When Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez flew to Tripoli in 2004 to receive the Moammar Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights, he joined a select club. Other recipients of the prize include Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. This should not be surprising. It is no coincidence that the prize has been awarded to some of the most tyrannical and anti-American yet clownish despots in the Third World. They share those qualities, and a hatred of individual liberty, with Qaddafi. The relationship between Qaddafi and those “laureates” has been long and involved, going back in the case of Castro and Ortega to cooperation in terrorist wars in the 1970s and ’80s.
Although President Chávez was a latecomer, he lost no time in consummating the friendship and joining the club. In 2009, during an official state visit by Qaddafi to Venezuela, Chávez bestowed upon him the Order of Simón Bolívar, Venezuela’s highest honor, and famously said, “What Simón Bolívar is to Venezuela, Qaddafi is to Libya.” In reality, Bolívar was an admirer of George Washington’s and the architect of the independence of six existing nations of South America. Bolívar today would be called a democrat in the classical sense, certainly not a candidate for the Qaddafi Prize.
Chávez’s rationale for flattering Qaddafi was sincere: imitation. For Chávez, keen on following Qaddafi’s example, the relationship seemed natural. A powerful Qaddafi had thumbed his nose at the international community for four decades, sponsoring some of the world’s worst terrorists and even establishing the “Harvard for Tyrants,” a training center that has produced some of the world’s most radical revolutionaries. Likewise, since reaching power Chávez has used his nation’s oil wealth to support terrorist organizations such as FARC and ELN in Colombia, the Basque ETA in Spain, Hezbollah, and others in his attempt to “usher in a new world order” and “bring about the collapse of the [American] empire.” As Qaddafi did, Chávez has established militaristic control over his country, and, also as Qaddafi did with his grandiose pan-Africanism, he has placed himself at the head of a pan-American coalition that he generously subsidizes — the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA), comprising Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.
But suddenly the situation has turned complicated. Since this January, the Arab world has been trembling. First, the less cruel regimes in Tunisia and Egypt fell. Somewhat slow on the uptake, President Obama has finally spoken with resolution. He has called on Qaddafi to “step down from power and leave.” Why the Qaddafi regime’s demise will be good for democracy and freedom in North Africa is obvious. But it will also be good for the Americas. As the award-winning journalist Douglas Farah observes in the “Harvard for Terrorists” article cited above, not only are Chávez and Ortega trampling on their countries’ constitutions and moving toward dictatorship, but with Qaddafi they “support the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a terrorist group that produces more than half of the world’s cocaine and two-thirds of the cocaine entering the United States.”
Sensing how tenuous is their Arab partner’s position, Chávez and his ALBA front offered to mediate in a last-ditch effort to help Qaddafi remain in power. Probably smelling a rat, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley stated, “You don’t need an international commission to tell Colonel Qaddafi what he needs to do for the good of his country . . .”