Thursday, March 14, 2013

“Chavez – A Morality Tale”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Chavez – A Morality Tale”
March 15, 2013

Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool some of the people all the time…” That explains, in part, the willingness of so many of the poor in Venezuela and elsewhere in South America to support a man who promised so much, yet did so little. South Americans were not alone. Many in the United States fell for the same lies. There are appealing characteristics common to men like Hugo Chavez. They are typically charismatic, with great speaking skills. They are capable of empathizing with those they are speaking. While such men harbor grandiose visions of themselves in an historical context, they in fact do not prepare for the future. Their minds are filled with their own self-importance, effectively crowding out any moral sense.

The United Nations, an organization that too often ignores the backgrounds of men like Chavez, noted that Venezuela has the lowest rate of income inequality – the smallest gap between rich and poor – in Latin America. What they did not state was that it had come at the expense of economic growth, and that growing poverty was endemic. Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations said that while Chavez gave a third of the population a sense that they mattered, “he destroyed the village in order to rebuild it, taking property, spending oil money without reinvesting, mismanaging the resources.” David Smilde a sociologist with the University of Georgia and who lives in Venezuela pointed out that the crime rate has risen, as has inflation. The Venezuelan Bolivar has fallen 87% against the Dollar since Chavez came to power in 1999. During his years in office, oil production shrunk by a quarter. Smilde adds that power and food shortages are derailing economic growth. He writes, “Chavez did improve people’s lives economically. He didn’t necessarily improve people’s economic future, because a lot of things he did aren’t sustainable.” It reminds one of politicians in the U.S. who forego the future to satisfy the present. Vote for me now and I’ll give you what you want. Let the kids pay for it in the morning.

Many Americans were taken in by this thug. “Useful idiots” was a term coined by Vladimir Lenin in the early 1920s. He used it to describe those in the West who blindly and/or naively supported Soviet Communism and the Russian Revolution of 1917. While he allegedly held such credulous people in contempt, he found them useful in spreading his message. “Useful idiots” is an expression that fits Americans like Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, and Michael Moore. Upon his death, they all lavished praise on the brute. In the 1920s and ‘30s many professors and intellectuals from elite universities fell in love with Lenin, Stalin and the experiment with Communism in Russia. They turned blind eyes to the gulags and the throttling of dissent. When visiting Russia, they were prevented from seeing the hunger, poverty and prisons, all of which were ubiquitous. Those from America visiting Venezuela today are just as blind as had been their forbearers three generations earlier.

Other American supporters, like former Representative Joe Kennedy, used their relationships with Chavez to make money. Kennedy imported low priced oil for purposes of providing 20 million gallons of heating oil to 200,000 needy households in 25 states. Chavez, for reasons of propaganda, was willing to sell him oil at a discount. The transactions were conducted through clever combinations of not-for-profit and for-profit companies. Demonstrating he was still a Kennedy, the former Congressman was able to extract over $1 million in annual compensation for himself and his wife.

Venezuela’s economy is oil based. When Chavez became President in 1999, oil was selling below $9 a barrel. Today it is ten times higher, closing Thursday at $93.24. In 2000, the country was the world’s 7th largest producer. Today it ranks 12th; yet it is the 2nd in terms of proved reserves with 211.2 billion barrels. As mentioned earlier, Venezuela’s annual oil production has shrunk since Chavez took office. Norway and Iran are the only other major producers whose production has shrunk over the last decade. Even Iraq is back to where they had been in 2000. The decline in production is testament to a failure to invest, and a consequence of nationalization. Mr. Chavez saw his nation’s oil riches as a cash cow, to be milked with no concern about tomorrow. Again, there is a moral for us in the tale of Chavez. That attitude of ignoring future problems is endemic to politicians who ignore the rumblings from our underfunded entitlements.

Chavez was an autocrat and a thug who may or may not have been elected democratically. Not surprisingly, Jimmy Carter thinks otherwise. Last fall he described the Venezuelan elections in typical Carterese: “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” Following the election, Mr. Chavez confirmed Fidel Castro’s opinion of our 39th President, as a man of “honor.” In admiring the election process in Caracas, Mr. Carter stepped even deeper into the pile of manure that was already overflowing his boots when he added that in the U.S. “we have one of the worst election processes in the world.” Keep in mind, Hitler was elected democratically by a process I feel sure Mr. Carter would have sanctioned and admired. In the world of the Chavez’s there is no shortage of “useful idiots.”

It is power that people like Chavez, Castro and Hitler crave. They may speak warmly of the poor and meaningfully of the disenfranchised, but it is all for the sake of personal power. These leaders do not invest for the future. Hitler built a war machine that was unparalleled. He intended to use it to destroy Europe. He very nearly succeeded. Chavez was not as evil as Hitler, but he did nothing to help Venezuelans prepare for the future, refusing to invest in education and hospitals. Incredibly, in the desire for immediate cash he largely wasted a phenomenal natural resource.

His hatred for the United States and for what it stands was palpable. It was also what likely appealed to those great patriots like Sean Penn and Oliver Stone. Chavez’s hatred knew neither decency nor respect. President George W. Bush was a “devil;” President Obama a “clown” and “an embarrassment.” While it is too early to tell, the same attitude seemingly has inflicted his Vice President (now President), Nicolás Maduro. Mr. Maduro blames Americans for deliberately implanting cancerous tumors into Mr. Chavez. Yet despite his rants, the Administration turned the other cheek and dispatched two men to represent the United States – Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York and William Delahunt, a former Congressman from Massachusetts. Admittedly (and appropriately), they are both quacks.

In the end, all may not be lost. Lincoln concluded his statement: “…but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” It is that promise that keeps us going.

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