Monday, April 22, 2002

Karl Marx alive in Venezuela

        Venezuela is a place where tropical Gauguin beauty blossoms right next door to sharp-edged Picasso poverty.

        Flowering bougainvillea as red as a starlet's lipstick cascades over garden walls outside million-dollar homes with stark bars on the windows to keep out the nagging fear of a revolution.

        Well, the revolution happened last week. Or something like it.

        Venezuela's business leaders flexed some military muscle and evicted President Hugo Chavez. But then they lost the ranch in a farce that looked like the Marx brothers running Freedonia.

        Mr. Chavez is now more powerful and more anti-American than ever. The business leaders are scattered and a few are “detained,” which is a scary word in Central America.

Our OPEC neighbor

        Just a year ago I visited Valencia and asked about the country's politics. President Chavez, I heard, was a dangerous left-wing whack-job who plays with revolutionary fire and vilifies the “rich” while buying a new private jet to keep up with the OPEC Joneses.

        If you're wondering why we should care, the clue is “OPEC.” You'd never know it by the donkey carts that plod beside the highways, but Venezuela is the world's third-largest oil producer and a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It has Kuwait's oil wealth with Iraq's poverty, right in our backyard.

        The spark in the gas tank for the weekend coup, according to The Wall Street Journal, was President Chavez's demand to install a left-wing academic as president of the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela. When protesters were killed, Mr. Chavez was ousted.

        The business leaders wanted more foreign investment to modernize oil production and boost income. Mr. Chavez, a member of the shrinking Castro Club — the Karl Marx brothers who play dictators in gaudy uniforms — has strangled the economy.

        It's a paradox: The man of the people is keeping two-thirds of them in poverty, while the leaders who can help the poor are demonized as “plutocrats.”

Plutocrats in Chevys

        They didn't look like plutocrats to me. They drove old Detroit iron with NASCAR tune-ups, to discourage thieves and escape street crime. They lived in modest homes, mostly. And they worried about the future of their country under a demagogue who instigates class warfare.

        But the business clique blew it. As they fought over the spoils, new President Pedro Carmona suspended the Venezuelan Congress and removed local governors — a disastrously stupid mistake.

        Mr. Chavez quickly rallied the poor and reclaimed power after just 48 hours. And that could mean another 48 years of poverty.

        Most Americans could not care less. We're too busy carping about a two-bit increase in gas prices that “wrecks our economy” by costing drivers less than $150 a year.

        Democrats are now accusing President Bush of encouraging the drive-by revolution. I hope he did. Venezuela could be a beautiful place if they'd fumigate the left-wing parasites who ride to power on the backs of the poor.

        E-mail: Past columns at


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