As the setting sun disappeared over the horizon, the farmer wiped the sweat from his brow looking at the irrigation system he built to water his oranges. He smiled with a note of satisfaction. He had worked hard, for he wanted the best. The oranges were growing well, the house was in good shape, and the land was very fertile. A perfect inheritance to leave his children, he thought.
Someone had other plans. A communist mob invaded his property in the middle of the night. They chopped down the orange grove and burned the trees. They then burned his ranch house. In one night, they destroyed his whole life’s work and what possessions he was going to leave his children.
Where did this story take place? Was it some tragic tale from Cold War era? No, this is a true story like many that are now happening in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
President Hugo Chavez Frias is a former army lieutenant colonel that rose to fame by staging a failed coup in 1992. Later he ran for president and after only three years in office, he has succeeded in uprooting the foundations of South America’s oldest democracy.
His reforms are called “Bolivarian,” in honor of Simon Bolivar, the nineteenth century revolutionary who took Venezuela from Spanish rule. Under this banner, he has targeted every traditional institutions and centralized all power. His first victims were Congress and the Supreme Court, which he labeled “corrupt” and “oligarchic.”
They were swiftly dismantled and rebuilt according to his decrees and under his control. President Chavez has also reformed educations and even questioned the very republican form of government that put him in office. He insists Venezuela must give “birth to a new political system, because representative democracy is not really good for us.”1
His “Bolivarian” reform might more aptly be called Marxist.
Embracing Comrade Castro
Indeed President Chavez makes no secret of the fact that he thinks Venezuela should be heading “toward the same sea as the Cuban people…a sea of happiness, true social justice and peace.”2 This relationship with the only openly communist leader in the Americas has upset some in Washington. President Chavez ruffled even more feathers there by implementing a “strategic alliance” between Cuba, China, Venezuela and Russia to counterbalance American influence worldwide.3
But the link between Venezuela and Cuba goes much deeper. President Chavez recently signed a deal with Cuba under which Havana will train Venezuelan teachers and provide educational materials. Last year, Education Minister Hector Navarro approved and promoted a nationwide essay contest on the life of Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.4 Furthermore, several hundred Cubans have been sent to Venezuela to help in everything from public health services to athletic training. 5
President Chavez’s enthusiasm for the aging Cuban despot knows no bounds. In his mentor’s footsteps, he has organized “Bolivarian Youth Brigades,” much like Castro who set up his “Young Pioneers.” He has set up a committee to organize the population into “Bolivarian circles” similar to Cuba’s “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.”
Ironically, one striking dissimilarity between the two is the fact that Castro worked at a much slower pace in implementing Communism. President Chavez seems to be in a rush. Observers note he already has more leftists in his government that Castro did after three years in office. Both his Foreign Minister and Interior Minister (responsible for law enforcement) have communist or semi-communist backgrounds.6
In implementing his reforms, President Chavez has shown his true colors. In the beginning of his term, President Chavez repeatedly said, “We’re not returning to statism nor are we headed toward socialism or Communism.” 7 Venezuela apparently is not headed for prosperity either.
Despite his claims that the economy is resurrecting after decades of financial crises, the truth is that Venezuela, after his election, fell into its worst recession in decades. The economy shrank by 9.5% percent and unemployment increased to 18% by the end of 1999. His socio-economic reforms were supposed to reduce the poverty level. Instead they have caused the capital flight of $8 billion dollars to overseas accounts.8
Venezuela’s main export, oil, is the only bright spot in the national economy. When he came into power in February of 1999, a barrel of oil sold for $7; now, the market price is $31. This gave Venezuela $8 billion more in foreign reserves.9 Most of the oil pumped from Venezuela’s vast reserves goes into the U.S. This makes President Chavez think he has economic leverage on the U.S. According to an MSNBC Report, Venezuela currently ranks sixth in oil reserves, behind Iran and just ahead of Russia, with enough to keep pumping for another 70 years.
Venezuela is the third-largest exporter – behind Saudi Arabia and Canada – to the U.S.10
The dark spots in the Venezuela economy come from his proposed socio-economic revolutionary laws. One of these will target owners of large farms and estates, “In Venezuela, latifundia will end, or my name is not Hugo Chavez,” he told listeners in his weekly radio program, “Hello, President.”11
His goal is to apply a law, “so that every Venezuelan peasant without exception has enough land to sow crops and produce. We are proposing and agrarian revolution.”12 According to Stratfor, Inc., an Austin, Texas-based Internet provider of global intelligence, private investors also fear that President Chavez’s announced land redistribution project will only target private property instead of privatizing millions of acres of fallow undeveloped land owned by the State.13
In education, President Chavez eschews conservative principles and forces teachers to adopt Marxist-oriented ones. Most of his education proposals come from Carlos Lanz, a former leftist guerilla who spent time in jail for the confessed kidnapping of an American. He is now a sociologist and director of the National Education Project.
