Monday, January 25, 2010

The Chavez Collapse

While the world's attention is focused on the twin disasters of the Haitian earthquake and the unraveling Obama agenda, one of the left's recent great hopes is beginning to teeter and collapse. Even the Washington Post editorial page deputy editor Jackson Diehl has noticed what is happening.

During the past two weeks, just before and after the earthquake outside Port-au-Prince, the following happened: Chávez was forced to devalue the Venezuelan currency, and impose and then revoke massive power cuts in the Venezuelan capital as the country reeled from recession, double-digit inflation and the possible collapse of the national power grid.

In addition to Venezuela's economic troubles, Chavez's efforts to raise up leftist leaders in the nations around him are also flagging. Honduras has resolved its political crisis - provoked by a Chavez ally - without violence and with a deal that sends Chavez's ally packing.

But the international response to the horror of the Haitian disaster has done the most to expose the bankruptcy of Chavez's leftist rhetoric. For all Chavez's bluster (and that of Cuba's Castro, or Bolivia's Morales), the massive aid now rescuing and feeding the destitute Haitians isn't coming from any of the great Latin American bastions of socialism, but rather from the capitalist Satan itself.

Haiti only deepens Chávez's hole. As the world watches, the United States is directing a massive humanitarian operation, and Haitians are literally cheering the arrival of U.S. Marines. Chávez has no way to reconcile those images with his central propaganda message to Latin Americans, which is that the United States is an "empire" and an evil force in the region.

Of course, many leftwing regimes have regularly weathered such public exposure of their lies over the decades. What finally brings them to their knees are the brutal facts of economics - namely, that socialism doesn't work.

Then there is the meltdown Chávez faces at home. Despite the recovery in oil prices, the Venezuelan economy is deep in recession and continues to sink even as the rest of Latin America recovers. Economists guess inflation could rise to 60 percent in the coming months. Meanwhile, due to a drought, the country is threatened with the shutdown of a hydroelectric plant that supplies 70 percent of its electricity. And Chávez's failure to invest in new plants means there is no backup. There is also the crime epidemic -- homicides have tripled since Chávez took office, making Caracas one of the world's most dangerous cities. At a recent baseball game a sign in the crowd read: "3 Strikes-Lights-Water-Insecurity/President You Struck Out."

Chávez's thugs beat up those baseball fans. The man himself is ranting about the U.S. "occupation" of Haiti; his state television even claimed that the U.S. Navy caused the earthquake using a new secret weapon. On Sunday his government ordered cable networks to drop an opposition-minded television channel.

But Chavez's approval ratings are still sinking: They've dropped to below 50 percent in Venezuela and to 34 percent in the rest of the region. The caudillo has survived a lot of bad news before and may well survive this. But the turning point in the battle between authoritarian populism and liberal democracy in Latin America has passed -- and Chávez has lost.

Despite his current and growing problems, Chavez and his regime won't disappear any time soon. Like all leftist dictators he will linger on while his country collapses around him, likely until some upstart army officer decides the people have had enough. As his desperation grows, however, there is the danger that Chavez may decide to launch a war with one of his neighbors - likely Columbia - to distract the attention of the Venezuelan people from the manifest evidence of his failures.

The Chavez Revolution isn't quite dead yet, but the undertaker is certainly getting ready.


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