Chavez's fear of the truth

Thor Halvorssen:

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Calling "world dictator" George Bush the "devil" over and over again, he discussed everything from CIA plots to assassinate him to how he - along with Cuba, Iran and the non-aligned countries - will save the world from imperialist doom.

Chavez has said the United States is "afraid of truth, is afraid of independent voices," yet Chavez has suffocated all dissent in his own backyard. Beyond rewriting the Constitution to bolster his legal power, he's passed a law banning "the use of language deemed to be insulting to the President of the Republic."

Indeed, any expression of dissent, public or in private, against any public official is punishable with prison.

Francisco Usón - a former minister in Chavez's own Cabinet - recently drew a six-year jail term for expressing an opinion on television. Carlos Ortega - the president of Venezuela's AFL-CIO-affiliated federation of workers - got a 16-year sentence for instigating a legal strike despite protests by the International Labor Organization of this unspeakable violation of human rights. (Ortega escaped from prison last month.)

Chavez claimed yesterday that the United States protects terrorism while his own government is "fully committed to combating terrorism and violence." In fact, Chavez has demonstrably protected and armed the FARC terrorists of next-door Colombia. (He's also presided during the greatest crime wave in Venezuelan history, with a death toll exponentially larger than any previous government's.)

Chavez denounced capitalism as the generator of "mere poverty." Yet, thanks to a capitalist oil boom, he has profited from the richest Venezuelan government in history - but squandered its wealth on a new Venezuelan oligarchy of petro-millionaires masquerading as government officials. Meanwhile, misery and malnutrition are at a historic high.

Chavez railed against Western-style democracy. Yet it was western style democracy that brought him into power (after his own armed coup failed) and may remove him in the end. This is why he does everything he can to hollow and weaken democratic institutions.

He has frequently praised the "participatory" models of Libya, North Korea and Cuba as ideal forms of government - countries where rulers, accountable to no one, torture, imprison and murder their opponents.

As for his references to peace and world understanding, well: The Venezuelan leader has increased military spending to $10 billion a year, dwarfing all social programs, education and health budgets - and vastly above the nation's previous arms spending. He's bought 100,000 automatic assault rifles, 53 Mi-35 assault helicopters and several supersonic fighter-bombers from Russia, as well as transport planes, patrol boats and speedboats from Spain. He has also signed an agreement with Russia to build Latin American's first-ever Kalashnikov factory.

The worst may be his roars about the threat of imperialism - for, in Latin America, Hugo Chavez is the face of modern imperialism. Chavez's grants to Fidel Castro alone are larger than all United States aid packages in the Americas. He helped get coca-grower Evo Morales elected president of Bolivia. He is putting Venezuelan oil cash behind Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

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He is a man that needs to be defeated at the ballot box or otherwise. His irrational hatred of the US and President Bush is part of a pathology that is dnagerous to his country himself and the world. He is squandering his cash windfall from being born in a country with oil under it. He is the new model for the Noam Chomsky's of the world. He is the western version of the preachers of hate.

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