Yesterday I was sitting in a coffee shop in a largely Hispanic neighborhood and picked up a Hispanic newspaper. (It was written in both English and Spanish and published in the U.S.) I read a lengthy column about Hugo Chavez. The gist of the column was that the U.S. wrongly demonized the late Venezuelan leader.
I am almost sure that I would not have liked Chavez and would have been embarrassed by him were I a Venezuelan. At the same time, I very well might have voted for him.
The statistics in the column were amazing. During Chavez’s presidency poverty declined dramatically in Venezuela as did illiteracy and child mortality. He was elected several times in free, democractic elections. Few contest the fact that the majority of Venezuelans voted for him and loved him.
So why did the U.S. government and media tend to demonize him?
I suspect the answer lies in two facts: 1) He criticized us and hobnobbed with our enemies, and 2) He dared to nationalize industries in which Americans were heavily invested. In other words, he was viewed as a socialist and probably was–to some extent.
The column I read argued persuasively that Chavez’s main “sin” (in the eyes of the U.S. government) was flagrantly rejecting the Monroe Doctrine and attempting to set up an alternative network of Latin American governments to the one over which the U.S. has held sway for many years.
To the best of my knowledge no one seriously claims that Chavez supported anti-U.S. terrorism or drug smuggling.
My own study of U.S.-Latin American relations has let me to believe we have not played fair in L.A. We have thought it our prerogative to intervene covertly or militarily (or both) in internal affairs–especially when democratically elected regimes threatened our influence and investments.
I, for one, have been embarrassed by our government’s and media’s demonizing of Chavez. Constructive criticism is valid, to be sure, but we have gone far beyond that to attempting to portray him and his followers as evil communists. How many Americans know that he was freely elected several times?
The column I read rightly pointed out how America has tended to speak and act duplicitously with regard to democracy in Latin America. We say we value it, but then we criticize democratically elected leaders who refuse to be our puppets as if they were “dictators” (which is how Chavez has been portrayed in the U.S. media and by many of our government’s leaders).
We need to allow Latin American countries to be truly self-determining. Yes, we should undermine murderous regimes who support death squads who kill dissenters. But, to the best of my knowledge, that was not the case with Chavez or his government. Instead, some of our religious leaders openly advocated our government sending a death squad to kill him!