Controversy illustrates flawed depiction of Chavez
By now, televangelist Pat Robertson’s August 22 call for the assassination of Venezuela president Hugo Chavez has been roundly condemned from a wide variety of sources. Most of these note how his statement is a violation both of biblical mandates and U.S. law, and that he should be indicted here in the U.S. and extradited to Venezuela to stand trial for his statement. The U.S. has been known to invade other countries when high profile political leaders make such statements, so why should Venezuela not follow the same policy?
Many commentators use Robertson’s statement as ammunition in culture wars in the U.S., pointing out that the Christian Right is wrong on almost every issue and how so-called “pro-lifers” are consistently pro-war, pro-death penalty, pro-cutting health care and sex education which only increases abortion rates, etc. Internationally, these conservatives only seem to be interested in invading countries and killing the leaders of large oil producing areas.
Some more thoughtful observers have reflected on the irony of Robertson calling for the assassination of Chavez who is deeply motivated by his Christian faith. Chavez has taken Jesus’ statement “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” seriously. Venezuela’s oil wealth previously only lined the pockets of the elite, but now he is redirecting those resources to feed the hungry and clothe the needy. Many poor Indigenous and Afro-Venezuelans strongly support Chavez, because these dispossessed never before have had someone in power who supports and defends their interests. At the same time, the Bush administration has significantly cut social services and implemented polices that disproportionally hurt the poor, so it would seem obvious who God would want to cast out of his sight.
Why would Robertson first make such an asinine, illegal, and immoral statement, and then lie about having made it, and finally offer what amounted to a weak and lame apology?
Chavez sits on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves, and he is a close ally of Cuba’s Fidel Castro who has been the target of a failed and misguided policy for 45 years. Robertson’s statement is part of an increasingly strident right-wing echo chamber that tries to paint Chavez as a dangerous dictator who must be taken out before he does more damage to Venezuela or the United States. But it is also an example of a dangerous ignorance of the realities of the rest the world.
Even while Venezuela continues to suffer from systemic poverty and a deeply polarized political culture, to depict Chavez’s government as repressive or dictatorial is simply inaccurate. Far from diminishing democracy, Chavez works to strengthen these structures. His popularity consistently polls in the 60 to 70 percent range, and with the opposition discredited and in complete disarray his reelection next year appears to be a foregone conclusion. Political discourse is wide open, and some supporters say dangerously so for it allows opponents to make unreasonable proclamations such as Robertson’s.
Right-wing depictions of Venezuela are simply wrong, and dangerously so for it leads to advocating policies that increase economic inequalities and lead to political instability. Robertson knows little and understands even less of Venezuelan realities, but he knows Chavez has allied himself against those who take the wealth of poor countries to enrich the elite. Robertson’s response is both un-christian and un-american.
Condemning and arresting Robertson is merely a first step. We need to educate ourselves so that we are able to see United States imperialism for what it is–a blatant grab of resources from other parts of the world to enrich the elite and hurt the poor both here and abroad. We need to support Chavez and the types of policies he is implementing in Venezuela. In the United States, we need to follow his lead and similarly advocate for policies that benefit “the least of these my brethren.”