For a long time, I’ve defended Hugo Chavez. I thought that he was fighting a worthy battle against greed and corruption, against years of foreign domination and cronyism. I thought he was trying to improve the lives of poor people, while establishing a strong economy, an independent and self-respecting nation, and a vibrant democracy.
But now, after watching events unfold in the past few months, I’m ready to admit that I was mistaken.
Like many of those who lean left, I figured that Chavez’s megalomaniacal governing qualities were a bit unnerving, but not anything serious to be worried about. In retrospect, I realize that I was willing to overlook his authoritarian tendencies because of one main thing: his avowed commitment to social justice issues and his dedication to ending poverty.
Recently, however, I’ve changed my mind in a major way. Although I have tried to remain optimistic, Chavez’s actions in the past few months clearly indicate that he is set on becoming a dictator. Perhaps a dictator dedicated to the poor, but a dictator nonetheless.
It has always surprised me that Democrats and other liberals in this country should have been so callous about the erosion of fundamental political rights that have been endemic to the Chavez regime, up to and including the doing away with the idea of Democratic rule.
"Oh, but Chavez cares for the poor! The poor! The poor poor! You are a beast to worry about things like rights when there are poor people!"
It really makes one worry about how committed the "liberal" wing of American politics is to our own set of fundamental rights, despite all the protestations they make about Bush and company. Evidently, the only problem they have with Bush is the identity of the people they feel are getting screwed over. It is a scary thought since it is hard to tell sometimes what is rhetoric and what is unhinged lunacy in that bunch. Obviously, I have always felt that anyone kow-towing to or making excuses for Chavez had the intellect of a rutabaga, but it is nice to see at least once person backing away from the ledge in fit of common sense.
Unfortunately, many of us on the left have been silent on this issue for far too long. While we have been quick to criticize our own administration and other foreign governments (think Vladimir Putin) for undemocratic policies, there has been a tendency to overlook the authoritarian governing styles of leftist regimes like that of Venezuela. For some reason — probably because these leaders profess the dogma of economic equality and social reform — many of us on the left have been quick to defend these liberal autocrats.
But it’s time to wake up and get our priorities straight. We should not be blind to what is going on in Venezuela. We can no longer forgive Chavez’s dictatorial tendencies just because of his avowed commitment to the country’s poor. Indeed, it is a grave mistake to overlook tyranny or authoritarianism even when it is couched in the rhetoric of liberal reform and social justice. Ultimately, while Chavez’s vision of an end to poverty and the creation of a more equitable society is an honorable and an important one, his way of achieving these goals is not. Upholding democracy is infinitely more important than any of these other aims.
The worst troubles and the worst human rights abuses occur not while democratic institutions are still alive and kicking, but after they have been gutted or done away with all together. The problem with Germany in the 1930's wasn't just that they elected Hitler, it was that they allowed him to dismantle any mechanism for removing him from power. At first such things can be done with the help of the popular will, but eventually the regime holds onto power by thuggery and murder. That is the reason you let the opposition speak. That is the reason the opposition has rights that may not be stripped from them. That is why the forms of democratic society are important and inviolable.
That is why any supporter of Chavez should be shunned as being nothing better than a brownshirt themselves.