Guest Post by Caroline Esser: Chavez — The Ultimate Combination of Politician and Performer


chavez.jpgIt seems that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s political shrewdness and theatrical performances have reached a whole new level. Whether you like him or not, consider him a democratic leader or a dictator, there is no denying the fact that Chavez has a unique ability to wiggle his way out of anything and come out looking like the underdog.
In the past few months, Chavez has been involved in a number of controversial incidences, from the coup in Honduras to weapon sales to the FARC in Colombia. However, no matter the accusations, Chavez has repeatedly managed to turn the tables, rallying the leaders of Latin America behind him and implicating the United States.
For instance, rather than acknowledging that Venezuela was partially to blame for the coup in Honduras because he supported Zelaya’s call for a constitutional referendum, Chavez instead shifted attention to the United States, accusing the CIA of having orchestrated the military overthrow.
Chavez manipulated the situation to recast himself as the defender of victimized Honduras, the one who stood up as the David against the region’s Goliath rather than the one who fueled the regressive coup. While Chavez’s theory on the CIA has generally been dismissed, his maneuver was nonetheless a success as the accusatory murmurs directed towards Venezuela also dissipated and he was seen as standing up for Honduras.
Chavez performed a similar act more recently in response to the situation with the FARC in Colombia. At the beginning of August, new evidence surfaced confirming ties between Venezuela and the FARC. Not surprisingly, Chavez denied his support for and protection of the FARC despite the plethora of evidence to the contrary and only admitted to the fact that members of the FARC may occasionally cross the Venezuelan border.
However, being the politician-performer hybrid that he is, in addition to simply claiming innocence Chavez also created a diversion: the new military pact between the United States and Colombia.
In crafting this diversion Chavez withdrew (and then returned) the Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia, ended the subsidy of Colombian oil, and once again portrayed the United States as the enemy on which the region must focus its energy.
Chavez claimed that the new military pact “could start a war in South America” as “the Yankees are the most aggressive nation in the history of mankind” and Brazil, Ecuador, and Chile are all humoring his theory. With the leaders of these major countries turning their attention to the U.S. military bases, who has time to think about Venezuela’s questionable exchanges with a guerrilla insurgency in Colombia?
The question then arises of whether or not Chavez’s political feats will ever be too much for the people of Latin America to tolerate. The adversarial relationship with the United States that Chavez instigates and sustains seems to be somewhat craved by the region. His theatrics and constant figuring of Latin America as the victim of capitalist greed and U.S. imperialism have been an essential element of U.S.-Latin America relations as well as regional domestic politics for many decades now.
It is possible, however, that this dynamic will not be intrinsic to U.S.-Latin America politics forever. It is important to recognize that though Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile tolerate Chavez, they are not fooled by his theatrics. On the contrary, they are shrewd politicians who understand that in humoring Chavez they can appease their leftist constituents and maintain their own power.
At the same time, this game could quickly turn from clever to dangerous. Supporting terrorist groups such as the FARC and endorsing constitutional referendums that undermine democratic institutions may eventually prove harmful to those now benefiting from Chavez’s friendship.
— Caroline Esser


14 comments on “Guest Post by Caroline Esser: Chavez — The Ultimate Combination of Politician and Performer

  1. JohnH says:

    If Ahmadinejad were doing to the people of Iran what the coup regime is doing to the people of Honduras, it would be front page news, bold headlines.
    Motto of the corporate media–loudly condemn the abuses of US’ enemies, silently condone the same abuses conducted by US’ friends. Human rights are important only when a country is the US’ enemy.


  2. arthurdecco says:

    Thanks for your submission, rich. It’s a Celebration of Reason.


