Saturday, 9 March 2013

Oh, what a circus, oh, what a show

David Essex, in character as "Che" for "Oh What A Circus"
The last few days have been one of those times when anyone who considers themselves part of the “sensible left” might reasonably think that the sense of many of their comrades had taken a short holiday. Following his death (rather a long time following, see previous piece) The foolish Hugo Chávez puff pieces in the Guardian and elsewhere, and the moist-eyed tributes from usual suspects on the left, to a man who has curtailed many freedoms and human rights in his own country have been particularly hard to stomach.

On Wednesday I debated Chávez: liberator or tyrant? at Left Foot Forward with Graham Morris MP, chair of Labour Friends of Venezuela, which can be roughly translated as Friends of Hugo Chávez. The arguments are probably quite familiar to regular readers of the Centre Left. 

Yesterday’s funeral was also a bumper occasion for any regular shoppers at Dictator-U-Like: Lukashenko, Raúl Castro and Ahmadinejad were all there. Sean Penn, an actor I admire a great deal, was sadly in evidence there, inspiring what seems to have been my most-popular-ever tweet (retweeted 66 times, mostly from Venezuela, I might add). Well, if I could do nothing else to support them in their hour of need, I hopefully made a few of those good people laugh.
But surely the thing that has capped it all has been the news – now I think about it, creepily fitting – that Chávez is to be remembered like the great dictators of the 20th century (the top 6 of which are beautifully captured in photos here): embalmed so that people can continue to see him day in, day out until the frail cells which compose his body can no longer take any more, not even in formaldehyde. 

The last few days remind us of nothing so much as the death of one of Chávez’ great South American models, the late Eva Peron, whose passing was immortalised in Tim Rice’s lyrics from Evita (you can watch this fine song here).

Oh, what a circus, oh, what a show, indeed.


  1. "Yesterday’s funeral was also a bumper occasion for anyone regular shoppers at Dictator-U-Like: Lukashenko, Raúl Castro, Ahmadinejad were all there."

    But so were almost all the other presidents of the American continent. Not mentioning leaves me to conclude that you are a biased commentator when it comes to Venezuela and Chavez.

  2. Fantastic, Stephen. The "American continent", indeed. You mean that, outside of South America, practically the only leaders who bothered to show up were dictators! And those from South America only turn up because they have to trade with Venezuela and need to be friendly to Maduro.

    In fact, I didn't see any leaders from any major Western nation (the closest was Spain, which has historical ties to the country and even then didn't send the Head of State, who Chávez insulted deeply a few years back).

    Or did I miss someone?

    Oh, and on the subject of Maduro, you are presumably aware that he is not constitutionally authorised to be caretaker president, but is doing it anyway?

  3. Unlike most dictators, Chavez has won seventeen elections and referenda since 1998. Were they rigged? Not according to Jimmy Carter, the former US President and founder of the Carter Centre for Human Rights, who in 2012 said: “of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world”. In fact, it is Chavez’s opponents, with the active backing of the CIA and urged on by the privately-owned Venezuelan media, who have tried to usurp democracy and restore Venezuela to the brutal military dictatorship it was before Chavez came along. In 2002 there was a coup attempt against him which was only narrowly defeated by a popular uprising and is portrayed in this excellent documentary "the revolution will not be televised


  5. Chavez is imperfect. His praise for various dictators such as Ahmadinejad, Gaddaffi and Assad does him no favours and overlooks the huge suffering inflicted by these men on their own populations. The attitude that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is morally flawed and simplistic. However, for Western leaders to criticise him for this is extremely hypocritical. The British government currently heavily subsidises the arms industry which sells to regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Tony Blair stayed at Mubarak’s holiday villa and called the Egyptian dictator “immensely courageous and a force for good“ and David Cameron reacted to the peoples’revolutions in the Arab Spring by rushing to the area to sell their dictators’ British weapons.

  6. Chavez was not a dictator but, like every world leader, he did business with dictators when it suited him

  7. @Joseph: I haven't got time to go through the Jimmy Carter thing in detail yet again, but you'll find the argument in this blog. To say that the elections are free and fair ignores a lot of evidence to the contrary.

    Re Chávez imperfections, you make a minor criticism then indulge in morally relativistic "whataboutery" about Western leaders. It's irrelevant. Besides, as someone pointed out recently, the difference is that Chávez was not trying to entice dictators back towards the West in exchange for something. He actually liked the company of these people. He (see video linked) changed his opinion of Castro after taking office.

  8. Yes the American continent. It isn't a Geographical entity I have made up myself. There were more leaders there from outside South America, than from South America.

    "And those from South America only turn up because they have to trade with Venezuela and need to be friendly to Maduro."

    LOL. Yes that is why they all declared several days of mourning themselves and gave heartfelt tributes. Even the Colombian president attended whose predecessor threatened to report Chavez to the ICC for genocide.

    I am afraid there are other countries in the world other than "major Western" ones.

    Chavez didn't deeply insult King Juan Carlos. Chaves was castigating ex-PM Aznar who supported the 2002 coup while the then current PM Zapatero was making a speech at a summit in Chile. The King then told him to shut up.

    Article 233 states:

    "When the President of the Republic becomes permanently unavailable to serve during the first four years of this constitutional term of office, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the Executive Vice-President shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic."

    30 days was obviously a bit unrealistic in how soon a national election could be held, but other than that the constitution has been observed.

    The Supreme Court had already ruled that Chavez had begun his new mandate.

  9. Here is "the American Continent" being used in a topical context by someone who lives there.

  10. Chávez called Spain a "fascist state". You can hardly blame its head of state for taking offence, particularly when he was the one who, for all his other faults, saved his country from fascism. You insult a country, in front of its head of state, you insult them. It's not brain surgery.

    You also know perfectly well that the Venezuelan constitution does not allow sitting Vice Presidents to run for election. But that constitutional "nicety" probably doesn't bother you, I guess.

  11. He called Aznar a fascist, who was a member of the student wing of Franco's party. He didn't say Spain was a fascist state.

    I know perfectly well that Maduro is now the acting president and is no-longer the vice-president. Arreaza is now the acting vice-president. The constitution is being nicely observed.


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