How Dangerous Is Chavez? Let Us Count the Ways

With an aging Fidel Castro fading in health, the race is on to see who can succeed him as the iconic leader of revolutionary Socialism in the Western Hemisphere. Winning this race will bestow dubious honors, enshrining the winner as the Western personification of an utterly failed ideology.

The clear front-runner in the race is Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez. I’m generally an easygoing person and not wont to make excessively personal remarks about people with whom I disagree politically, but it is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that Chavez is a very bad man. Economically, demagogically and philosophically, he is bad for his nation, and all its hemispheric neighbors.

Chavez’s economic policies will bring Venezuela to ruin. He has embarked on a program to seize foreign oil projects and nationalize them without giving a second thought to the fact that this action constitutes theft of the resources of those oil projects and that Chavez’s action gives foreign oil companies a disincentive to invest or explore in Venezuela lest their property gets confiscated as well. Moreover, the Venezuelan President is proceeding headlong with his nationalization project without having figured out the answers to some of the most basic questions surrounding that project:

Chavez did not detail how the government will pay for its increased share in the projects in which the companies are estimated to have invested some $17 billion.

Even more laughable is the fact that he wants it both ways as he implements his nationalization project:

The Orinoco projects are the only oil-producing operations in the country remaining under private control, which Chavez called “disgraceful.”

But he added that Venezuela doesn’t “want the companies to go … We just want them to be (minority) partners.”

Of course, it is doubtful that oil companies will want to work and invest in a country whose leader is a capricious tyrant possessed of demonstrably inferior and unworkable economic theories and who goes off on nationalization sprees at a moment’s notice.

Thus far, high oil prices have helped insulate Venezuela from the various shocks to its system administered by Chavez’s other economic decisions. But how long will that last? As this article points out, Venezuela is in for a nasty surprise if oil prices come crashing down:

The oil price has crept back up over the past fortnight after a sharp fall. It may well rise further. Even if it does not, few expect the benchmark price to fall to its levels of 2003, let alone 1999. But if prices stay at their levels of the past month, some economists believe that Venezuela’s economy will struggle. “There’s a sustainability problem,” says Luis Zambrano, an economist at the Catholic University in Caracas. “More and more spending is needed to produce a [percentage] point of economic growth.” What will lubricate the revolution when the oil bonanza ends?

An equally pertinent question is who will feed the Venezuelan people?

So Chavez is doing a poor job in affording the Venezuelan people economic opportunity. How is he doing in protecting their political liberties? Not well at all.

The rubberstamp Venezuelan parliament that currently exists in Venezuela has recently decided to give Chavez powers that would bring a smile to any tyrant’s face:

Venezuela’s National Assembly has given initial approval to a bill granting the president the power to bypass congress and rule by decree for 18 months.

Chavez says he wants “revolutionary laws” to enact sweeping political, economic and social changes.

He has said he wants to nationalise key sectors of the economy and scrap limits on the terms a president can serve.

The law giving Chavez such wide-ranging powers is called the “Enabling Law.” It was obviously named by someone with no sense of history. At least we should hope that it was named by someone with no sense of history; it would be terrifying to think that the attempt at emulation here was purposeful.

Chavez’s wide-ranging powers encompass energy policy, which only serves to assist him in his self-destructive nationalization drive regarding foreign oil projects. Chavez’s tyranny also includes violations of private property rights. And as this article points out, media censorship, political harassment and the threats of political violence are all on the rise in Venezuela — along with poverty, corruption and political cronyism — thanks to the direct support and active leadership of Chavez.

Chavez is engaged in all sorts of international mischief designed to augment his power and many countries in the Western Hemisphere don’t like him one bit for it.

I have documented his propensity for imperialism in the past. Amusingly enough, many of his efforts end up backfiring; if Chavez’s aim is to accrue power and influence, he fails on multiple occasions to do so and if anything, only serves to dilute whatever weight Venezuela may have in international affairs.

But just because Chavez is ham-handed in his efforts to make Venezuela something of a hegemon in the Western Hemisphere does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to those efforts. According to this article, Venezuela has spent over $4 billion in weapons purchases over the past two years. Ostensibly these purchases are in response to threats of American attack but other Latin American leaders are more than a little suspicious about Venezuela’s intentions:

José Sarney, the former Brazilian president and a leading senator, caused a stir this week when he was quoted in the newspaper O Globo as describing Venezuela’s form of government as “military populism” and “a return to the 1950s,” when Venezuela was governed by the army strongman Marcos Pérez Jiménez.

“Venezuela is buying arms that are not a threat to the United States but which unbalance forces within the continent,” Mr. Sarney said. “We cannot let Venezuela become a military power.”

Venezuelan arms purchases over the past two years now outstrip those of Pakistan and Iran. And as the article mentions, thanks to the Enabling Law, there is no parliamentary check on Chavez’s arms purchases. Venezuela’s arms buildup — a buildup that goes above and beyond anything that is needed to fulfill Venezuela’s defensive needs — will help Chavez intimidate other Latin American countries that do not toe the Venezuelan line and will allow him to engage in mischief abroad.

Hugo Chavez is the perfect successor to Fidel Castro because he is so amazingly out of touch. Having visited Vietnam last summer, Chavez celebrated the country’s victory over American “imperialism,” a curious touch from an imperialist of the first rank. Of course, as Duncan Currie shows, Vietnam’s decision to engage in bilateral trade with the U. S., its entry into the World Trade Organization and its shift to free markets make it one of the more pro-American countries in the world.

And that may summarize Chavez’s legacy in a nutshell. His political program and leadership style are so backward that even the communists are passing him by.