Chavez brings humor to bleak global politics

HUGO CHAVEZ is one of my favorite topics. I marvel at almost every declaration that leaves his mouth. While not exactly in support of the guy, I plain doubt if the likely alternatives would be much better for Venezuela or more entertaining for the world.

The Venezuelan president’s knack for boorish diplomacy is only slightly upstaged by his seeming inability to avoid personal embarrassment on a global scale. With Chavez as leader, observers enjoy an added benefit of his tempestuous demeanor: most folks don’t take him too seriously.

Sure, Exxon’s puerile shareholders get cranky when he pinches off supply from the Venezuelan teat, and it’s certainly worrisome to see him shuffling transcontinental armies of socialist warriors. But honestly now… Exxon has never been a friend to you, and South American forces have never posed a threat to you.

The energy giant never made you chuckle like you did when Chavez declared Venezuela to have its own time zone (UTC -4:30). Or who can forget his conversion of Venezuela’s 128 year-old currency, the bolívar, to his new and improved version: the bolívar fuerte, which is a similar bill with three zeros knocked off “to fight inflation”. His multi-hour orations grew so absurd and rhetoric-ridden that Spain’s King Carlos asked him, “¿Oye Chavez, por que no te calles?” [Hey Chavez, why don’t you shutup?]

This week Chavez ordered infantry and tanks to the Colombian border in response to an anti-terrorism mission that spilled into Ecuador. Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa, a decent guy if naïve, followed in kind. The world is left to wonder if Gran Colombia is again on the brink of war.

I have some friends in Colombia so I called to get their take. The whole escapade is so funny, they said, because nothing will come of it. Any casualties will be due to dermal fungus and mosquitos. At most, a couple rifles will be fired back and forth across the border, which is an area dominated by indigenous peoples, guerrilla groups, and year-round military presence on all sides. But then… they trail off. It’s clear the jokes at Chavez’ expense are hitting close to home.

Perhaps the logical outcome is Chavez will eventually drive his nation into the ground, bankrupting the people and setting industry back many years. And while it’s a drastic fate, is it so fundamentally different than what we see US policy, both foreign and fiscal, accomplishing in this country?

In the meantime, I echo the words of one Colombian pundit who pled, “Por favor, Hugo Chavez, no te calles.