The life and death of Hugo Chavez
A man who in death could bring as much pain to his opponents as he did in life - if we let him
Writing in Slate magazine in August 2010, the late Christopher Hitchens recalls for us his memories of a trip to Venezuela, where he and others were invited as the guests of Sean Penn in order to witness Hugo ‘the boss’ Chavez at political rallies across the country.
Most notable to my mind from these recollections was not the fact that Chavez seemed to have an indefatigable ability to rant about his long-dead hero Simon Bolivar, nor was it particularly the story of Chavez exhuming Bolivar’s corpse and the subsequent invocation to Christ about the restaging of the raising of Lazarus.
Instead, what I remember most lucidly from Hitch’s article was the blatant madness with which Hugo Chavez operated as the President of Venezuela. Not alone in the world in operating a necrocratic, or necrocratic-esque dictatorship, Chavez shared many traits with the worst tyrants of the world. Evil was certainly one of them. Unhinged lunacy was another.
Chavez was, as we know from his coup attempt in 1992 and more recent cementation of power around him and his cronies, obsessed with the subjugation of his own people beneath him. Many often forget to what extent this is true. I have myself seen classified documents that appear to show Chavez’s plans for military deployment in the unlikely event that his vote-rigging in the 2012 election went wrong. This information extends to the telephone numbers of individual generals and commanders and shows how he planned to take his nation under (presumably ‘Bolivarian’) marshall-law.
Chavez’s ideas were that of a basement-dwelling conspiracy theorist. Even when offered lifelines on such issues, Hitch reminds us, he opted out of sanity.
Commenting on US imperialism and Osama Bin Laden during the 2008 visit, Chavez is reported to have been interrupted by his great admirer Sean Penn, who insisted that the Venezuelan president would surely be happy to see the arrest of Bin Laden. Not so, apparently:
“I don’t know anything about Osama Bin Laden,” said Chavez, “that doesn’t come to me through the filter of the West and its propaganda”.
Penn apparently tried again, citing video of Bin Laden provided by the Al-Qaeda leader himself. Chavez shot back, smug in his ignorance, “there is film of the Americans landing on the moon… does that mean the moon shot really happened? In the film, the Yanqui flag is flying straight out. So, is there wind on the moon?”
Awkwardness ensued. Hitch summarised, “Chavez, in other words, is very close to the climactic moment when he will announce that he is a poached egg and that he requires a very large piece of buttered toast so that he can lie down and take a soothing nap.”
Eventually, almost three years after the initial words were written, that egg is finally being laid to rest.
Hugo Chavez must be remembered for what he inflicted upon the people of Venezuela – and the Sean Penns of the world must not be allowed to romanticize this memory.
There lies a former leader of the Venezuelan people who terrorised them for expressing political dissent or opposition. Chavez routinely employed state-sponsored bully tactics to suppress oppositionists, resorting to violence and intimidation at almost every turn.
On the international stage, he was a man who cosied up to tyrants like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Colonel Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe. How embarrassing for Britain that we have done similar in the past and, that still today, legitimately elected officials in Great Britain support the menace’s self-appointed raison-d’etre: Bolivarian socialism forced upon the Venezuelan people.
For those concerned with political and basic human freedoms for the Venezuelan people (all of us, I hope), it is imperative that Chavez’s successors are neither as mad, nor as evil as Hugo Chavez was. Whichever of this heinous character traits came first is a chicken and egg question. Many in the dead man’s homeland will be grateful however that this poached egg, as Hitch put it, has now been laid to rest on his very large piece of buttered toast.
I sincerely hope that two hundred years from now, no one sees fit to exhume his bones as he did Simon Bolivar’s - for the sake of reverence, and the insane appeal for the restaging of the resurrection of Lazarus.
Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator.
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