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With the passing of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, the United States of America and its allies may be glad to see one of their most vocal and visible critics gone. However, Chávez was hardly the only challenger of (perceived) Western dominance. Find out about the antics of the West's most feared and hated adversaries in this miniseries.
Although recently deceased, the list of menaces would not be complete without El Comandante. Throughout his three-and-a-bit presidential terms Hugo Chávez developed a strong anti-Western and above all anti-U.S. stance, holding many confrontational speeches and calling out the hypocrisies he witnessed at every turn.
One of the most well-known Chávez diatribes took place at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2006. Chávez said:
"And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. And it smells of sulphur still today."
Venezuela's former president decried imperialism in any form, but most often and most vocally when the United States was involved. In one of his lenghty speeches titled "Alo Presidente" he addressed then U.S. president George W. Bush by saying:
"You are a donkey, Mr. George W. Bush... You are a coward, a killer, a perpetrator of genocide, an alcoholic, a drunk, Mr. Danger.."
Although the international media, including ourselves, always delighted at Chávez' anti-Bush and anti-U.S. ragings, they may have actually helped further his political agenda. According to political scientist N. Scott Cole, Bush has suffered from a "legitimacy problem" and none other than Chávez "has helped widen Bush's credibility gap".
A favourite lightning rod for Venezuela's ex-president was imperialism in all its many forms - or at least the many forms that Chávez perceived it to have. In 2011 he was quoted to have said:
"I have always said, listen carefully, that it would not be strange that there had been civilization on Mars, but maybe capitalism arrived there, imperialism arrived and finished off the planet."
Yep, that's right - although there was a bit more context. Chávez was musing on the rise of desertification and destruction of forests and rivers. The dangers of water supply privatization and overexploitation of natural resources are of course valid concerns. In fact, several other international actors share these worries - Bolivia and UNESCO to name just two. Still, Chávez seems to have been the only visionary that saw the parallel between Mars' wastelands and progressive desertification on our own planet.
During his reign, Chávez seems to have observed the rule of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." The first example of this is Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. When the Libyan ruler lost favor with the West and subsequently also lost his life, Chávez commented:
"Liberator of Libya, He will be remembered as a great fighter, a revolutionary and a martyr. They assassinated him."
A second partner in crime for Chávez is Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. El Comandante considered him one of his most important allies in his fight against the American devil and against the evil of neoliberal imperialism. And the feeling was mutual: Chávez received the highest Iranian state medal for supporting Tehran in its nuclear standoff with the international community. At that occasion Venezuela's ex-president commented:
After Chávez passed, Ahmadinejad himself even went so far as to put him on a par with Jesus:
"Let's save the human race, let's finish off the U.S. empire."
"I have no doubt that he (Chávez) will return, along with the righteous Jesus and the perfect human."
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is number three in Chávez' card deck of allies. In 2011 Chávez commented:
"We send our solidarity to the Syrian people, to President Bashar. They are resisting imperial aggression, the attacks of the Yankee empire and its European allies."
The Yankee empire.. sounds almost like Star Wars. Something like this perhaps?
The Jewish community in Venezuela and Israel in general have also been the target of Chávez' wrath. In a 2005 speech he commented that
According to some, Chávez' treatment of Jews in Venezuela amounts to state-directed anti-semitism, in part to impress allies such as Iran. Israel itself has also come under fire from Chávez, for example in 2006 when the late president said that
Of course, the statement that "Israel has gone mad" seemed not so far-fetched when Netanyahu himself brought a crude diagram of a bomb to the U.N. General Assembly last year, as an illustration of Iran's nuclear preparation. The baffling kindergarten lesson in nuclear physics of course was prime internet adaptation material - and the memesters did not disappoint.
"some minorities, the descendants of the same people that crucified Christ, and of those that expelled Bolívar from here and in their own way crucified him. . . . have taken control of the riches of the world"
"Israel has gone mad. It's attacking, doing the same thing to the Palestinian and Lebanese people that they have criticised - and with reason - the Holocaust."
Not so much a tenet in Chávez' foreign policy - except perhaps as example of his fiery, fierce rhetoric - but in 2006 El Comandante demonstrated that he was quite capable of a good "Godwin's law" in his speeches. To be fair, former U.S. Defense chief Donald Rumsfeld started it with a beauty of his own. Commenting on the state of Latin-American governments, Rumsfeld said that some of them were "worrisome", and named Venezuela as an example. Why worrisome you ask? Well, Rumsfeld explained, because Chávez was democratically elected of course. And us 'Murcans don't like him. And you know who was also democratically elected whom we didn't like?? THAT'S RIGHT IT'S ADOLF HITLER!
Of course, Chávez could not let this slide and retaliated, with an ever so clever
Chávez even used this favorite new nickname for U.S. leadership while insulting other world leaders. For instance later that year, he addressed then British Prime Minister Tony Blair as follows:
"I'm Hitler?? F*CK YOU, YOU GUYS ARE HITLER YOURSELF!! Hitler was a 'suckling baby' compared to you"
"You are an imperialist pawn who attempts to curry favour with Danger Bush-Hitler, the number one mass murderer and assassin there is on the planet. Go straight to hell, Mr Blair."
Although Chávez passed away, his legacy will remain as one of the most long-lived and successful challenges to Western hegemony in recent history. As noted by economic historian Steve Ellner, "Chávez is [was] the first elected Latin American head of state since Alan García to defy the hegemonic powers of the 'new world order'".