Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Chavez Takes The Bunkers

Hugo Chavez is seizing the golf courses! The increasingly zany and publicity-conscious Venezuelan president has said that he is going to appropriate two exclusive Caracas country club golf courses and use them to build houses for the city's poor. Señor Chavez and I are unlikely to be meeting for a four-ball any time soon, as I am no more a golfing enthusiast than he is. In theory of course seizing golf courses is a fantastic idea, and might well be reproduced with success the whole world round. But the reality is something more depressing, yet another example of Chavez's silly populist and politically cosmetic moves to consolidate his popularity. Chavez is hardly too bothered by alienating his enemies both at home and abroad any more, but he is in danger of losing many allies if he continues like this.

The US government is once again trying to oust Chavez, and after this incident and another highly-publicised one last week, in which Venezuelan customs busted a US diplomatic importation (with some justification), it will take some encouragement to repeat the failed cout d'état of four years ago. The US and many in the Western media have tried to paint Chavez as a dictator (and this has trickled down to many people I have met, who have travelled around Venezuela convinced that Chavez was some sort of Saddam Hussein or Pinochet), conveniently ignoring his successive electoral victories, his victory in a plebiscite on his reign floated by his political enemies (which international observers, including former US president Jimmy Carter declared to be fair) and the fact that he tolerates open criticism of him on national TV (which is almost all owned by his political enemies). Some of this criticism, such as baseball commentators letting fly at him during games, is of the sort that the likes of Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi would have invoked hand-picked Press Complaints Commissions to stifle. And let us not even imagine any US network tackling Bush in this way. Chavez is no angel, having himself attempted a coup d'état in 1992, while still a General, and Amnesty International have found his regime cause for concern, but by comparison with many of the tinpot dictators the US have supported in Latin America over the years he is a model democrat. The shame is that he should be engaging in such stupid and ultimately wasteful policies, which only embolden his enemies and alienate a large sector of the Venezuelan left. Venezuela is a wealthy country and redistribution of its wealth can be effected quite easily by policies that do not play into the hands of the giant to the north that would like no better excuse to re-install a compliant stooge in the Presidential Palace in Caracas.