud.
So I’m not totally advocating his form of tyranny, but I have to admit that a Chavista-style socialist political party might be a good thing for the United States. Imagine all the progressive goals that might be achieved. This party wouldn’t take full control over the government — it’d be counter-balanced by liberals and conservatives — but the political pendulum would land further to the left. America would finally get the social democratic politics the rest of the developed world has. Meeting more needs for more people. Maybe we’d end up with a country that doesn’t put profit over people.
Or maybe we could look closer to home for inspiration: