In Perspective: Hugo’s Anti-Americanism
Hugo Chavez’s America-bashing rant at the U.N. stems from Venezuela's dysfunctional oil culture. To understand Chavez, stop thinking of Venezuela as a Latin American country. It has more in common with the Middle East.
UPDATE: See Thomas Lifson's comments on this article at The American Thinker.
By DAVID PAULIN
Hugo Chavez’s bizarre anti-American rant at the United Nations has got Americans asking, “What makes Chavez tick?”
To understand him, stop thinking of oil-producing Venezuela as a Latin American country. Think of it as a dysfunctional Middle Eastern petro-state. Doing that is the key to understanding Chavez and Venezuela.
Many oil-rich Arabs have a sense of cultural superiority and entitlement. So do many Venezuelans: Chavez is one of them. The 52-year-old former Army lieutenant colonel grew up during Venezuela's oil boom years in the 1970s. That’s when the South American nation seemed poised to attain First World status; or so many Venezuelans thought in the era of "Saudi Venezuela."
Chavez and most Venezuelans still entertain the notion that God blessed Venezuelans with fabulous oil wealth. Indeed, they regard themselves as special because of this. Yet 80 percent of 25 million Venezuelans live in poverty and endure rampant crime and corruption. These indices appear to have worsened under Chavez's administration – all of which Chavez denies.
Venezuela’s oil wealth can no longer pay the bills as it did in the 1970s, when Venezuela had half the population as today, and significantly less debt and fewer social problems. Yet the myth of Venezuela’s oil wealth persists. Ultimately, it’s a source of Chavez’s inner conflict – and his anti-Americanism.
Like many Venezuelans, Chavez grapples with this contradiction – the myth of Venezuela’s oil wealth and reality of its poverty. And like many Venezuelans, Chavez blames outsiders for the country’s mess – gringos, oligarchs, whomever. He blames everybody, in short, except decades of statist polices and corruption that have been Venezuela’s undoing over the years. Chavez has continued to follow these policies while attacking the nation’s democratic institutions, press, and civic organizations.
As Chavez blames Third World poverty on everybody but the Third World, he has done little himself to address his own country’s monumental problems. His anti-poverty efforts amount to a patchwork of populist programs. They ensure his popularity. But they fail to form a comprehensive poverty-reduction program, promoting growth and diversifying the oil-dependent economy.
When Chavez bashes America and calls President Bush “the devil,” one also must hold up a harsh light to Venezuela. The oil-producing country survives on its oil revenues. It imports much of what it needs; and it creates very few of its own goods and services -- at least not any that most Venezuelans would want.
Until the mid-1990s, for instance, Venezuela’s phone system barely worked -- until the gringos at GTE Corp. took over, broke up corrupt unions, dismissed inept and elitist Venezuelan managers, and got the system up and running in a few short years. These gringos grate on the nerves of proud Venezuelans like Chavez. Deep down, however, Chavez must realize that Venezuela could never have accomplished anything like this on its own. No doubt, Chavez would prefer the inconvenience of lousy phone service rather than letting the gringos show him up.
A prominent Venezuelan sociologist once told me that many Venezuelans “are like the guy who should have made it but didn’t.” They're unable, he said, to accept responsibility for personal and collective failures. Instead, they blame others.
In Chavez’s case, he blames America. It’s a natural target. After all, for all his anti-American bluster, America is still the standard by which many Venezuelans judge themselves. In doing so, they are shamed at the thought that, for all their sense of entitlement, they could never match the Americans in respect to their management savvy, creativity, and smarts.
Ultimately, Chavez and Venezuelans like him want attention. They want to be players on the global stage. Oil wealth, they figure, entitles them to this.
Chavez’s anti-Americanism, moreover, achieves the recognition he never could attain by providing mundane things such as decent public services, crime control, and serious anti-poverty programs. It’s no wonder that Chavez gets along so well with oil-rich Middle Eastern thugs, who also are adept at the blame game, as they accuse Israel, America, or whatever they can come up with to excuse their dysfunction.
No wonder so many Third World delegates in the U.N. applauded Chavez's anti-American rant. They, like Chavez, find it easier to blame America than to accept responsibility for their personal and collective failures.
Author's note: This article received minor copyediting after it was posted. There were no factual changes; however, the expression "Saudi Venezuela" was inserted in one sentence.