Hugo ChÃ¡vez’ 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 ChÃ¡vez’ 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. ChÃ¡vez, 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 ChÃ¡vez, 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”. ChÃ¡vez 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 ChÃ¡vez 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.