By JAY AMBROSE
Until reading about Hugo Chavez’s U.N. speech the other day, the craziest reference to the devil I had ever seen was on the front page of a supermarket tab. "DEVIL ESCAPES HELL," it said in all-caps, super-large type. Under the headline was a picture of smoke pouring out of a great, big hole in the ground. I couldn’t help laughing.
It’s hard to laugh at Chavez’s speech saying President Bush was the devil, though, because this clown-in-chief of Venezuela is in a position to inflict a whole lot of pain on people _ he has been busily doing that very thing _ and it’s hard to grasp why U.N. delegates applauded him. Are they of the same ilk as the ignorant, gullible souls who would buy that supermarket tab to get the real goods on satanic doings? Maybe so, maybe so.
Large numbers of these delegates, after all, represent tyrannies chiefly notable for abusing their own people _ sometimes slaughtering them, usually impoverishing them, always ensuring they don’t get uppity about their rights _ and all the time blaming their national misery on those other lands that have found prosperity through constitutional order, liberty and free markets. They may hold their tongues when genocide is afoot in some desperate country much like their own, but loudly curse the wealthy and powerful United States.
When Chavez tells such an audience that the devil spoke from the same platform the previous day, makes the sign of the cross over his heart and says "this place still smells of sulfur," he is playing to this covetous spite, hoping his theatrics will win him a world standing that doesn’t notice the horrendous mess he has made of things in Venezuela as its president.
"I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday’s statement made by the president of the United States," Chavez said. "As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the people of the world."
Was it exploitative or dominating for Bush to call for establishment of a Palestinian state that would exist democratically side by side with Israel? Was it a nostrum for him to call for strengthened peacekeeping forces in Darfur, where 200,000 have died from hate campaigns and some 2 million more rendered homeless? Did he have pillage in mind when he said Iran deserves democracy and a thriving economy instead of leadership that funds terrorists and seeks to construct nuclear weapons?
We know how Chavez stands on that last issue because, on a multi-country trip, he stopped over in Iran and out-ranted that country’s clown-in-chief, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In still another instance of using the word "devil," he said that’s what resided inside the people of Israel. Self-revealed as an anti-Semite from utterances spoken elsewhere, he characterized the Israelis as "cowards" and "murderers" and called for God to throw "lightning bolts" at them. A nuclear bomb or two would probably suit him fine, as well.
Chavez has one thing going for him back home. High oil prices. In oil-rich Venezuela, they have kept the economy humming, although Chavez’s socialist enthusiasms have increased poverty. He operates in extraordinary, undemocratic secrecy, presides over an outlandishly corrupt government, doesn’t allow the press to say unpleasant things about him, has essentially made the courts and legislature his playthings, has wrecked the lives of ordinary people opposed to his rule and buttresses his populism with threats as necessary, various reports tell us. Those reports also tell us that he has a considerable following and came to power through an election, while reminding us that he once tried to come to power through a military coup.
You might think Chavez is just one more harmless fool, but Venezuelans are suffering, and if he grows in global stature _ if, for instance, Venezuela gets Latin America’s seat on the U.N. Security Council as he wishes _ he could expand that suffering to others. The hope has to be that mature, rational judgments will catch up with him and squash his career, causing him to look for excuses. Someone might then tell this lover of devil references about the line used by the late comedian Flip Wilson to escape blame in sketches about his mistakes being found out.
"The devil made me do it," dear, old Flip would say.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)