Hugo is My Kind of Guy

          It really discourages me to hear ordinarily intelligent and aware people parrot the bushman-neocon-mainstream-media line on Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Makes you wonder if there really is hope in the world. I recently heard him referred to as a dictator. He's won three elections fair and square – a lot more than can be said of the bushman. The last, a referendum on his presidency, was won by a wide margin. Moreover, his party also holds a large majority in Venezuela's legislature. This in spite of millions of CIA dollars spent to try to defeat him, not to mention the major support given to the short-lived 2002 coup. In that case, the groundswell in his support was so strong he was back in office in 48 hours. 

          By any standard, the country's press is one of the freest in the region. In fact, it's almost universally and vehemently opposed to him, yet he's done nothing, to my knowledge, to restrict or intimidate the press. The Latin countries are noted for great disparity in income. Hugo, as a populist, raises the extreme ire of the ruling classes. How is it we progressives have allowed the establishment to turn populism into a pejorative word?

          Is it really such a terrible thing that he has used Venezuela's oil wealth to teach millions of people how to read and write? Or that he has brought 30,000 Cuban doctors into the villages and barrios to provide previously non-existent health care? Is it really imperative, as in the US, that government only feed the rich and powerful? Imagine what would happen in the US if it had a leader willing to stand up for the rights of all; who desired to spend a little money on the needs of the people at large? Instead what it's come to is that Americans of all political stripes have become slavish mimickers of neocon diatribes against one of the best things to happen to Latin America in a long time. 

          Of course, I know how much it needles the US establishment that he's providing below market cost heating oil to poor Americans as well as many people in the Caribbean. America's wingnut congress is much more comfortable giving huge tax breaks to the oil giants at a time when they are reporting all time record profits. This concurrently with cutting back on all types of benefits to low income Americans.

          Probably they hate him most because he doesn't cower before the mighty US hegemon. In fact, he's set off a movement that's turned nearly every country in South America to the left. A short time ago it was Evo Morales of Bolivia, first leader of indigenous background in a country which is 70% native American. Several presidents have been driven from power in Bolivia in recent years. One case was precipitated by the forced privatization of the city of Cochabamba's water system by the International Monetary Fund. The multinational in question tripled water rates causing a peasant revolt which promptly drove out the multinational and crashed the government of the sitting president.  

          Does it make sense for water, the most essential ingredient of survival, to be sold as a free market commodity? Subject to the gods of profit above all? The point that government operations, especially in developing countries, tend to be poorly and inefficiently run is well taken; still, the idea that citizens should be denied clean drinking water because they can't afford it is an indicator of the callous, heartless nature of current political thinking. Who can argue with the idea that all should pay their share? But how can it be if they have nothing to pay with?

          Moreover, just as otherwise thoughtful people mindlessly disparage Hugo Chavez, this political worldview is not limited to conservatives. Rampant corporate globalization is an essential part of the developed world's motivation. Outside of the Seattle radical fringe, savage capitalism, in the guise of free tra and globalization, is mainstream, at least in the rich world.

          Fortunately, the developing countries have revolted and put a halt to further so-called trade liberalization until their needs are included. And in fact it can be argued that it's in the rich countries' interest to do right by the poor. The current debate on immigration in America is a case in point. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Area, opened Mexico to cheap subsidized corn from the US. This flooded the market and drove more than a million farmers, who could not compete, from their land. Many found their way across the border. Many others migrated to Mexican cities and into already overburdened slums to add to that country's already monumental social problems.    

          Now Evo Morales is trying to follow in Hugo's footsteps by reserving Bolivia's natural wealth for its citizens. He also is pointedly staying on as president of the local coca growers association. The new president of Peru also wants to legalize the cultivation of coca for local use. This to me is extremely important for the health and stability of the region, for whatever damage might accrue to the US from the cocaine trade, the harm to developing countries where it is produced is far worse.

          What poor country's law enforcement establishment can vie with drug cartels that literally have billions of dollars at their disposal? How can it benefit  the cocaine producers – Columbia, Peru, Bolivia – to have their land and people poisoned with the aerial spraying of dangerous herbicides? No matter how bad the drug may be for the individual it can't be that much worse than perfectly legal booze. Moreover, as society's experience with tobacco has shown, education and social opprobrium works just fine to minimize use of harmful substances. When I was growing up nearly 70% of Americans smoked, now it's gone down to about 27%.          

          Prohibition never works except to fill prisons and expand resources of law enforcement and provide huge profits to the criminal underworld. (Actually, prohibition of pot has been a boon to hip communities all across America. The Oregon crop is said to be more valuable than the three largest legitimate crops combined.) Most important to me, these countries are no longer kowtowing to the monster of the north.

          Moreover, most of the countries that have become, or are becoming, developed and successful in the past few decades – Korea, Malaysia, for instance – have done it with protectionism and industrial policies of promoting and supporting favored industries, not neocon style free trade designed for the exclusive benefit of multinational corporations.         

          The developing countries have finally caught on to the shafting they've been getting and Hugo's leadership in providing for citizens first has helped mightily to change the debate. Viva Hugo!