February 24, 2006
Why The Left Should Cringe at The Mention of Hugo Chavez

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa


1.CHAVEZ MAKES WAR, NOT LOVE. The left has repeatedly condemned the right for being militaristic. It has pressed for disarmament in the region, deeming it immoral that resources should be used to buy weapons when so many people are hungry. Hugo Chávez has started the biggest arms build-up in Latin America in a long time. He is buying $2 billion plus worth of Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, Mig-29 fighters, C-295 transport planes, patrol ships, and corvettes. He has knocked every door, from Brazil to Spain, from Russia to China, lusting for weapons.

2. CHAVEZ IS A HEAVY PRIVATIZER. The left has denounced the right for wanting to privatize the state. Hugo Chávez has undertaken the biggest privatization to date in Latin America by expanding the number of military reservists from 90,000 to one million. These reservists are not answerable to the army's hierarchy. In effect, Chávez has created a private militia that serves him directly. Let us not forget that a number of killings by pro-Chavez snipers have taken place over the years (most notably the murder of seventeen protesters in April 2002.)

3. CHAVEZ CAN´T HAVE ENOUGH OF U.S. BUSINESS. The left thinks the U.S. economy thrives at the expense of the world's poorer economies, including those of Latin America. It should be outraged at the fact that Chávez venerates the U.S. economy to the point of providing it with 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, the equivalent of 60 per cent of the his oil exports, which in turn represent 80 percent of the nation's total exports. He has not made the slightest attempt to make good on the promise to start substituting China for the U.S. as an oil trade partner because he knows that the cost of transporting it to China is simply too expensive and that the Panama pipeline through which he would need to take it in order to deliver it to the Pacific is already busy taking oil from other countries in the opposite direction!

4. CHAVEZ WANTS TO BECOME A WORLD BANK. Few causes have impassioned the left more in the last few decades than the foreign debt of underdeveloped nations, which is attributed to a conspiracy on the part of big banks and their government backers. Chávez is fast becoming a creditor to many Latin American nations by buying their sovereign bonds (which are issued only after he offers to buy them.). He has become an IMF and a World Bank onto himself. Argentina and Ecuador combined owe him a bit less than $2 billion so far.

5. CHAVEZ POLLUTES THE ENVIRONMENT. The left has denounced industrial capitalism as an assault on the environment and has called time and again for the replacement of oil as a primary source of energy because of its polluting effects. But Chávez´s government owns scores of refineries and cashes in big time on the processing of his sulphur-heavy crude. In the U.S. alone, Citgo, the affiliate of Venezuela's state oil concern, owns eight refineries and pays Chávez almost $500 million a year in dividends!

6. CHAVEZ ADOPTS THE PINOCHET LINE ON THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. The left has rightly condemned Pinochet´s treatment of the Chilean press during his 16-year dictatorship. Chávez has passed a Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television that Human Rights Watch, the organization usually touted by the left when it wants to give weight to its criticism of press censorship under right-wing governments, has called “a recipe for self-censorship.”

7. CHAVEZ HAS INCREASED POVERTY. The left has criticized the 1990s as a decade in which “neoliberalism” (meaning free-market policies) failed to reduce poverty in Latin America. Poverty in Venezuela is still above the 1998 level—the year Chávez was elected president. In the first five years, poverty increased by 10 percent according to the government body that puts out statistics (by the time Chávez realized the information had been posted it was too late!) In the past two years, even though the economy has grown because of astronomical oil prices and a rebound effect, poverty has been only slightly reduced and the overall figure is still above the 1998 mark.

8. CHAVEZ INVITES FOREIGN DOMINATION. The left has traditionally been nationalistic in Latin America, decrying the military, political or economic presence of foreign powers (Spain's and Portugal's in colonial times, Britain's in the 19th century, that of the U.S. in the 20th century.) There are between 30,000 and 50,000 Cuban advisors in Venezuela, helping with everything from building up the intelligence system to lending “social” services in the government-funded “missions” (one of them, “Misión Barrio Adentro”, is entirely handled by Cubans.) That's between one fifth and one third of the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq!

9. CHAVEZ SENDS MONEY ABROAD THAT IS NEEDED AT HOME. For years the left has vehemently decried the remittances sent home by foreign investors in Latin America with the argument that the proceeds of Latin America's resources should be kept at home. A few weeks ago, just as Venezuelans were shocked to discover that the highway linking the country's main airport to Caracas had collapsed, Chávez announced he would give Bolivia 200,000 barrels of diesel oil per month to help Evo Morales.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow and director of The Center on Global Prosperity at the Independent Institute. He is the author of Liberty for Latin America.

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