  3. rich says:

    Caroline Esser’s twisting of the record so as to blame Hugo Chavez for the military coup in Honduras is nothing short of Orwellian. Chavez backed Honduran democracy, and Esser’s inversion of the basic facts cannot change that.
    Think about Esser’s thought-process: A right-wing military coup was caused by a left-wing leaders’ support for further democratization in Honduras. Everybody write that down. This kind of false justification doesn’t hold up well, nor does it speak well for TWN. Somehow, Chavez is to blame for an anti-democratic coup because he supported Zelaya’s legal push for increased democracy? I don’t think so. No one believes this.
    To invert the simple and very straightforward set of facts in this manner is an unmistakable Big Brother-ish perversion of the values we share and of the responsiblities pundits, journalists, elected officials — and even policy analysts — all have to the American public. There is a certain integrity at issue, an accountability to the truth and to the people debating these events — an accountability that will be pressed and fulfilled.
    Like Faith Smith’s & Prznt. Obama’s glib and cutesy lie that Chavez is somehow contradicting himself by pressing the U.S. to wield the TREMENDOUS influence it has with the Honduran Military, Esser gets it wrong. For three such intelligent people (four, counting TWN editors) to get such basic details so wrong, for them to spin a narrative so contradicted by widely known facts and recorded history, requires a calculated effort, a conscious understanding of how the situation must be presented to maximum ‘advantage’. Even if that ‘advantage’ is parochial and outmoded in that it undermines U.S. credibility on a substantive and political level. The current it swims against is too strong, in terms of Latin American events, realpolitik — not to mention the application of soft power.
    That Zelaya was ousted by military force only proves the point he made in holding a referendum: Honduran term limits are designed to throttle civilian power and short-circuit democracy.
    American intervention in Honduras has never supported democracy. Very much the opposite. And THE CURRENT U.S. refusal to support democracy by reinstalling Zelaya does not speak well of the American foreign policy establishment. It exposes our unique but preventable vulnerability: we don’t live up to our values, or to our own laws.
    And that failure — a failure to understand power or our own history — has allowed the likes of Hugo Chavez to best even Barack Obama in a rhetorical-political contest. Chavez backs democracy; America can’t bring itself to suppport Zelaya! What’s that tell us? What’s the message to global observers?
    O Font of Democracy! O Glorious Red White n’ Blue! Exceptional Nation! Beacon of Liberty! So Helpless before the Honduran Military! So Many Brave Souls having Fought with Valor for Freedom and Liberty — to Defend our Soil & Way of Life — now find a President too Timid to Stand UP, with them, against a few Honduran Dictators. An American President so Lacking in Compassion and Integrity that he cannot find it within himself to support President Zelaya, the duly elected leader of Honduras. What manner of man is this? At what point did we start coining Americans so Bereft of Reason and so Lacking in any Sense of Justice that we’d instigate coups and stand around idly failing our Fathers’ fondest Dreams? (You get the idea.) So we are left with this:
    Hugo Chavez backs democracy; America can’t bring itself to support Zelaya, or even lift a finger in solidarity with Honduran democracy.
    It’s almost as though the American foreign policy establishment does not want to understand the nature of power. It appears that all that investment in destroying Honduran democracy, poured into it and into the region over the decades — well, can’t let that go to waste, can we? For what good would the gratitude and respect and common purpose do us, in the end?
    Everything we know about America’s involvement in Honduras — backing the Honduran military, teaching torture at the School of the Americas and backing/directing death squads, and using Honduras as a massive platform to (illegally) run a proxy war against Nicaragua — underscores the obvious U.S. role in and approval of ousting Zelaya. (If it wasn’t an explicit directive, it was a cooperative relationship that only asked what took ’em so long.)
    The recorded history and strong institutional ties pretty much defy attempts to foist blame for the right-wing coup on a democracy-backing left-ish elected official from a third country. At worst, Chavez expressed support for an election after the process was underway. Elections all over the world have third-party supporters and global observers; it’s a constant and ordinary situation. Which means if there were more to it, that is anything actually damning to Chavez in terms of untoward involvement, we’d certainly have heard about it already. So it appears all Washington has on Chavez is a few propoganda lines boiling down to ‘the coup is his fault, because he supported democracy’.
    Having established that anti-democratic bulwark of control in Central America, the U.S. is loathe to lose Honduras to something so threatening as .. . democracy.
    Caroine Esser’s most egregious error here may be in attributing the media narrative and widespread knowledge of U.S.-Honduran-Venezuelan power relations to some inordinate ability of Hugo Chavez to maneuver geopolitically by framing attractive narratives.
    Esser’s take is fundamentally absurd. Had the U.S. acted with integrity, such stories woudn’t be plausible.
    But why does Esser demand of Chavez what she will not demand of Bush or Obama? She asserts that “…rather than acknowledging that Venezuela…” — but never asks why Obama never acknowledges U.S. culpability for allowing our proxies to subvert democracy — using our resources.
    Esser’s hypocritical focus has “Chavez instead shift[ing] attention to the United States, accusing the CIA of having orchestrated the military overthrow,” while she herself tendentously shifts attentiont to Chavez! Esser willfully excludes any examination of the U.S. role in Honduras. Esser erases that heavily documented history as actively as any Orwellian bureaucrat, and as heavy-handedly as any propagandist too fearful to engage honestly on the facts. Esser provides no documentation whatsoever that the U.S. (or CIA) had no role in the Honduran coup. So that contention carries Zero weight.
    JohnH & samuelburke — Keep up the good work. Without your information, it’s an echo-chamber. And TWN authors and readers need to hear actual information — and need to get an accurate read on how informed people are. Too busy to keep up. Never forget that Steve has stated, numerous times, that he’s not a journalist: he uses TWN to communicate with certain parties, influence processes, and put out specific narratives and memes as various actors jockey for policies and decisions. Naturally, if one is to sideline John Bolton, it pays to demonstrate that one can achieve shared goals, in Iran say hypothetically, not by an unprovoked carpet bombing, but by deploying well-timed misinformation coordinated with a long-in-the-offing destablization campaign. If the method is different, the goal is the same. As is the fundamental mistake and general methods that continue to cost us so much blood, treasure, merit, law and soul.


