Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Worse Than a Bad Movie

What can you say about a guy who tries to free hostages, a guy who brings affordable heating oil to poor people?

What can you say? What you can say about Hugo Chávez is that you are on to him.

A few days ago the Venezuelan president mounted a media circus in neighboring Colombia, where he bragged he was going to convince his left-wing comrades in the terrorist Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, known by their Spanish acronym FARC, to release three hostages (including a three-year-old child) they have held for years

Along for the ride were former Argentinean president (and current First Husband) Néstor Kirchner, a Brazilian official with close ties to president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, the French ambassador in Caracas, the Cuban ambassador in Caracas, and a pretty ugly American named Oliver Stone.

Yes, him. He was hoping, of course, to humbly be of help in Chávez’s humanitarian gesture.

Besides, “I have no illusions about the FARC,” he told reporters, “ but it looks like they are a peasant army fighting for a decent living.”

No illusions, mind you. Just a heroic army of the Little People fighting for what’s right. Even if they kill, main and kidnap a few thousand innocents. Sort of like Al-Qaeda, right? Didn’t Oliver compare Al-Qaeda to the Minutemen of 1776? No? Ooops, no, that was Michael Moore. Sorry, I sometimes confuse which Hollywood director who admires Fidel Castro said what about whom.

One thing for sure, the celebs are not missing a beat as Fidel slowly makes his transition from this world to the other—they are learning to heap praises on his disciple Hugo.

A “great man,” Stone called Chávez

“One of the Earth's wisest people,” he once said of Castro.

Here in the United States, Chávez’s greatness is being sung by Joe Kennedy, son of Bobby, who is appearing in television and radio commercials thanking CITGO, the government-owned Venezuelan oil company, for providing millions of barrels of discounted heating oil to impoverished Americans.

It’s how Chávez sets himself up: the liberator of hostages, the provider of warmth. Freedom and security. What more could anybody want?

Maybe, “socialism or death.”
That’s the slogan in Chávez’s Venezuela, as well as in Castro’s Cuba. And they do not mean Euro-socialism, either. They mean hard-line Marxism-Leninism. They are saying, in essence, that Cubans and Venezuelans either accept a one-party state without freedom of speech, or they die. It’s an ideology Castro tried to spread through force of arms in the 1960s and 1970s, funding and training guerrillas movements to make the Andes into another Vietnam, in the words of Che Guevara

FARC and another Colombian group, the Ejército Nacional de Liberación, or ELN, are just about the last holdouts from that violent era

Now Chávez is trying a different tactic: soft power. The discounted oil. The effort to free hostages.

In the United States, the oil shipments make him look like a compassionate world leader who cares about shivering poor folks in American inner cities, Indian reservations and rural hamlets.

Which makes it more difficult for Washington to paint him as the dictator wanabe that he is.

And in Colombia, he comes off as the architect of a plan to relieve the suffering of long-held hostages and their families. A humanitarian gesture on his part even if FARC reneges, as they have at this writing. Of course, what he is really seeking is the destabilization of Colombian democracy, presided over by his regional archrival Álvaro Uribe. He sees it as a necessary step in spreading his “Bolivarian Revolution” across the South American continent.

Regional leaders of democracies like Kirchner and Lula are as blind to the danger as Oliver Stone. The difference is that the main harm Stone can do is make a bad movie.

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