Carlo’s Corner: Hugo Chavez, the highly unique dictator

In a unique mark of respect for a dictator, government buildings in Venezuela are covered in letters to Chavez. (Photo: Ryan Mal

Venezuela’s socialist president, Hugo Chavez, died on March 5, and if there is one thing we can take away from coverage in the Western mainstream media is there is now one less dictator threatening the free world.

Sure, on the surface, Chavez didn’t really seem like much of a dictator, what with the whole coming to power through free elections and encouraging unprecedented political participation by ordinary citizens thing. But it is just like those serial killers whose neighbours always say seemed so nice until the horrible truth came out.

Sure, when Chavez died, Latin American governments all offered their heartfelt condolences, but it can’t be long now before we see them being interviewed on the news, looking shocked and saying: “And he always seemed such a great bloke, keeping himself busy winning all those elections. And always so willing to help out around the neighbourhood, offering subsidised oil to break the price gouging US corporations and offering his help to negotiate a solution to Colombia’s decades-long civil war and then when Haiti had that terrible earthquake, there he was, cancelling all of Haiti’s debt in a gesture of solidarity.

“And it turns out all along he ran an ‘oil dictatorship’? It just shows you never can tell, but still, if the Wall Street Journal says it’s so, well there you are.”

Britain’s Independent editorialised on March 6: “Mr Chavez was no run of the mill dictator.” And that is certainly true, what with his movement winning 15 out of 16 electoral contests held since 1998 and peacefully accepting defeat when the 2007 constitutional referendum was lost. That does make Chavez quite unique in the pantheon of modern dictators.

It must be quite awkward for Chavez at “dead dictator get-togethers” when others in the gang ask him how many opponents he killed or dissident movements he crushed and all he can say is, “Well, I did come out with some strong words against the counter-revolutionaries in my speeches”. You can just imagine the embarrassed silence, before Stalin butts in with, “Well, no matter, let me tell you all about my Great Purges again!”

Still, there were all those private media outlets he had closed like ... ah ... um ... there was ... oh ... hang on, I am sure there was at least one ... Oh I know! Private TV channel RCTV! Of course, the media giant, owned by one of Venezuela's richest men, wasn’t actually closed, as such, and is still broadcasting in Venezuela. Nonetheless, when RCTV's 20-year licence to use a government-owned broadcasting frequency expired in 2007, the government chose not to renew it, instead setting the frequency aside for a new community-based channel.

And the decision to not renew the billionaire Marcel Grainer's licence was made simply because, during the preceding 20 years, RCTV had been fined hundreds of times for breaking Venezuelan broadcasting law, refused to pay its taxes and then, in 2002, played a key role in helping organise a military coup that briefly overthrew Chavez's elected government and installed the head of the chamber of commerce as dictator. I mean, talk about petty.

A New York Times editorial provided another angle again, writing that, “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator”. The brilliant thing about that argument is it needs no proof. Unable to show Chavez was in any way a dictator, the NYT just claims that, nonetheless, he really wanted to be, blocked only by some unseen force.

I might as well claim the NYT editors are would-be baby eaters, only they just haven't found the right marinade sauce yet.

But more important is the date of that NYT editorial: April 13, 2002. When the editors wrote the piece, Chavez had been kidnapped in a US-backed military coup and a junta had seized power. Unfortunately for the NYT's editors, the day they published their attack on Chavez, a mass uprising of the poor overthrew the new regime and restored the democratically elected president. Whose name was Hugo Chavez.

Now consider the actions of the coup junta the NYT claimed was defending democracy (the editors were forced to run an apology for making such claims, pleading ignorance as their excuse).

Having overthrown the elected president, the coup plotters installed the head of the chamber of commerce, Pedro Carmona, who proceeded to abolish the constitution, and dissolve the Supreme Court, the elected National Assembly and a raft of pro-poor laws -- all while the police under the coup plotters' control shot dead more than 60 people protesting for Chavez's return and security forces hunted down leading members of Chavez's government and movement, who were forced into hiding.

And this happened in a mere 47 hours. Perhaps Western press editors need to look up the word “dictatorship” in a dictionary. And then, “irony”.

Of course, it could be that the Western press has simply confused the word “dictator” with “opposes Western corporations raping their nation”. That would explain an enormous lot.

Read more Carlo's Corner here.