Chávez doubles down

Hugo Chávez’ statements of support for Gaddafi are very concerning in a leader with already-established authoritarian credentials, and speak to a concerning lack of perspective.

His latest statement, an offer to provide mediation to resolve the Libyan situation, similarly demonstrates that he’s beyond reason. Suggestions of independent mediation often have merit, and ‘talking cures’ can be useful in low-level disputes. The sentiments expressed — “a peaceful solution”; “the south finding solutions for the south” — are certainly noble. But while they have their place, mediation efforts like this are often more useful as face-saving devices permitting overcommitted leaders to engage in mutual de-escalation than to resolving a deep and genuine conflict such as exists in Libya. They are certainly of little use in situations where time is short and lives are being lost, and have rightly been condemned as wasteful procrastination in other cases, most notably in Palestine.

Moreover, if a ‘talking cure’ was the ticket, there exists an internationalist framework more robust, better-funded and for all its many flaws more independent than Chávez’ hastily-invented “international peace commission” — the United Nations, whose security council recently voted unanimously to impose sanctions on the Gaddafi regime, and to refer its leaders, including Gaddafi himself, to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. Chávez, for all his misgivings about the UN, and all his delusions about American imperialism, is no fool and no stranger to the norms of international democracy; he knows that his alternate commission has no chance of being taken seriously. This is an empty symbolic gesture of renewed solidarity with a dictator who has become the most — and perhaps the most justifiably — loathed leader in the world today.

Gaddafi, nevertheless, has accepted the offer, and Chávez, for his part, has admitted that given his prior support for the Libyan dictator, it would be “hypocritical of him to join the chorus of international condemnation of Gaddafi now”. Chávez has had an opportunity to clarify his earlier position of support, to repudiate it, or to use his relationship with Gaddafi to call for him to cease murdering his people. So far from doing so, he has doubled down, tying his international reputation and credibility to that of Muammar Gaddafi.

There will undoubtedly remain a few people who will defend him, or who will try to compartmentalise his good works from his bad, and make excuses for him, but to my mind Hugo Chávez is lost to the democratic left. He has showed that he values Gaddafi’s power, and its maintenance, higher than the lives and freedom of the ordinary citizens of Libya. In the most charitable analysis, he has shown that he considers mass civilian slaughter an acceptable price to pay to prevent Western imperialism — which we might know by its other name of ‘humanitarian intervention’. I see no reason to suppose that, push coming to shove, he would not take a similar view of his own citizens as cannon fodder in an ideological conflict.


20 thoughts on “Chávez doubles down

  1. Dang Lew, you are starting to sound like me! >>just joking, because I know and value your belief system<< You will annoy apologist Scott though. Phil: You are as rigid in your neocon views as Chavez is in his weird personalised anti-imperialism, so give us break. You defend Bush and Ceney, he defends Qaddafi. It may hurt, but for many in the world the parallels are true.

  2. Pablo – Gratuitous, given that you and Lew have not bothered to rebut my final comments on the biggest losers post.

    I have never (to my knowledge) defended Cheney. He is an example of the corporatist. Whilst admiring Rumsfeld style he is of the same ilk.

    What really sticks in my craw is the relativist morality.
    There were certain things that the US had to do in order to win the cold war. When they won that war the realpolitik logic of “at least he is our bastard” passed.

    Bush have understood and publicly promoted a basic standard of human morality. We are all entitled to self determination.

    What I find utterly incomprehensible is the left craven apologia for Stalin, communism and now dictators and Islamists.

    Lew is right about Chavez but he took a long time to get there.

  3. Phil, I have’t so much failed to rebut your arguments as given up on them.

    You imply that I took a long time to realise that Hugo Chávez was a dangerous authoritarian. It is true that I’ve only now condemned Chávez, and the reason for this is explained at some length in comments to the other post: while I’ve long held concerns, I’ve reserved judgement because he did a lot of good, and was at least initially a considerable improvement over his predecessors.

