A Cuban immigrant ran up to me last night, flush with excitement at rumors coming from her Miami relatives that Fidel Castro had died, wanting to know if it was true so she could start partying. A quick check of the wires damped her spirits a bit, as services were reporting Castro had gone into surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding and temporarily relinquished power to his mousy brother Raul.
She and others who risked everything to escape that Communist hellhole won’t be the only ones cheering at the eventual — perhaps imminent — passing of the cigar-chain-smoking tyrant.
As much as they’ve snuggled and back-patted, as much as they act like dysfunctional father and bratty son, the death of the linchpin of Latin American Communism will probably be the best news Hugo Chavez has gotten since he met his useful anti-Bush idiot dream girl, Cindy Sheehan.
Because as much as the Venezuelan ruler spouts adulation for the Cuban social model and figureheads such as Che Guevara and Castro, they are the old revolution. Cuba is the isolated Communist island that has never squeezed itself out from under the thumb of the West, focusing most of its energy on weathering the U.S. trade embargo. Though Castro survived U.S. attempts on his life, like the CIA’s famous exploding seashell, his famous tumble down the stairs in old age was a metaphor for his regime. Cuba became the floating prison from which thousands of influential American immigrant businesspeople, politicians, etc., hailed, and never has ceased to be the island from which citizens risk life and limb to escape. Whereas Castro envisioned that his Communist utopia would set the gold standard for the world, he has been handily upstaged by dissidents and exiles who have, over the decades, become poster children for the fundamental thirst for liberty.
Chavez sees this as old Communism, and he is the future. He is the Bolivarian revolutionary learning from his Communist forefathers’ mistakes — save for the fundamentally-flawed-philosophy one — and thinking beyond even his own Venezuela. He is quashing opposition, press and even clergy with such slick spin to successfully delude outsiders into believing that he is a humanitarian who has perfected socialism — not the power-ravenous megalomaniac who claims even Jesus Christ was a socialist revolutionary.
Chavez fancies himself the cult of personality that will eclipse the long-fading allure of Castro; he fantasizes about being the larger-than-life leader who can unite even the most stubborn and independent Latin American countries into the United States of Hugo.
While the Cuban regime has faded into oblivion on the world stage, languishing in relative isolation, Chavez has taken a different tack. Around the globe he goes, drumming up support and making bosom buddies in some of the most despicable regimes that exist. His most recent tour has included Belarus and Vietnam; missile-lobbing North Korea only got scratched off the list at the last minute (not for a lack of mutual desire). And, of course, Chavez spent his 52nd birthday on Friday whooping it up in Iran. While his ministers made energy deals and hashed out eleven memoranda of understanding with the Islamic Republic, Chavez got to spend some cozy time with another nuclear-happy global threat, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Along with his loyal friends, Chavez stands against the bullying of the world hegemony like a hero and defends justice,” Ahmadinejad said Sunday in his canonization of Chavez. “He has devoted his life to serving his nation and the world freedom-seeking nations. … To overcome colonialism and bullying usurpers, self-relying and justice-oriented men willing to devote themselves to the humanity are required. Chavez is one of such men.”
Not that Chavez and Castro haven’t teamed up for regional endeavors. Just ten days before Castro handed over the reins, he and Chavez were rallying hardcore leftists at the Mercosur summit in Argentina, where the trade bloc got a leftward jolt with the admittance of Venezuela. Chavez expressed his desire to bring poodle Evo Morales’s Bolivia into the fold, as well as Cuba. This push is less about economies and more about opposition to the U.S.-backed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, and about Mercosur being dwarfed by NAFTA.
Does this mean Chavez will want to oust old Raul Castro and annex Cuba to Venezuela? He may dream of the eventual coup d’etat, and barging in with Venezuelan troops to save the day. He may encourage “democratic” heavily tainted elections like the dog-and-pony shows in his country, helping solidify his image as the dictator in sheep’s clothing. There would be no increase in freedoms, no sigh of relief from the Cuban exiles, no lessening of drive to swim across the ocean, just more cleverly spun misery endorsed by the “observing” Jimmy Carters of the world.
Even if Raul sits in the presidential palace smoking stogies for a while, Castro’s death will signal Chavez’s rise to the top of the ideological heap, something he’s been working on for a while. Buddying up to Fidel has lent the notion of endorsement to every Che-shirt-wearing suburban brat, to every self-described social revolutionary chucking a Molotov cocktail at a G-8 or World Bank summit.
While Fidel’s name has long been mud in much of the U.S., Chavez has weaseled his way into the States by making chums of politicians and social activists, giving cheap heating oil to selected poor folks or making allies on the antiwar left. Like-minded “revolutionaries” are eagerly doing Chavez’s bidding by setting up Bolivarian Circles around the country. I can’t remember the last time I got an angry letter from a fervent Fidel defender, but the legion of St. Hugo is always ready to strike back with his gospel. And they’re brainwashed and paranoid, just like their idol.
Chavez will become a drama queen like none other on the passing of Castro, mourning and wailing and hailing the dictator like a deity. But he will quickly assume his place at the helm of global Marxists, telling all who will listen that the crown has been passed on to him by the Cuban Commie legend. His power will grow in lockstep with his ego. And unfortunately, many may not be able to swim away from Hugo’s regime — and tightening grip on other regimes — so readily.