Why Did the U.S. Demonize Hugo Chavez?

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!

  • Caleb G

    I resonate with this post because I have spent a total of 13 months living in South America. I question what appears to be blind devotion to a leader in Venezuela, but then I realize how many Americans acted the exact same way during the last election, be it for Romney or Obama. We are not that different, even though our form of government does not allow one person to be indefinitely elected (for which I’m glad).
    I also find it sad that the main place where conservatives agree with Obama is in his waging of war through troops or unmanned drones. This is another example of “our prerogative to intervene covertly or militarily (or both) in internal affairs.” Most countries buy into some kind of exceptionalism at one time or another in their history, but here in the United States it seems endemic. In light of our history, I can understand this.
    Thanks for expressing well the ambivalence that I also feel toward Chavez.

  • David (NAS) Rogers

    The actress Maria Conchita Alonso is just one critic of Chavez but she was raised in Venezuela. She wrote an open letter to the actor Sean Penn regarding his supporter for Chavez. I don’t know how to evaluate her critique but you might be interested in reading her perspective.

    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/maria-conchita-alonso/2010/03/25/open-letter-sean-penn

    • rogereolson

      From what I have read her accusations and statistics are debatable. But I’ll post this here so people can see what Chavez’s opponents say.

  • Steve Rogers

    A famous Mexican poet once said, “Poor Mexico! So far away from God and so close to the United States.” This is a sad reflection of the legacy the U.S. has in our relationship with hemisphere neighbors. As long as it is the view of Latin American countries that the U.S. is one sided and strong handed in dealing with them, there will always be a champion of the people like Chavez who will ride a wave of popularity for standing up to us. I commend you for raising the issue here.

  • Tony Pounders

    Roger,

    You might enjoy seeing this, if you have time. http://johnpilger.com/videos/the-war-on-democracy

    Tony

  • EricW

    I just read Sara Miles’ book TAKE THIS BREAD, and in the beginning of her book, before she became a Christian, she writes about her activities as a journalist among the people fighting the wars in Nicaragua and the Philippines in the 1980′s. I don’t doubt that Hugo Chavez and other Latin and South American leaders and governments have been demonized by our government and the media for reasons you discuss.

  • Dr. Olson

    Look what we did to Columbia regarding the Panama Canal! No wonder the Columbian’s don’t like us.


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