Hugo Chavez spent 14 years as the “democratically elected” president of Venezuela but in truth was a strongman who used bullying and deception to stay in power. He once famously compared former President George W. Bush to the devil. He aligned himself with Fidel Castro and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syria's Bashar Assad.
And so naturally, his death this week from cancer at age 58 brought a stream of praise and condolences from liberals who no doubt wish some of Chavez's socialist practices would take hold here.
“Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had,” the always entertaining Sean Penn said in a tribute Tuesday. “And poor people around the world lost a champion.”
Penn may want to share that news with Venezuela's poor, who, as The Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial, are worse off now than when Chavez was first elected in 1998 despite the country being awash in petroleum revenue. “While wealthier Venezuelans could flee, the less fortunate now endure routine food and medicine shortages, thanks to price and capital controls,” the Journal wrote. “Prices are more than 20 times higher than in 1999.”
Penn's Hollywood pal Oliver Stone called Chavez “a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place.” No surprise there — Stone has long been a fan of Chavez, even suggesting the U.S. oil industry be nationalized as it is in Venezuela.
And of course former President Jimmy Carter, who endorsed Chavez's gamey re-election last October, urged people to remember the man's “positive legacies — especially the gains made for the poor and vulnerable.”
All this for a man described by Ahmadinejad as “a saint.” Hollywood's deep thinkers might agree, but most Venezuelans would say differently. We suspect that this will be reflected when new elections are held.