Hugo Chávez Prods the Devil

You will no doubt have heard of Hugo Chávez’s speech last week before the United Nations. Much hyper-ventilating from right-wing media, and even the Democrats were quick to condemn his rhetorical flourish that W. was “the devil.” The reaction from the punditocracy seems hysterical. If you bother watching the speech

(Real Player: rtsp://

a couple things are evident. First of all, the comments about W. being the devil were just a small part of a much longer speech. Chávez went on to say a lot of things that were really much more damning. To focus on the “diablo” reference seems a bit disingenuous. In any case, it’s also worth noting that the speech was *very* will received by the UN members present. The problem isn’t one little word in one Presidential speech, it’s the fact that much of the world — including many in the US — agrees with Chávez, irrespective of what they think of how he expresses himself.
Is name-calling effective? Depends on what you’re trying to achieve. It certainly got him lots of ink! Given the obstinate refusal of the press to discuss the substantive issues regarding US foreign and economic policy, perhaps you take what you can get. Bill Clinton commented on Fox News that Chávez’s tactics could backfire: “It makes him look small and undermines his effectiveness.” I tend to agree, although, while that may be true in the US, Chávez is playing to a global audience that may look beyond the epithets.
Gov. Pataki made this bizarre comment: “This person has no right coming to our country to criticize our president,” Pataki said in a phone interview on FOX News.

“He can take his cheap oil and do something for the poor people of Venezuela.”

Um… Governor, that *is* what he’s doing, and that’s the “problem.” Rather than talking about whether someone has “the right” to criticize Bush, how about talking about the substance of the underlying criticism?
And these repeated assertions that Chávez is a dictator…? He’s repeatedly won overwhelming victories in democratic elections! You can’t say the same on either count for W. “Dictator” isn’t an accurate description, it’s just more name-calling.
It’s hardly news that Chávez has a low opinion of Bush. Back in March, responding to White House comments characterizing him as a demagogue, Chávez gave Bush a piece of his mind, calling Bush a coward, psychopath, assassin, ignoramus, a donkey, a liar, an alcoholic. “Eres un burro, Mr. Danger.” Those comments are now being rehashed by the media. Eh. So El Presidente has a florid vocabulary. Big deal.
The worst thing about the name calling is that it encourages Bush’s defenders to respond in kind. In doing so, the substantive criticisms that Chávez is making get conveniently swept under the rug.
What would the US media be discussing if they wanted to look at substance rather than style? Perhaps the role that petroleum plays in the conflict. Reporter Greg Palast asks Chávez some hard questions in this interview:
The Bush administration backed a coup in Venezuela, and understandably, Chávez is a bit testy about that! Consider, for a moment, what the US reaction would be if a foreign government funnelled millions of dollars into violent anti-Bush groups, formed an alliance with dissident members of the US Army who surrounded the White House with tanks and kidnapped the President, and then tried to legitimize the coup by recognizing its perpetrators. (Maybe that’s a bad example! I’m sure there are some of us who’d love to see Bush “rendered” to some nation we’ve designated as prone to human rights “abuses.”)
To get an incredible inside look at the coup as it actually unfolded, check out “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” This film is a little over an hour long, and very gripping. It gives a favorable view on Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution. Highly recommended.
It turns out that Chávez has been reading Noam Chomsky, and during the UN speech held aloft his 2003 book “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Domination.” I haven’t read the book, but I’m familiar with Chomky’s work. The proposition that US policy is dictated by corporate economic interests seeking a dominant global position seems so obvious as to not be worth arguing, but I’m sure Chomsky provides copious references and footnotes to support it. After the Chávez speech, the book shot to number one on the bestseller list. (Next up on my political reading list: “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins.)
What makes Chávez the Bush Administration’s bête noire is that he is attempting to implement a fundamentally different sort of economic structure, one that is directly antagonistic to the model of economic domination and exploitation (globalization and neo-liberalism) favored by the Bushies. That, plus the fact that oil gives him the economic muscle to actually have an impact.
I am sure that the Bolivarian Revolution is not perfect. I would be surprised if there have not been excesses and mistakes. Indeed, Human Rights Watch, which supported Chávez at the time of the attempted coup, has been critical of him since then. (See:

Of course, Human Rights Watch is also highly critical of the US, so I’m not sure we’re in much of a position to hurl brickbats at Venezuela, either.