On Chavez: The beatings will continue until morale improves

Bryan Thompson

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One way to measure the state of the global economy is by counting the number of Latin American autocrats in power.

Wall Street's periodic tumbles seem to be something akin to Miracle-Gro for generalissimos, and the current crop of presidentes appears to be a rehash (albeit with minor modifications) of older repressive governments.

Unlike previous tin-pot dictators, these latter-day Latin strongmen have dispensed with military regalia. While the dark glasses and green fatigues of yesteryear may have been visually striking, modern autocrats have learned that this sends the wrong message to the population. They have now traded their medals in for business suits or even traditional peasant sweaters.

The language of anti-communism has been substituted for a more progressive message. However, the same forces that propelled your granddaddy's dictators into power are again at work in Latin America.

While some of these leaders have been unfairly maligned by conservative media outlets in the United States (Hugo Chavez probably won't ever appear on the 700 Club), other criticisms are quite justified. Despite laudable (and successful) attempts at reducing Venezuelan poverty, Chavez remains heavy-handed and hypersensitive to criticism, labeling most attempts at dissent as reactionary imperialist conspiracies against his government.

One of these CIA-funded cloak-and-dagger groups, Human Rights Watch (HRW), sent a letter to Chavez in 2004 complaining of the abuse of arrested protesters.

Some instances of abuse included a rather creative attempt at locking prisoners in the back of a truck and bombarding them with tear gas, as well as more traditional beatings and electric shocks. Reading the HRW report one could substitute dates and names and you might as well be reading a report from El Salvador circa 1981, Argentina 1976, or Chile in 1973.

Now, Hugo Chavez may simply be attempting to defend the revolution from the ceaseless machinations of those agents of empire, the reactionary bourgeois elite, or he may have simply succumbed to the virus of authoritarianism from which no Latin American leader appears to be immune.

As always, the simpler answer is usually the correct one.