  4. Tim says:

    TWN appears to have a morbid obsession with Hugo Chavez.


  5. David says:

    We’ve got the death panels to worry about. We also have a pretty severe case of national cephalo-rectal thrustitis.


  6. JohnH says:

    US in Honduras–inching towards meaning what they say–formally declaring a coup and cutting off aid? Or doing a delicate dance of deceit?
    And does anybody in Washington really care if Latin America receives the message that Washington will twiddle its thumbs (or worse) whenever military thugs decide to overthrow a government?


  7. samuelburke says:

    so let me get this straight…chavez is partially to blame for the coup in honduras because he applauded zelayas intent…
    so i guess women are really to blame when rape occurs to them if they asked for it by wearing a miniskirt.
    the fact is that the honduran coup was birthed somewhere in the bowels of the colossus of the north.
    are all of americas politico-media types trained in spinmeistering a la bill oriely.
    are you guys trained to look at the world through those american exceptionalism glasses or is groupthink a force greater that the forces exerted by black holes.
    while there is no doubt that communism/socialism has nothing of economic value to offer humanity…they, the communist have very clearly understood the hegemonic desire of imperiliasm by the yankees as Fidel so famously tagged the u.s.a.
    Reflections of Fidel
    The yanki bases and Latin American sovereignty


  8. arthurdecco says:

    From the essay: “For instance, rather than acknowledging that Venezuela was partially to blame for the coup in Honduras because he supported Zelaya’s call for a constitutional referendum, Chavez instead shifted attention to the United States, accusing the CIA of having orchestrated the military overthrow.”
    This is a grotesque spin on what happened! Venezuela is to blame for the destruction of democracy in Honduras because President Chavez supported Hondura’s legally elected president’s attempts at democratic reform!?! You’re either bat-shit crazy or deliberately lying, Ms Esser, because your commentary doesn’t appear to have been formed from ignorance…which is really the only other explanation for the ghastly unreality of it, isn’t it?
    As a matter of fact, your whole essay is a fall down Alice’s rabbit hole, Ms. Esser, where up is down and in is out.
    Where do they find you people?!? And how much do they pay you for the ridiculous fantasies you create out of whole cloth?


  9. Clint says:

    “Chavez instead shifted attention to the United States, accusing the CIA of having orchestrated the military overthrow […] While Chavez’s theory on the CIA has generally been dismissed …”
    This is an absurd double standard. You talk about Chavez’ connections with FARC, but there are known connections between the U.S. and the coup. The leading general was trained in the U.S. Not to mention that we’ve supported it through inaction, allowing aid to still flow to Honduras.


