Calling out Chavez

Article excerpt


"Why don't you shut up!" fired Spanish King Juan Carlos at Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez Wednesday during the Ibero-American Summit in Chile. It was not a question. Mr. Chavez had pointedly interrupted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's speech. He had called Mr. Zapatero's predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, "a fascist," repeatedly. He had generally played the boor, as he is wont to do. The normally decorous Spanish king walked out of the session in disgust. Next came threats against Spanish investments in Venezuela.

All observers should realize one thing here: For this would-be clone of Fidel Castro, Mr. Chavez's behavior serves a purpose. It helps to obscure facts that Mr. Chavez would rather not discuss. First, Venezuela greatly needs the economic ties it maintains with Spain and other major powers, prominently the United States, and those ties rest upon these countries' energy consumption. But it suits the Bolivarian political rhetoric of "500 years of Spanish arrogance" to appear defiant before these powers. Second, the dramatics also serve a much worse purpose: to deflect attention from the gutting Mr. Chavez is undertaking this month of what remains of the Venezuelan constitution. The anti-imperialist, "Third World savior" posture is essential if Mr. Chavez is to complete the country's transition from multiparty democracy to charismatic, petrodollar dictatorship. …