(MAURICIO LIMA FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)
Dressed Up as a Liberator - 22/03/2913 - NYT weekly
by ROGER COHEN
LONDON — Hugo Chávez, a 21st-century socialist god destined to loom over his country the way his 20th-century communist predecessors from Moscow to Beijing do, was a self-styled man of the people. He rose to power in Venezuela, and won election after election there, as the embodiment of the humble mestizo challenging the entrenched privilege of the bourgeois oligarchy.
The inefficiency of the Chávez regime was prodigious — he contrived to leave his country’s finances in a shambles despite riding soaring oil revenues — and he enriched his revolutionary coterie through sweet deals, but his attachment to the cause of “el pueblo” (not least their health and education) remained the core of his appeal.
And yet this man of the left and the people could scarcely find a dictator he did not find seductive. He was a strong supporter of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian despot whose ruthlessness has cost the lives of 70,000 of his own people. He backed Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to the last. He sided with Robert Mugabe in his despoilment of the Zimbabwean people. When millions of Iranians rose in 2009 to protest a stolen presidential election, Chávez stood firmly with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the uprising was suppressed with great brutality. Given a choice between British liberalism and Belarussian repression, Chávez did not hesitate.
Of course, Chávez was also the staunch ally of Fidel Castro, his Latin American mentor, but with Castro he at least shared socialist ideas as well as a web of economic interests, including an original oil-for-doctors exchange. With other dictatorial buddies he had little in common, at least on the surface.
But of course there was a unifying ideology at work here that outweighed Chávez’s professed embrace of popular will: A shared determination to confront and resist the United States and its allies in all their manifestations. Chávez was the anti-American ideologue par excellence. I once listened to him for hours in Caracas as he wove an endless but intermittently spellbinding speech around the theme of the predatory cowboy up north.