Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez is establishing an effective anti-American network of activists and supporters. With oil approaching $110 a barrel, he has transformed himself into South America’s banker, paying off the debt in Argentina, being the supplier of weapons for FARC and other radical groups and stirring up well funded political activity whenever the opportunity arises.
He has also adopted the mantle of America’s leading critic. In 2006 he called President George Bush “the Devil” at the United Nations General Assembly. He invariably invokes Noam Chomsky, a radical critic of U.S. foreign policy, as a “truthteller.” He has expressed great confidence in Iran’s Ahmadinejad; has supported Hezbollah and calls Fidel Castro his mentor. And he inveighs against U.S. capitalism as “savagery” and free markets as an effort to foster income disparity.
Yet remarkably Chavez has many admirers in the United States. Cindy Sheehan, the soi disant poster woman for the anti-Iraq war sympathizers, calls him a friend and said with great enthusiasm that Chavez would undermine “the U.S. empire.”
Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemisphere Affairs in Washington, argues that “Venezuela has become a major source of interest for social visionaries in the United States.”
Representative Dennis Kucinich wrote that the U.S. administration should look at Venezuela as a “model democracy”—a point of view embraced by Jesse Jackson, Ed Asner and leftist writers Howard Zinn and Naomi Klein.
In the face of a Chavez-provoked crackdown on press organizations and dissenters, Representative Brad Sherman of California said Venezuela had “a strong free press and respect for important freedom.”
As one might expect, Hollywood is solidly in the Chavez camp. Harry Belafonte said “millions of American people… support your [Chavez] revolution.” Sean Penn delivered similar encomiums when he met with the Venezuelan president. And Danny Glover has received tens of millions from Chavez for the production of three new films.
Perhaps the most interesting of Chavez’s program agents is former Representative Joseph Kennedy. Kennedy, representing Citizens Energy Corporation, has been a television spokesman for CITGO, the Venezuelan oil outlet in the United States. Kennedy maintains on camera that CITGO is donating millions of gallons to needy Americans “because no one should be left out in the cold.” The fact that many Venezuelans are left out of the nations’ political process is not mentioned by Mr. Kennedy.
There is little doubt that the Kennedy gambit is designed to elicit good will for Chavez and, in a nation naïve about foreign affairs, it appears to be working. Some spokesmen have even urged their listeners to buy CITGO gas. After all, some of these dupes contend, Chavez is using oil revenue to alleviate poverty.
Chavez is conducting a public diplomacy campaign on several fronts. He has bought ads lauding Venezuelan accomplishments in the Economist, New Yorker, and Roll Call among others. And he has hired public relations firms to burnish the image of his government.
While Chavez frequently refers to himself as a modern Jesus and goes off on rants not unlike his hero Fidel Castro, he is not a fool. He has carefully cultivated hard core left wing opinion in the United States and has used his plentiful oil revenue to buy friends.
However, his agenda is quite transparent. He wants to undermine American interests on the continent and he expressly desires a Marxist style revolution wherever possible. If this agenda means embracing Ahmadinejad or any other enemy of the United States, so be it.
Since the left in the U.S. detests George Bush, Chavez is a useful vehicle for its interests. Anti-Americanism is the gravaman that unites Chavez, his U.S. admirers and global terrorists. Oil lubricates this alliance and fuels the network. We would be wise to examine his aims carefully and do what we can to thwart these objectives.