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February 17, 2009

thoughts on Hugo Chavez

After President Chavez of Venezuela won the right to seek perpetual reelection, it occurred to me that:

1. Venezuela poses no risk to the United States. Its government must sell oil on the international market or it will collapse economically. If Chavez decides not to sell to us, we can still buy oil at the global price: it's a commodity. Leaving aside short-term psychological shocks from a Venezuelan embargo, they have little power to affect world prices. They can use their oil revenues to fund overseas military adventures, but their military options are limited. Because Venezuela does not threaten us, we have limited standing to try to influence that country. However ...

2. Chavez is almost certainly moving in exactly the opposite direction from what we need in the 21st century. He is centralizing power in the national government; merging military, administrative, and partisan-political authority; combining personal macho charisma with media celebrity and formal power; reducing political pluralism, checks-and-balances, and civil liberties; exploiting fossil fuels to the maximum; monopolizing the market, press, and state sectors; and trying to exacerbate the deep tensions in Venezuelan society instead of helping everyone to work together. I'd recommend a 180-degree different course. But ...

3. Chavez occupies a huge and growing political niche. It is remarkable, in a world where about one billion people live on less than $1 per day, one quarter of children in developing countries are underweight because of inadequate food, and one quarter of children in the same countries are not in school, that there isn't a more active and aggressive political movement that demands urgent economic redistribution.

I would generally favor moderate and market-based solutions to poverty, but the credibility of the market must surely suffer now that Wall Street and the City of London have been shown to be incapable of managing even their own affairs. I think there would already be a much more robust global radical left if we hadn't just passed through the long aftermath of the Soviet fiasco. Russian Communists first eliminated many rivals on the left and then collapsed, leaving a remarkable void. If Intel and Microsoft suddenly went bankrupt, there would be a lot fewer new computers in production next year. But the computer industry would revive to meet the demand, and the same thing will happen with the redistributionist left.

Thus for me the interesting question is to what extent Chavez (and Evo Morales, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) will fill the political niche of opposition to global capitalism. From my own biased perspective, it seems much better if someone like President "Lula" da Silva of Brazil can obtain international leadership. In fact, I'd love to see the Obama administration take thoughtful and effective steps to build Lula up--not in our interests so much as the interests of the Global South.

February 17, 2009 12:10 PM | category: democratic reform overseas | Comments


I think Chavez will eventually 'hang himself' due to the fact that he is slowly destroying the economy, because of bad management and cronyism.

Perhaps soon Venezuela will not be able to export oil as it once did because it's not paying its bills, while its oil and industrial infrastructure is falling apart.

Chavez, in some respects, is like Bush, in that ideology trumps common sense and pragmatism. Both men will be treated harshly by history.

February 17, 2009 2:31 PM | Comments (3) | posted by airth10

Also, Chavez should not be admired or viewed as an alternative in human governance. He forfeited that role when he encourage hatred and attacks on Jews, a minority that has often been scapegoated and targeted throughout history. By doing that he added to his slippery slope of being ousted.

February 17, 2009 3:42 PM | Comments (3) | posted by airth10

There is another good reason why Chavez's form of governance will not endure, which, Peter, you touched on in an earlier post: entropy and dialectic.

His system of governance is a closed one that doesn't encourage diversity. Therefore, his system will eventually succumb to entropy like the Soviet Union did because in his preoccupation of holding onto power he has grown ignorant to the necessity for rejuvenation and renewal. Renewal is essential to combat entropy and that comes from an opposition, which Chavez resists and has outlawed.

February 18, 2009 4:49 PM | Comments (3) | posted by airth10

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