Hugo Chavez is a self-made man. He wasn 't piggy-backed into Harvard on his family name or shoehorned into the White House by corporate gangsters. He grew up in a two-room thatched palm-leaf house with his five siblings and dreamt of moving to New York to play baseball for the Yankees. At age 18 he chose to make the most of his meager opportunities by enlisting in the military.
For 17 years, Chavez served his country; gradually moving up the chain of command to lieutenant colonel. Unlike his American counterpart, GW Bush, Chavez never went AWOL during wartime or stumbled through years of idle profligacy peering at the world through beer-goggles.
While Bush was busy driving three consecutive companies into insolvency and fattening his bank account with the loot from insider-trading scams, Chavez was putting together the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement; a leftist political organization which promoted redistribution and civil rights.
Chavez was lifted to the presidency on the backs of peasants and working-class people. Bush was selected by 5 venal judges who repealed the democratic process and suspended the counting of ballots.
The differences between the two men go on and on. It is an interesting study in contrasts and one that is particularly relevant to the deteriorating state of world affairs. So far, Bush 's views have carried the day; the global superpower is free to act unilaterally and without concern for either international law or basic standards of decency.
Chavez, however, has presented a competing vision of global integration, collective action, and participatory democracy. His world-view is clearly ascendant.
"Capitalism is barbarism, " Chavez says; a point that is persuasively driven home by the daily accounts of butchery in Iraq, Afghanistan or Haiti. In Bush-world the mounting death toll is simply the price of opening new markets like the cheerful ringing of a cash register. Its no wonder the system is collapsing all around him.
Chavez has taken the lead in denouncing Bush and the system that supports him:
"For the horror it has created around the world in the last century, the United States ' war machine should be dismantled. It is a threat against all of mankind, particularly against our children. "
He has wisely taken aim at Bush as the primary symbol of a system run amok:
"The worst genocidal leader in the history of humanity is the President of the United States. Hitler would be like a suckling baby next to George W Bush ... He is a terrorist, a drunkard, and a donkey ".
The difference between the two men is striking. They are polar opposites. Bush is a lackey of the oil giants and banking establishment, while Chavez is a charismatic populist fighting for the poor and disenfranchised. The contrast in character has greatly enhanced Chavez 's reputation and strengthened his case for socialism:
"This model, the so called American way of life, the extreme capitalism, is not sustainable. Life on this planet will end if we continue down this road. That is why we are motivated to establish socialism and abandon selfish consumerism. We are all in danger, especially our children and grandchildren. "
Chavez has been a thumb in the eye of the Bush Empire. His criticism of America 's duplicitous foreign policy resonates with poor and working class people alike.
Presently, he is meeting with leaders of Libya and Algeria (supposedly) to discuss increased cooperation on oil production and to develop social programs for the poor based on oil revenues. Chavez has initiated similar programs at home, but he is using his increased visibility to slam Bush and American foreign policy:
"We are against imperialist America. We don 't accept its hegemony. The whole world should unite against America. "
Chavez 's trip comes at a time when there are renewed fears of an attack on Iran. Could it be that the Venezuelan president is actually working behind the scenes to stem the flow of oil if Iran is bombed? Or, maybe he is orchestrating a "dollar sell-off " (transfer to euros) like Russia and Venezuela have threatened previously? Whatever the plan, Chavez has consistently condemned Bush 's saber-rattling even though the other nations cringe in fear.
"The world needs to do everything possible to avoid the madness of a military attack against Iran. We call upon the government of the United States to halt its warmongering, which will throw the world into an abyss of more wars, more terrorism, more death, and more desperation. Europe has an important role to play in this; instead of supporting this war, it should help to stop it. "
Chavez has been equally blunt in his criticism of the war in Iraq. In an interview with British Channel 4 he was asked what he would do if he was living in occupied Iraq. Chavez answered:
"If I was an Iraqi I would be resisting. I would be in the trenches; I would have a rocket-launcher; I would be defending the holy sovereignty of my country against the abuses and oppression of the empire. "
His sense of moral clarity is a reprieve from the evasive gibberish of other world leaders who try to soften their rhetoric so they don 't offend Washington.
In the same interview Chavez was asked (disdainfully) why people outside of his country "think he is crazy "?
Chavez responded, "If those people think I 'm crazy, well, God forgive them, because they are victims of a media campaign. I am just a human being like you; no more, no less. But, I am totally devoted to this cause of equality and justice to see if we can save this planet ....The great crazy guy is I Washington, not here. "
Chavez is slowly transforming Venezuelan politics and making significant headway in areas of redistribution and social welfare. The country 's 25 million people now have full access to free health care and illiteracy has been eliminated. Government programs now provide15 million people with subsidized food, medicine and other essentials. Medical clinics have sprung up in every barrio in Caracas and college enrollment has increased exponentially.
Chavez has created a model of governance that is based on human needs rather than rigid ideology. This has made it more difficult to discredit him as dogmatic or authoritarian. His policies of income redistribution have created a burgeoning Venezuelan middle class which is changing the political dynamic throughout Latin America. He has become Washington 's "biggest nightmare " and a threat to America 's economic dominance in the region.
"Let's consider socialism, " Chavez said. "Let's debate it and build it. I believe that mistakes were in the economic analysis, and there should be social praxis. 21st century socialism should be based on solid human values. "
No one has energized the Left than Hugo Chavez. He has become the face of anti-imperialism and the champion of progressive socialism. His views on education, poverty-reduction, social justice, and the equitable distribution of oil revenues are sweeping the hemisphere; brushing aside centuries of colonialism.
The politics of personal accumulation and perennial war are on the decline. Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. As Chavez says, "We must embrace a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans, not machines and not the state, above everything ".
This century 's Enlightenment is emerging in Latin America.