    You also take umbrage at Pablo’s suggestion you supported Cheney, but you don’t seem to have any compunctions about linking my reluctance to condemn Chávez until he’d actually done something egregious to “the left craven apologia for Stalin, communism and now dictators and Islamists”. You won’t find any writing of mine defending any of the sort; in fact, I come in for considerable criticism from most others on the left for my robust criticism, not only of explicit Stalinism, but of socialism in general, since socialist regimes in practice tend to lack robust mechanisms to prevent authoritarian capture.

    For that matter, I have no truck with the “our son of a bitch” line of reasoning which you claim was what “the US had to do in order to win the cold war”. I assume that since you refer obliquely to Nicaragua, you’re dandy with the rest of the obscene abuses which took place throughout Latin America under the watch of various American administrations. Give your other positions I wouldn’t find it at all surprising if you supported the most appalling of the American military authoritarians, Henry Kissinger, whose pronouncements on the fate of Indochina are pretty similar to Stalin’s famous line that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

    So, all that being said, who’s really got ‘basic standards of human morality’ on their side?


  4. Phil:

    If you think that W. Bush, Cheney and their minions, all of them war-dodger chicken hawks, are paragons of democracy promotion, suit yourself. But that does not appear to be what you are saying, which is a change n position on your part. But if that is so, do you really believe that W, was running the show?

    As for the criticism of Lew. That would be akin to you slamming me for doing a post that Hone is a non-Marxist racial bigot plying the grievance industry in order to secure broader and real Left support for political gain (given his family history).

    In other words, Lew primarily focuses on his preferred topics as I do mine. Does that mean his entry into a non “familiar” zone is “late” and thereby to be condemned? If I write a post critical of the maori party or their representatives did I step out of my station in your eyes?

  5. ‘There will undoubtedly remain a few people who will try to compartmentalise his good works from his bad’

    Surely I was arguing for the exactly opposite approach? Surely I was arguing that we needed to
    acknowledge that good and bad things can be done by the same government or movement, and that we needed to understand Chavez’s foreign policy, which undeniably has good as well as bad aspects, in relation to the sociology and history of the country he leads, the contradictions in his movement, and the geopolitical situation in which Venezuela finds itself? In other words, we needed a serious historical materialist analysis.

    Instead of doing that sort of analysis, you seem to have lost yourself in abstraction and psychologising. You’ve decided that Chavez has failed to measure up to your ideal of the ‘democratic left’ – an ideal that never seems to get elaborated, probably because it would be found incompatible with the behaviour of any real-life left-wing government – and now you’ve tried to explain this failure with reference to the poor man’s psychology. Apparently Chavez is ‘beyond reason’ – insane, in other words – and therefore we are relieved of the necessity of having to analyse his policies in a sensible fashion.

    My argument is that Chavez’s foreign policy is very familiar, and rooted in the problems of running a left-wing government in a Third World state besieged by imperialism.

    The key to Chavez’s movement, and to any interesting historical phenomenon, is contradiction.

    Chavez’s government pursues a contradictory foreign policy and a contradictory set of domestic policies.

    He has led the Latin American countries into taking an exemplary stand on the issue of Palestinian indepdendence, he was one of the few world leaders who dared to oppose the invasion of Afghanistan, and his government has been generous with aid. On the other hand he has given political support to dictators in places like Libya and Belarus and Iran and so on.

    At home Chavez’s government has nationalised many businesses, redistributed land and income – and helped, through its hyper-Keynesian policies and reluctance to oversee thoroughgoing nationalisations, to enrich layers of the bourgeoisie connected with the construction and finance industries. 70% of the Venezuelan economy is still controlled by the private sector.

    Where you lapse into the language of the US right and talk of Chavez being ‘beyond reason’, I tend to see his actions as consistent with the path trodden by radical left governments in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World over the past sixty years. There does seem to be a set of material, historically-determined pressures which push leaders as different as Castro and Allende and Morales in the same direction. They end up, whatever their initial intentions, in confronting their local bourgeoisie, aggrieving the US, and shopping about, often amongst less-than-pleasant regimes, for economic and political counterweights to the US and its local allies.

    It would be interesting to see you try to posit some sort of alternative to such an approach to foreign policy.

