Lynn Margulis and Hugo Chavez

Hugo ChavezUnder normal circumstances, I would tell you that 5 March is the date my younger sister was born. And that’s kind of interesting, when you consider what a druid kind of earth mother she is. You see, on this day back in 1938, Lynn Margulis was born. She did some of the most important early work on the Gaia Hypothesis—the idea that the earth itself is a living system. Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, I saw her talk at a very intimate brunch. We were all eating our Eggs Benedict and she was telling us about bacteria. Actually, she was talking about how hard it is to distinguish between plant, animal, bacteria. Personally, I wish I were a plant; people always expect me to move a lot; I’d rather just sit here.

Anyway, Kim and Lynn were born today. And the world is a better place for it. But the world is also a worse place today because Hugo Chavez died. Only plutocrats could think that the man was not good for Venezuela. I understand that the upper classes are mad at him because he cut into their wealth. I understand that the oil companies (and thus the United States government) are mad at him because he nationalized the country’s oil reserves. But why are most of the media (and thus the people) so against him? There is no doubt in my mind that there was more democracy in Venezuela under Chavez than there is in America under Obama.

But I don’t feel up to a whole war about this right now. Let me just reprint what I wrote last October when Chavez shocked the mainstream media by winning re-election:

Maybe it’s just because I’m some godless socialist, but I think Hugo Chavez has been pretty good for Venezuela. There is no subject on which the mainstream media are more clearly biased. I get the impression we’re supposed to think that Chavez is some evil despot like Saddam Hussein or Charles Taylor. But to me, he seems like a democratic socialist.

I was most struck by this when Chavez tried to get a constitutional amendment to eliminate the presidential term limit. The US media reported that the amendment was to make him “president for life.” Amazing. But then, when the amendment failed by a really small number of votes, Chavez was asked if he would contest the results. He replied that he wouldn’t because he didn’t want the constitution amended unless the country was really behind it. How did the media respond? He must have some evil socialist plot!

Contrast this to President Bush, who at that time had the 50% plus one vote strategy—the idea being that the narrowest of margins gave him a mandate to screw roughly half the nation. In this case, who seems like the statesman: Bush or Chavez? I realize that Bush doesn’t set the bar very high. But Bush is always treated with respect by the mainstream media. The same cannot be said about Chavez.

I suspect that in the obituaries that are coming, Chavez will get a tad more respect than he has. We’ll see things like, “Chavez was very popular among the poor, but many people didn’t like him.” In fact, my colleague at The Reaction, Michael Stickings wrote what I thought was an unfortunately one-sided obit, Hugo Chavez Is Dead. Long Live Something Other Than Hugo Chavez’s Tyranny. I’ve been well aware of Michael’s position on Chavez for a long time. But tyranny? Really?! That’s unfortunate. But you can expect to see a lot more of it. Whitewashing a dead man’s career is something we only do for conservatives.

Update (5 March 2013 8:10 pm)

The argument I’ve tried to make to Michael (Who is very open minded and has a great eye for new talent…) is that a certain level of authoritarianism is to be expected. I think we see more of this from Obama—we just see it in different (very American) ways. One of Chavez’s stated motivations was that the United States government was out to get him. Well, they were. I don’t accept Nicolas Maduro’s claim that the United States poisoned Chavez. But I don’t doubt that they would have if they could have.

Here is former Washington Post foreign editor Scott Wilson talking about United States involvement in the coup against Chavez. It is interesting, as Dan Beeton of CEPR points out, “This information has however never been reported this fully in the pages of the Washington Post itself.”

0 replies on “Lynn Margulis and Hugo Chavez”

  1. JMF says:

    The only thing I know for certain about Chavez is the oil nationalization — which is certainly not a bad move and I don’t recall anyone ever getting away with it before. Also there was a coup attempt that failed and it’s more than likely Bush authorized it. (Can’t our government even pull off coups for corporations anymore? How the mighty have fallen. Kissinger is rolling over in his, well, satin sheets.)

    Because the US media tends to present these things the way they’re told to, and the left naturally responds by overpraising those demonized by our elites, it takes decades before you can find rational assessments of this stuff. No doubt there are terrific regional journalists who’ve been covering him for ages, but their work is not something I could easily find.

    I suspect in the long run he’ll come off like Castro — no saint, guilty of human-rights abuses, possibly a murderer and certainly paranoid. And 1,000 times less horrible than the various dictators our country has propped up over the years. Or the various presidents we’ve had. ("The tyrant eliminated free speech for the opposition, unlike John Adams or Woodrow Wilson!" Doesn’t make such action acceptable but gives us no grounds to accuse anyone else of bad behavior.)

    I don’t know anything about politics in Venezuela but I hope the transition goes well for them. They do have oil, and whenever a country has natural resources that make potential thieves drool uncontrollably, it’s a dangerous thing.

  2. admin says:

    @JMF – I don’t know of any human rights abuses. Mostly people claim that he was anti-democratic. He nationalized some radio stations. (He still allowed lots of US funded anti-Chavez stations and other media outlets to go on.) He gerrymandered. He did stuff like that. He was nowhere near as bad as many or even most of our current allies. The thing about him is that the worst you can say about him isn’t that bad. But unfortunately, that’s all that’s said about him here. And it is all said about him here because of the oil.

  3. JMF says:

    And not said because of the oil. Our local paper reprinted a NYT obit, and oil nationalization wasn’t even mentioned (or hinted at.) It’s possible the NYT original was longer and cut for space, with the oil paragraph one of those buried in the way, way end portion of the thing. (The obit was bland enough, I wasn’t curious to look up the NYT original.)

    Still, even if it was a buried paragraph, that’s a hell of a thing to bury. It’s probably how Chavez funded every social program which made him popular. But the NYT never prints anything which reflects actual US policy motivations. You have to go to the "Financial Times" or "The Economist" for that. (I used to, but I have less time and patience for that stuff these days.)

    "Human rights abuses" is a pretty common charge against official enemies. I don’t believe it unless I read it from locals — nor do I disbelieve it unless I read it from locals. Like I said, I know little about the man. (Sounds like you know a bit, and your assessment sounds realistic enough.) One of these days I’ll learn more.

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