Somebody had a better time in Venezuela than I did!
Douglas Valentine attended a recent "Defense of Humanity Conference" in Caracas, or, judging by his account of it, spent most of his time skipping out on the sessions with beautiful women! It's a long article, probably of less interest if you haven't been to Caracas or to a Venezuelan beach, but his conclusion about Hugo Chavez rings true to me:
The famous referendum was on 16 December 1999, exactly five years ago, Jose says. This was a crucial moment in Venezuelan history, and Chavez's survival depended on a huge turnout in his favor. The rains, Jose says, started on the 14th, and the weather forecasters were predicting a devastating storm. So Chavez got on national TV and gave a speech. He said words that went something like this: "If nature will oppose us, then we will fight and overcome nature."
That's Hugo Chavez Frias, a modern-day Don Quixote. With inexhaustible optimism, he's trying to keep the inexorable forces of Crony Capitalism from sweeping away his policies of government reform and redistribution of wealth. He is fearless and inspirational, and rightly blames the tragedy of December 1999 on the corrupt politicians and businessmen who allowed the shantytowns to be built in the steep valleys in the first place. He is right that the Capitalists don't give a damn about the 50,000 poor people, street vendors mostly, who perished; or the illiterate and malnourished people we saw on our visits to the missions. He is right to appropriate the land of the big companies, which have deforested much of Venezuela, and to give it to poor people to farm. He is right, even heroic, to thumb his nose at the little prick, George W. Bush, who would like nothing better than to dip his blood-soaked hands into Venezuela's oil fields.