    The notion that all will be well if Chavez abandons his mates in Belarus and Iran and the like and learns to the love the ‘democratic’ nations of the First World is a joke, given the role of the US and its allies in continually trying to oust him, and the aggressive opposition of governments like Britain’s and Spain’s to the expropriation of their interests by the Bolivarians (the Brits didn’t like the nationalisation of swathes of empty land held by the Vestey beef barons, for example, and Blair gave his private blessing to the 2002 coup attempt against Chavez, according to the testimony of Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn).

    The Trotskyists on Chavez’s left flank connect the deficiencies in his foreign policy to his failure to ‘complete’ the revolution by nationalising all of the key sectors of the economy and putting workers and neighbourhood groups in control of the economy and of day to day political life. They make a parallel between his deals with certain local and multinational capitalist concerns he considers to be useful and his willingness to give political support to useful foreign dictators. I don’t know if this doesn’t make things too simple, but it is at least an attempt at analysis.

  6. Lew/Pablo – On your rebuttals of my grumpy one liner, I humbly back down and withdraw. It is unreasonable to expect me to read Lew condemning Chavez any earlier than he has done.

    With regard to your comments on my supposedly hardline views I do not have the time to engage now but have a post mulling in my mind as a follow up to the last one.

    Personally I rated Bush as the next president on the basis of his performance in Texas as governor and in particular when he gave a stump speech in Spanish. Long before he chose Cheney and Rumsfeld as running mate and for cabinet.

    I have never bought into the demonisation of George W and will not start now. Churchill had many flaws, but on balance he was good for the world. Two of his many aphorisms spring to mind now with regard to Cheney and Rumsfeld. “You can always rely on Americans to do the right thing… After they have exhausted every other avenue.” “Democracy is the worst of all systems, apart from all the others”.

    The Bush administration had many flaws but they are made the world a better place.

    As regards Kissinger and the South Americans I do not know enough of the context to condemn but certainly what I have read suggests the South Americans stepped far over the line.

    My reference to that “our bastard” line was more in sadness than any condemnation of yourselves. I have never found either of you to be vigorous apologists but was more having a general whinge at the left.

    It is sad to me that people such as yourselves reject the message of the Bush doctrine, purely because of the messenger. It could have been the start of genuine move towards world peace. We may be at the start of that now on the basis of what is happening in North Africa.

    Chavez was the beneficiary of that Bush doctrine when somebody in the Bush administration pulled back from support for the coup on realisation that it was inconsistent with American values.

    Has Chavez made his country a better place? Certainly not. He has unsustainably bribed his supporters in much the same way as Brown did with the UK. The price will be paid in the future. He could have achieved better outcomes by following the path of Lula in Brazil.

  7. Phil, thanks for your retraction. I continue to be bamboozled by your insistence on attributing every trend in recent foreign policy with which you agree to the Bush Doctrine. It looks like nothing more than appropriative partisan revisionism. Anyway, we’ve had that argument and no doubt will again, and it’s hardly on-topic in the context of this post.

    Scott, I think you’re trying to have it both ways. You still haven’t actually defended Chávez’ support for Gaddafi, which is heartening, although you have declared it consistent with his overall (contradictory) foreign policy and seem to be giving him a pass on this basis. You’ve made that ‘it’s contradictory’ argument several times and I agree with its reasoning. But what I don’t get is how this somehow excuses his misdeeds. After all, the worst dictators in modern history all did some good. Stalin industrialised Russia and defeated the Nazis on the eastern front, but this doesn’t excuse the gulag archipelago or the holomodor.

    What I suspect is that you consider Chávez’ misdeeds to be relatively insignificant. Though you haven’t actually come out and said this, your comments have tended to minimise them, framing them as ‘imperfections’. You compare the support for Gaddafi to lesser misdeeds of other world leaders, and you mischaracterise my arguments, presenting straw-man counters like ‘the language of the US right’ when I point out how far out on the margins Chávez’ statements place him, and you suggest that by hoping he might perhaps not support a murderous military-authoritarian regime in the middle of an egregious slaughter, I expect him to fall in line behind the US and his other ideological opponents. Your tolerance for authoritarianism in service of anti-imperialist goals might be higher than mine, but this is an enormous misrepresentation.