  10. ... says:

    johnh – thanks for being the voice of reason and intelligence on this issue.. unfortunately the brainwashing never seems to stop!!!! spinning chavez is all most people get and they seem happy to swallow the bullshit… it used to be fidel, but chavez has incurred the wrath of late for all the same reasons – he is actually doing something for his people as opposed to for the oligarchs….that must really frighten the powers to be so they go to every possible length to demonize him…


  11. JohnH says:

    Personally, I think that most decisions should be made as locally as possible. And I would have preferred Chavez leave well enough alone.
    But, of course, when Chavez strips local governments of their powers, it’s anti-democratic. When Tony Blair does it, as he did, there’s barely any criticism outside the UK.
    Readers need to realize that Ledezma is hardly a model of democracy, except when he is in the opposition: “What is forgotten by some people is that in 1993, when he was the governor, he prohibited all demonstrations in Caracas. However, since the election of President Chávez he has repeatedly called for people to go out into the streets and march in protest against the government.”
    And Ledezma also called for another coup attempt against Chavez this Spring. How democratic is that?


  12. Jonathan Wallace says:

    No election in Venezuela can be considered free and fair when popular opposition leaders, such as the Mayor of Caracas, are jailed or otherwise prevented from competing against Chavez and his hand-picked candidates.
    And he wants to ban golf! Truly despotic.


  13. JohnH says:

    As expected, more demonization of Chavez. Sadly for Caroline Esser’s case, polls by the independent polling firm Latinobarometro, place Venezuela at the top for democracy in Latin America. This is not a random result, but is confirmed year after year. His policies may be unpopular with Washington and Big Oil, but he has won a LOT of free and fair elections, despite a Venezuelan corporate media that is loud and vociferous in its opposition.
    Moreover, Chavez has delivered for his people–eliminating illiteracy, providing health care, and generally increasing the well being for the Venezuelan population as a whole. Last year alone Venezuelans on average had 7% more money to spend. The unemployment rate is now lower than in the US. Poverty has been reduced by 23% since Chavez took office. But you will never see anything positive about the Chavez era at TWN or in the US media. But they are noticed in Latin America, which partly explains Chavez importance.
    No, Chavez is not “just another politician.” In fact, he is among the rarest of politicians–one who delivers big time for his people, not for the oligarchs who still control much of Venezuela’s economy. And this fact alone is enough to infuriate the oligarchs and allied US corporate interests, leading them to wage a constant campaign of propaganda and disinformation against Venezuela.


  14. Josh Meah says:

    Interesting post, but Chavez’s power is no
    mystery. He is a king that owns the media and sits
    atop billions upon billions of barrels of oil. His
    ties to China, Iran, and other geopolitically
    important states make his personality irrelevant.
    Chavez, like Ahmadinejad of Iran, is a powerful
    personality regardless of his actual personality.
    He’s the benefactor of the oil curse that supports
    his ownership of his fiefdom and a hard and soft
    international law that protects against overt
    physical removal of him from office.
    Chavez does not actually matter — it is the
    international politicization of Venezuela that
    matters. What differs him from other dictators and
    despots internationally is that the world needs to
    care about what he says. There are many leaders
    with his self-aggrandizing personality, but he’s
    given a unique pedestal due to his geopolitical
    Excluding China, he has poor relations with the
    most powerful countries in the world, and surely
    some of those countries would like to see him
    removed. He’s not successful, just isolated. He
    looks more important than he is.
    His model of governance has proven worldwide to be
    a failure. His anti-U.S. ideology will fade along
    with the steady relative decrease in U.S.
    preeminence. History will regard him as a once
    upon a time international media darling, because
    he gave cameras and politicos fodder to chew on
    and talk and publish about. But his impact will be
    minimal. Changes in U.S.-Cuba relations will
    undermine much of his message, leaving him, like
    Iran, to rail against a situationally irrelevant
    power like Britain.
    Really, let’s not pretend anymore: Chavez is not
    exceptional. He’s just another politician.


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