A typical example of these proposals is President Chavez’s Decree 1011, a measure that was not well received by parents and teachers. The decree states that “itinerant inspectors” would travel the country making sure that “Bolivarian principles” were taught in schools. It further grants the government the right to dismiss teachers and administrators based on the reports of these inspectors. The parents responded by staging a massive protest holding signs saying “Our Children are not Cubans” and “We don’t want a communist or Chavista education.”14
Cuba is also supplying Venezuela with teachers in return for cheap oil. But it is not just the parents or the teachers that suffer from the reforms. Fourth and sixth grade textbooks published last year routinely praise the failed coup and present the two political parties that ruled Venezuela for over 40 years as “corrupt oligarchs.”15
Laying the Cards Down
President Chavez no longer needs to hide behind a façade of democracy. He recently thanked the Communist Party in Venezuela for its service to the country and invited it to form part of a new political movement. In his trip to China, he was quoted as saying Venezuela is “finally lifting itself up…just as China, 50 years ago, lifted itself up by the hand of Mao Tse-Tung.”16 President Chavez described himself a “Maoist” and China’s communist regime “the big sister of the Venezuelan Revolution.”17
President Chavez has also adopted a notably anti-American attitude. In the recent debates in the UN, Venezuela backed both China and Cuba when they were cited by against the U.S. Human Rights condemnations. Chavez turned a blind eye to thse massive human rights violations by claiming no country in the world has the right to condemn another.18 At the same time, President Chavez said the world needs several strong countries, including China, to serve as global policemen.19
President Chavez also does not allow the U.S. to fly over Venezuela when carrying out anti-drug reconnaissance flights into Colombia, severely hampering the effort. On its part, the U.S. has shied away from Venezuela’s security agencies since it is commonly believed that whatever is given to Caracas is passed on to Havana.20
In the disastrous mudslides of December of 1999, the U.S. offered relief aid to the stricken nation. President Chavez refused. When asked about the American “Plan Colombia,” Chavez replied that the solution could be found in dialogue not in the implements of war. Maybe that is why he offered himself as a broker between the Marxist guerillas and Colombia’s government. Maybe that is why he has sent a top aide to visit the base camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Maybe that is why he invited two guerilla leaders to speak on the floor of the National Assembly.
Like Cuba, Venezuela is exporting its own brand of Communism. Observers note that “there are indications of Chavez government support for violent indigenous movements in Bolivia.” 21 From January 1998 to July 2000, the Colombian military reported seizing 470 FAL rifles bearing the seals of the Venezuelan armed forces, or those of CAVIM, the Venezuelan military’s arms industry from rebels. 22 The Swiss government has refused the sale of weapons to Venezuela for fear they may fall into the hands of Colombian guerillas. Ecuador, Bolivia and El Salvador have all filed formal complaints with the Venezuela government for sending agents to meet secretly with violent opposition groups. 23
What lies in store for this nation on the northern rim of South America? Will it bend to President Chavez’s communist ideology and suffer the fate of Russia, Cuba and China? Fortunately, President Chavez has unmasked himself for what he really is: a leftist ideologue who is willing to use any means to carry out his revolution. He has even said: “I am convinced that if for some reason this attempt to forge a revolution without arms fails, what would come next would be a revolution with arms.” 24
Indeed, Hugo Chavez has come out of the shadows and into the light. He is aligning himself with similar leaders and movements worldwide. While post-Cold War politicians optimistically celebrated the end of communism, Marxists slowly regrouped and entered into what has been called a “complicated metamorphosis.”25 Today, Marxists like Hugo Chavez are no longer considered pariahs but are taking power – a scenario that portends ill for America and the world.
- Chavez: End ‘Tyranny of the Small Elite’ ” The Washington Post, 10/15/2000.
- Bart Jones, “Castro-Chavez Friendship Criticized,” Associated Press, 12/1/1999.
- Juan O. Tamayo, “U.S. is Wary of Chavez’s Cuba Tties,” The Miami Herald, 6/10/2001.
- Chavez’s School Plan Ignites Furor in Venezuela, The Miami Herald, 2/27/2001.
- Tamayo, op.cit.
- Mark Falcoff, Where Will Chavez Take Venezuela? (American Enterprise of Public Policy Research, March 1999).
- “Venezuela’s President Chavez Rejects Communist Tag,” Reuters, 11/29/1999.
- “Chavez: Shifting to the Left, or is it Narcissism?” The Miami Herald, 4/29/2001.
- “Venezuelans React to Chavez’s Threat,” MSNBC News Report, 6/11/2001.
- “Venezuela’s Chavez Promises Land ‘Revolution,’ ” CNN News Report, 12/10/2000.
- “Hugo Chavez: The Next Move At Home,” Statfor.com, 9/26/2000.
- “Chavez’s School Plan Ignites Furor in Venezuela,” op.cit.
- “Chavez Frias Tells China that Venezuela is Finally Lifting Itself up…like China did 50 years ago!” Vheadline News Report, 10/12/1999.
- “Chavez: Shifting to the Left, or is it just Narcissism?” op.cit.
- “Venezuela’s Chavez Backs China, Cuba against U.S. Rights Condemnation” The Associated Press, 4/17/2001.
- “Chavez Back China on Human Rights,” Deutsche Presse-agentur, 4/17/2001.
- Tamayo, op.cit.
- Gary A. Seidman, “Tough talk, Backed by oil,” MSNBC News Report, 2/16/2001.
- Tamayo, op.cit.
- Scott Wilson, “Chavez’s Unfinished Revolution,” The Washington Post, 5/21/2001.
- Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (York, PA: American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, 1993), p.173.