    I’m not arguing that Chávez has done anything on remotely the same scale as Stalin, of course, but the point I’m trying to make is that when a leader with established authoritarian tendencies signals approval for violent repression, his good works are a bit irrelevant. In my view it’s reasonable to simply rule Chávez out of serious consideration as a democratic left leader, and it’s not really necessary to ‘weigh’ his good deeds against his bad in order to do so. Wholesale civilian slaughter is a powerful trump. (Chávez and his regime are still worth studying, of course — but not as a model for the democratic left.)

    I suppose the question is: if support for a dictator deploying the air force to bomb civilians doesn’t disqualify a leader with demonstrated authoritarian tendencies from being a potential model for the democratic left, what does? Doesn’t it render the definition of a ‘democratic left’ meaningless if people like Chávez are included?


  8. The ‘Trotskyists’ Scott refers to are no different to those who threw their lot in with Peron all those years ago e.g. the Morenoites. They never learn mainly because they don’t pay the price of their errors. They put faith in the red generals not the people to make the revolution. And they have no excuse for appropriating Trotsky’s name, as he explained this phenomenon as ‘Bonapartism sui generis’ in the 1930s. The masses cannot pressure such ‘red generals’ to make socialist revolution since these latter are committed to maintaining class unity in negotiating with imperialism. As Scott points out its not about the man, but the class interests. Shame that he reduces class struggle to the sociology of size and weight.

  9. Gaddafi (and latterly his offspring) had radical chic status for a bit with his tents and female entourage when he visited Tony Blair and various celeb entertainers, who are now backtracking at warp speed from their involvement with the family.

    A union colleague of mine spent some personal time with Gaddafi at a non aligned movement conference in the early 80s. The colonel promised all sorts of support for NZ unions in dealing with the local reps of the ‘oil barons’ whose transfer pricing tactic pre modern globalisation was a hot issue in those days. Mr Gaddafi clearly had a tenuous grip on reality we said to our colleague on his return, did he even know where New Zealand was?

    And such is the hot air of international solidarity sometimes. Chavez’s utterances should not be taken too seriously in the scheme of things. Unless he somehow helps facilitate Gaddaffi’s departure from Lybia his reputation will be further trashed in most quarters. Chavez’s useful involvement would be unlikely for two reasons: Lybias neighbours would not want to go there and surely a reasonable pre condition for talks, to stop killing people, would not be agreed to by Gaddafi.

    The annoying thing for the US, and Venezuelan comprador capitalists is that due to his domestic wealth channeling initiatives Chavez has a strong support base whatever one might think about his constitution wrangling and wayward blowhard persona. And while it is not perhaps useful to say “they do it too” about the US, remember chads anyone? or Mrs Clinton standing for pressie too? Legitimacy should not just have to apply to the left.

    When the US was bombing Libya in 1986 I gave qualified support to Lybia, the worlds imperialist policeman was at it again. But I cannot now defend the indefensible and Gaddafi obviously must go.

    So this post really distills down to another bang the drum slowly slander against the concept of socialism from Lew. And before anyone dares use the the words true or scotsman, Venezuela is not currently what I would term a socialist country.

  10. They never are, TM, they never are.

    Your point about the ‘hot air of international solidarity’ is fair, but I’m inclined to take international leaders at their words. If they want to back down or change their tune, or if their actions don’t match their language — in Chávez’ case, they certainly don’t — then that’s all cause for reconsideration. But my fundamental point (which isn’t about socialism, it’s about authoritarianism) holds.

    Your references to US constitutional wrangling is, I think, a bit of false equivalence. Yes, the hanging chads were a legitimate concern, but the complaint about Hillary Clinton standing for president — as if, what, she would continue her husband’s reign, eight years later in a radically different world? — simply doesn’t hold. And the one overarching difference between mature liberal democracies (and the US democracy is perhaps mature to the point of senility) is that oversight mechanisms exist, whereas the same can’t be said of newly-democratised states where populist leaders have set about dismantling the mechanisms of accountability.

