Category: History

Cuban History
by Richard R. Tryon

The initial summary of the news of Chavez being overthrown and then restored has left a wake of confusion. Here is a short summary and a brief commentary.

"Castro's Man in Caracas"

There are at least three ironies surrounding this weekend's coup and counter-coup in Venezuela that returned President Hugo Chavez to office after 43 hours of detention.

The first is that this former putschist who has done so much to undermine freedom has been saved by a people's desire to safeguard democracy. The second is that by failing to oust him Venezuela's middle and upper classes have probably made him stronger. And the third is that he is supported by his society's most desperate citizens but will continue to impoverish them and his oil-rich South American country as long as he's in power.

The turmoil is also a reminder of Latin America's dangerous deterioration. Most U.S. media haven't noticed, but half of that continent is in political or economic trouble, or both, following a decade of U.S. mistakes and neglect. Maybe the Chavez fiasco will alert American elites, especially Senator Chris Dodd, to stop indulging Cold War grudges and start addressing current problems in the region.

Mr. Chavez's triumphant return to the presidential palace was not all due to a public outpouring of support. Some of the generals stuck by the ousted president and their soldiers took up positions at the palace. A feared battle between military factions didn't materialize, fortunately, when the coup plotters' appointed president, businessman Pedro Carmona, threw in the towel and resigned. But there's no denying that had not a substantial number of Venezuelans shown more respect for democracy than Mr. Chavez ever has, the coup would have succeeded.

There are few heroes in this story. Successive Venezuelan governments have failed to make the country attractive for investment. This has resulted in the waste of oil wealth and capital flight. Venezuela today deserves to be described as "dysfunctional," replete with perverse incentives, political corruption and simmering resentments.

It is hardly surprising that a lowly former army officer craving power exploited this situation through demagogy, or that Cuba's dictator quickly stepped up to support him. Fidel Castro has spent four decades trying to subvert the rest of Latin America, coming closest in the 1970s. The poorly educated Mr. Chavez -- people who have recently met Castro tell us that in private he's caustic about his protégé's lack of cultivation -- offered an opportunity on the Latin American mainland that Castro hasn't had since the demise of Nicaragua's Sandinistas.

Mr. Chavez's first attempt to seize power came in 1992 when he organized a coup against President Carlos Andres Perez, who was once also the hope of many Venezuelans, before corruption undid his presidency. Mr. Chavez's coup was bloody but was put down in the end and he was thrown into prison. He emerged saying he would seek power through the ballot box.

This he did in 1998 with 56% of the vote. From there he vowed to change Venezuela through a "peaceful and democratic revolution." More than 80% backed his referendum to rewrite the constitution and gave his supporters all but 10 of 131 seats at the Constituent Assembly. This meant that they were able to write in much of his anti-private property program. Venezuelans voted overwhelmingly for the finished product and re-elected Mr. Chavez with 60% of the vote in 2000.

One virtue of true democracy is that there are basic freedoms that not even huge majorities can overwhelm. Mr. Chavez's expropriation of private property, his creation of Castro-style block committees to spy on families and his reshuffle of management at the state oil company finally made him unpopular, and demonstrators took to the street to demand his ouster. They were fired on and at least 16 were killed Thursday in a huge anti-Chavez demonstration. This butchery precipitated the coup.

It failed, and now Mr. Chavez is back, and with him no doubt deeper Venezuelan polarization. Saddam Hussein has hailed his return and Castro and Gadhafi cannot be far behind. That these rogues are Mr. Chavez's best friends tells us a lot about Venezuela's future.?

Commentary by
Richard R. Tryon

Somehow the words above were captured without attribution! If I can find the author?s name, I will add it. In the meantime, I do thank someone for having captured so much about the mess in Venezuela and this story also points out some of the concerns that will follow the return to power of Chavez.

Anyone who has ever visited Caracas knows that the nation is clearly caught in a difficult position. The riches of oil have made some very rich, while so many, lacking in any skills or educational ability, suffer the pangs of poverty. It is a situation made for despots of either extreme. Without an effective two party system that works with an intelligent electorate, it is simply a game of charades. The one most clever wins the hearts of the majority and gets elected. Sharing the spoils is then the game that is played to stay in power.

A real patriot is needed but hard to find. With Castro as a model, Chavez, who is not well educated, may find the way to keep in power and destroy the nation at the same time. Or, he may have had a ?wake-up? call that could turn him to realize that Fidel has the wrong model to follow. We shall see more on this story soon....

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