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US Can Keep Chavez From Going Castro

Time Magazine graciously informs the President what he must do to keep Hugo Chavez from becoming a dictator:

Is Chavez Becoming Castro?

Despite his nationalization moves, Venezuela’s leader has a way to go. But a lot depends on how the U.S. treats him.

Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007


Hugo Chavez has gone through more chiefs of staff than Venezuela has had Miss Universes — which is quite a few. So when the Venezuelan President tapped his older brother Adan for the job last year, few outside Miraflores Palace took notice. They should have. Adan, since then appointed education minister, is Hugo’s chief Marxist consultant — and a driving force behind Chavez’s harder-than-usual left turn since his re-election last month. Chavez has announced plans to shut down an opposition-run TV network and nationalize Venezuela’s largest telephone and electricity firms, while pushing his rubber-stamp Congress to allow him to run for re-election indefinitely and rule by decree well into 2008. It’s no wonder Chavez watchers compare Adan to Latin America’s other conspicuous First Brother, Raul Castro, who would succeed Fidel.

To many in Washington, the emergence of Adan is one more reminder of Chavez’s autocratic urges — and of the possibility that Chavez himself is Fidel Castro’s real successor in Latin America. His nationalization scheme evokes the seizure of private businesses in Cuba after Castro’s 1959 communist revolution: it ousts U.S.-based companies like Verizon, part-owner of the Venezuelan telecom giant CANTV, and the AES Corporation, which controls Venezuela’s main power utility. Chavez asserted this week that while he’ll compensate both U.S. firms, he won’t pay them a market rate. And when the Bush Administration raised concerns about his burgeoning presidential powers, Chavez replied, in his usual charming fashion, "Go to hell, gringos!"

Yet, by objective standards, Chavez is still not Castro. Says one Chavez official, "We’re a hell of a long way from a [Castro-style] regime." Chavez gushingly admires and subsidizes Castro. But many officials in Caracas, especially younger ones, wince when you equate the two. They insist their democratically elected commandante is hardly poised to snuff out free speech and free enterprise or stoke armed revolution abroad. Chavez may control the hemisphere’s largest oil reserves, but they believe he can’t afford to squander a more valuable commodity — his democratic legitimacy, something Castro never had and which gives Chavez the ability to blunt U.S. efforts to cast him as the Caribbean’s new communist caudillo.

Even if Chavez were to turn Caracas into Havana, there is little Washington could do. The U.S. depends on Venezuela as its fourth largest foreign-crude supplier, which all but precludes swinging the trade embargo stick Washington has used against Castro for 45 years. Political isolation is a weak bet, too. In a region with the world’s widest gap between rich and poor, Chavez’s gospel of Latin American self-determination has spawned a resurgent left and unusually coordinated anti-Yanqui sentiment, evidenced by the region’s rejection of President Bush’s hemispheric free-trade proposal. Warns Luis Vicente Leon, head of the independent Caracas polling firm Datanalisis, "Every time the U.S. tries to demonize Chavez, it makes him larger than he really is."

Instead, the Bush Administration may finally realize that it’s smarter to beat Chavez at his own game. That means rather than building multibillion-dollar fences against Mexican migrants, forcing the drug war on Bolivian coca farmers or hard-selling free-trade pacts to Nicaraguan street vendors who aren’t likely to see their benefits, the U.S. is sending signals that it’s ready to embrace the kind of policies that matter to Latin voters

If folks in the Yucatan and the Andes thought Washington was really engaging those needs, it might well give Chavez and his ilk less of an excuse to move further left. It might also help Latin America find its own third way between radical socialism and reactionary capitalism, extremes that pulled the region like a torture rack for most of the 20th century…

Until then, says Leon, the U.S. should avoid the kind of diplomatic warfare that is Chavez’s political oxygen. It made a start this month by finally indicting (at least on immigration charges) Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro Cuban exile accused by Cuba and Venezuela in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner as it left Venezuela. Chavez has pointed to the U.S.’s failure to prosecute Posada as evidence of Washington’s double standard on terrorism. That charge could ebb if Bush puts Posada away — just as Chavez’s anti-U.S. harangues have slowed ("Go to hell, gringos!" is actually subdued for Hugo) since the State Department said last month it was seeking "a positive, constructive relationship" in Chavez’s new term.

Perhaps if we don’t treat Chavez like Castro, the new theory suggests, the Venezuelan leader may be less compelled to become Castro.

Of course our watchdog media said the same thing about Castro back in the late 50s and early 60s. "If only the US would be nice to him, he won’t become a Communist." We saw how that turned out.

Maybe Time has conveniently forgotten that little bit of history. (Which is possible, since their "reporters" are mostly in their twenties.)

Or, more likely, they wish to replicate the phenomenon. There simply can’t be too many Communist dictators in the world, as far as Time is concerned. Or too many illegal aliens in America.

If folks in the Yucatan and the Andes thought Washington was really engaging those needs, it might well give Chavez and his ilk less of an excuse to move further left.

This is what passes as journalism in the year 2007.

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, January 25th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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