    Just recently, the Alba group — including Bolivia — have joined Chávez’ hare-brained “international peace commission”, so Morales is also on the hook. While I don’t have the same concerns of authoritarianism about Morales as I do about Chávez, this is disappointing but predictable. Aside from these, and Berlusconi, I think it is Tony Blair who has come out looking the worst from these North African uprisings — ten days before Hosni Mubarak resigned, and while the Egyptian uprising was still well underway, Blair called him “immensely courageous and a force for good”, words which, if there’s any justice, will be recalled at his funeral. His position regarding Gaddafi is marginally better — he has apparently called to urge the Libyan to lay down his arms — but let us not forget that he sold Gaddafi at least some of those arms in the first place.


  11. On a slightly different note, the LSE has come off extremely bad in all of this. Gave a Ph.D. to Saif al-Gaddafi whose thesis is now being investigated as possibly plagarised and took hundreds of thousands of pounds in Libyan money while Saif was a “student” there. The Dean has had to resign and more heads could roll if it is proven that his supervisors and assessors knew about the plagarism (and if not, they should have caught it and flunked him).

    This is the sort of stuff I would expect from Auckland U. But the LSE? Geez.

  12. Scott upthread reckoned “we needed a serious historical materialist analysis” and fair enough too.

    But Pablo’s LSE update and the Alba/IPC thing I have been following online will do me for this afternoon!

  13. Hugh, yeah, fair enough; I should say “when they’re making idiots of themselves, I’m disinclined to make generous inferences”.


  14. La propuesta de Chavez para amigo Lew no es de apoyo a Kadaffy es en apoyo a pueblo Libio que en definitiva tomara las decisiones que a bien tenga en aras de la paz, ademas Chavez personalmente no se encargara de negociaciones ya se menciono a Jimmy Carter, y a Lula, para ponerse al frente de un equipo negociador.
    Extraño mundo este en que los premios Nobel de la Paz hacen Guerra y los “Dictadores” hablan de Paz, tal vez necesites cambiar de agencias de noticias para informarse mejor acerca de quien es Chavez y el pueblo de Venezuela.
    Por otro lado una intervencion armada de USA y Otan dejaria mas muertos que la guerra civil en curso ademas desestabilizaria toda la zona africana y europea.

  15. Euddi:

    Hay que dejar la propaganda Chavista atras. Gaddafi es un asesino y esto no es un asunto de luchar contra el imperialismo yanqui. La propuesta de Chavez–algo que no tiene el apoyo del pueblo Venezolano en su majoria, quienes no fueron consultados sobre el asunto–es claramente dirigida a resbaldar al tirano y darle un espacio de maniobra en frente de lo que es, obviamente, una lucha popular para derrocarlo.

    Esta situacion no fue iniciado por los yanqusi, ni los ingeleses, ni los franceses, ni mucho menos el gobierno Italiano. Esto es una rebellion spontanea, autoctona, y basada en la voluntad de un pueblo largamente oprimido. Hay que respetarlo y trabajar para una transicion pacifica de poder. El reino de Gaddafi se acabo, con o sin intervencion foranea.

    Y si Chavez no cambia de direccion en el futuro imediato, esto sera su futuro tambien.

  16. Eso no lo discuto que sera el pueblo Libio quien decidira no se trata de defender a Gadafi se trata de que logren el entendimiento si gadafi se va o se queda es asunto de Libios, Por otra parte si le reconoces al pueblo libio su decision se sacar a gadafi debes reconocerle al pueblo de Venezuela su decision por Chavez, es una situacion igual.

  17. Sobre este tema, estamos de acuerdo Euudi.

    Encuanto a lo que yo y la buena gente de KP deseamos (sin consultar a Lew): idealmente, socialismo democratico si, autoritarismo de cualquier indole, no.

  18. estoy de acuerdo socialismo democratico, es un mal el que tenemos los que podemos mirar mas alla de los años porque lo que yo veo es que el capitalismo y consumismo agresivo tiene los dias contados cuanto tiempo pasara? una decada dos? no se pero ya se siente los estertores y en libia, portugal, grecia, egipto, tunes etc ya estan viendo los efectos. En egipto y tunes libia no se daban cuenta que tenian dictadura hasta que no empezaron a sentirla en sus estomagos y por mas revolucion que hagan creo que el futuro no les depara algo muchisimo mejor a lo que ya tenian. un saludo

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