Hugo Chavez: Mediocrity or Thug? (Or Both?)

| Fri Sep. 22, 2006 3:16 PM EDT

As I mentioned yesterday, I've long wanted to give Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez the benefit of the doubt (see this interview I did in 2005 with Richard Gott, a venerable British journalist who knows Chavez better than most and wrote a largely sympathetic biography of him). But with every week that passes--which is to say, with every new sign that, however sincere his commitment to his country's poor, Chavez's commitment to democracy is pretty tenuous; and with every new crackpot speech or unmistakable sign of galloping megalomania--I've found that position more difficult to sustain. Marc Cooper, who knows Latin American politics better than most, said it best this week in a blistering post occasioned by Chavez's crass, bizarre, and typically self-aggrandizing speech at the UN.

Marc Cooper:

If one ever had doubts that Hugo Chavez is at best an intellectual mediocrity (if not a thug) they should forever be confirmed by his speech Wednesday before the United Nations. I'm not going to bother to reproduce any excerpts here....

Suffice it to say it was juvenile showboating of the worst kind. And while it was chock full of applause and laugh lines as Chavez ripped at Bush, the Empire, the Fascists, the Assassins, the Israelis and the UN itself, it was -- in the end-- a completely vapid exercise. What sort of moral vision or leadership of behalf of the world's poor was voiced by the blustering buffoon of Caracas?

All I know is that if I were George W. Bush and was worried what the world thought of me, I would quickly choose Chavez as the guy to represent the global opposition. In any case, Chavez's performance is likely to backfire. His declaration that the UN is "worthless" is not likely to galvanize support for Venezuela's quest to win one of the rotating seats on the Security Council.

Amen.