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'Good' Tyrants Impoverish the People

'Good' Tyrants Impoverish the People

By Carlos Alberto Montaner - February 3, 2009

Hugo Chávez has an uncontrollably generous heart. In 2008, he donated 45 million gallons of heating oil to 200,000 poor American families. The cost of that contribution was about $100 million. The gift was made through CITGO, the Venezuelan state-owned energy company doing business in the U.S. mainland.

How touching. A poor American family with four people earns, on the average, about $19,300 a year. A poor Venezuelan family the same size earns barely $2,920. In the United States, 12 percent of the population is classified as poor. In Venezuela, that rises to 42 percent.

Poverty in the United States is generally experienced in dwellings that may be gray and uniform but are supplied with electricity and running potable water. It does not exclude the possession of an automobile, air conditioning, color television, telephone, mail service, free education, food coupons, sewage, access to emergency medical services, police protection, a system of justice and a certain amount of money. In Venezuela, the setting usually is infinitely worse. No need to describe it; we all know the horror of tin-roof shacks, violence and privation that signifies being poor in Venezuela (or in Nicaragua, Bolivia and almost all of Latin America.)

Ignoring the people's misery

The same thing happens in Cuba. Houses are falling apart, one brick at a time. For the past 48 years, the Cubans' food and drinking water have been rationed. The sewers overflow, and the garbage is rarely ever picked up (to the rats' delight), while the Cubans flee aboard any object that can float.

But Fidel Castro -- who is dominated by a compulsive compassion and is incapable of perceiving the misery that surrounds him, mindless of the expenses incurred by his country -- dispenses scholarships to thousands of medical students from all over the Americas and sends tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, teachers, dentists and nurses to the Third World with the prodigality of a sultan.

Also, during the Cold War, an irate or emotion-filled Castro chose the causes that seemed to him to be just or suitable for his project of world conquest and sent his armies to fight against Morocco, Somalia, Israel or Jonas Savimbi's pro-Chinese, pro-American factions in Angola, sowing cemeteries of Cuban ''internationalists'' in every corner of the globe. No material or human sacrifice was enough for his kindness and idealism without borders or limits.

Why those extravagant shows of solidarity by these men? Doubtless because it is a demagogic public-relations campaign intended to demonstrate that their regimes are extraordinary and the ideology they support is marvelous. But also to show to the world, through someone else's sacrifice, that they are leaders endowed with the noblest hearts in mankind, something that gives them a gratifying sensation of moral superiority.

To give away what's not theirs, to sacrifice to the last man, to dispense compassion without ever considering their own people, who underwrite the expenses with their labor and cannot even complain about the largess, give these men an ineffable internal happiness that is, of course, an unhealthy expression of the narcissism that afflicts them. They are not as interested in other people's welfare (which is evident from the huge price they exact from their own people) as they are in carrying out a great deed, enshrining themselves in history, dazzling mankind and confirming their quality as exceptional human beings.

Destruction of the nation

The worst about this type of pathological compassion practiced from the highest peak of power is that the ''strong men'' who engage in it usually co-opt the legitimate altruism that is nestled in the hearts of most people. By hoarding all the wealth, controlling all the mechanisms to make decisions and arbitrarily disposing of the resources of society, these men mutilate the possibility of dispensing charity that almost all normal people possess in varying degrees.

At the end of the road, all that's left is a ''good'' tyrant and poor citizens, exhausted to the point of nausea and, paradoxically, bled dry of every vestige of their philanthropic drive.

Being good is no longer a possibility. Even that has been taken from them.

Carlos Alberto Montaner

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