At Large

Hugo Plans the Future

Chavez's cancer weapon claim against the U.S. was a nice dodge from an important reccent gathering he derailed.

By 1.6.12

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The one thing that can be said about Hugo Chavez is that he never fails to surprise. His claim that the United States has perfected a cancer-producing weapon that has been used against him and other left-wing Latin American leaders is a prime example. He has chosen to make use of the fact that an unusual number of heads of state and government in South and Central America are suffering from various illnesses. With the Latin American proclivity for believing anti-gringo declarations of nearly every kind, Chavez has hit upon a new and effective anti-U.S. propaganda line.

It was lucky for Hugo that he came up with this cancer weapon claim. He had planned to end last year with a December extravaganza creating the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Unfortunately for him it was a bit of a bust.

Chavez decided to announce "out of the blue" at the founding meeting in Caracas that the new organization initially would be led by three countries, with the host country's president to be one of them. As Chavez calculated, this meant that he as summit host would be the first; next would be the president of Chile, who is to host the session in Santiago in December 2012, and a year later Raul Castro. At that point Venezuela drops off the three-party directorate and the summit site president of Costa Rica steps in to take over in December 2014. This is as far as Hugo had things arranged. The host for 2015 is still up in the air and so is the leadership list.

This exercise in pure Hugo Chavez logic is quite beyond anyone else. The odd three-person "leadership" is written into what is referred to as "statute of proceedings" that all the participating countries supposedly signed. That fact was apparently unknown to the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, and they abruptly left the summit meeting without explanation. At this point the entire conference became rather contentious, with Trinidad-Tobago insisting the leader group should be expanded to four in order to have proper representation of the English-speaking Caribbean. If this sounds like an Abbot & Costello routine, the similarity is forgivable.

In spite of the absurd nature of this unfortunate event, it was nonetheless a serious and possibly even important gathering. The North Americans, Canada and the United States, were excluded as if they had no interest or role in southern America affairs. Of course this is exactly how Chavez, who sees himself as the contemporary Simon Bolivar, would like the political map to be arranged. Having dreaded los norteamericanos not involved is supposedly a distinction important to replacing the Washington-based Organization of American States that still does not include Cuba.

All this would be relatively unimportant if Chavez himself were not so committed to politically influencing his neighborhood. His warped perception of socialism that seems combined with Mussolini's fascism is buttressed by Venezuela's petro-wealth. Thus even when a summit meeting founding CELAC is derailed by the Venezuelan leader's ineptitude, the effort itself raises his status among his peers.

Perhaps more significant domestically for Hugo Chavez, the arrival of 33 presidents establishing CELAC in Caracas was clearly accepted by the Venezuelan youth as an indication that they too had gained in importance from the recognition "the world" had given their president and their country. This reaction may not be understood in the United States, but in an exploited yet ambitious society such as Venezuela -- and particularly in the capital, Caracas -- the identification of its young adults with their leader's apparent international status is a clear boost to their own self-esteem. And this goes far to justify their support of Hugo Chavez.

Chavez is laying the groundwork for his election to a third term in October 2012. The simple fact that CELAC was born in Caracas is viewed by many Venezuelans as an indication of their own enhanced political future as much as that of Hugo Chavez and his ruling clique. Chavez can bungle his own political maneuvers, such as his disorganization of the CELAC founding, but he undeniably retains his charisma. If his cancer treatment -- which has left him bloated and hairless -- succeeds in arresting his illness, there is a good chance he will continue to seek to stage-manage another presidential election in October. And this would result in another step toward his stated goal of remaining in office until 2025.

It appears that Hugo Chavez, like other Latin Americans, is convinced that the United States is bent on controlling its southern continental neighbor. At this stage Raul Castro has found Chavez to be a convenient stalking horse while he works behind the scenes with the Obama Administration to bring Cuba into an improved relationship with the U.S. If Chavez suspects this as a Cuban motive, he hasn't shown it. Hugo Chavez is in pretty fast company when he rides with the Castro Brothers, but it doesn't seem to faze him.

Hugo thinks only of Hugo and really does believe that only those who don't share his political outlook could possibly dislike him or question his altruism. That's an attitude Chavez shares with many American leaders, both from the North and the South.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.