When Hugo Chavez was sworn in as president of Venezuela in February 1997, he was hailed as the true successor to Latin American freedom fighter, Simon Bolivar. Notables including Sean Penn, Harry Belafonte, Oliver Stone, and Noam Chomsky shouted from rooftops that Chavez was a visionary who would restore prosperity and return power to the people. And they applauded his claim that the United States is “the most evil regime that has ever existed.”
These useful idiots have turned a blind eye to the fact that Chavez is a depraved Marxist totalitarian whose heroes are Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. They have also ignored that he supports global terrorism, has provided sanctuary to the Colombian terrorist group FARC, and has pledged, “that nothing will stop us” from acquiring nuclear power.
A misogynist, who claimed former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice found him irresistible, Chavez has been described by his long-term mistress and mother of his child as a “typical narcissist dictator.” “Ego” Chavez, as dissenters refer to him, has been called “Der Narziss von Caracas” by Die Zeit foreign correspondent Reiner Luyken and a “Narcissist-Leninist” by The Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer.
Since taking office Chavez has destroyed what was considered the most stable Latin American democratic country. A 300-page 2010 report issued by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission accused Chavez of massive violations of human rights, the destruction of democratic principles such as the separation of powers, judicial review of acts of state, and the rule of law over the will of the president. The report concluded that there are “persistent threats and violations of human rights involving political participation, freedom of thought and expression, right to life, personal security and personal integrity and liberty.”
During his tenure, national literacy has gone up only 1 percent and crime is rampant. Homicide rates have increased 90 percent between 1998 and 2005 and 91 percent of murders are never solved. At 57 murders per 100,000 people, Venezuela’s homicide rate is the world’s highest. Not included in these statistics are the thousands who are killed annually “resisting authority.”
The Index of Economic Freedom study of 157 countries places Venezuela in 148th place. Transparency International rates Venezuela as one of the world’s most corrupt nations.
Throughout his reign of terror, the major thorn in Chavez’s side has been the hierarchy of Venezuela’s Roman Catholic Church. Venezuela, a nation of 25 million, is 90 percent Catholic and recent polling indicates that 80 percent of the population is supportive of the Church and regards it as trustworthy.
The bishops have instructed their flocks that Chavez’s brand of socialism is not compatible with the social teachings of the Church. In October 2006, Archbishop Diego Rafael Padrón Sanchez of Cumana declared: “Chavez’s so-called twenty-first century socialism has already been polarizing the country for seven years. People are for him or against him, but nevertheless, they have remained poor.”
The Narcissus of Caracas at prayer
In 2007, the bishops opposed Chavez’s constitutional reform referendum that would have given him dictatorial powers. The proposals, they said, were undemocratic and a massive attack on civil rights particularly freedom of expression.
Venezuela’s seminarians also refused to stand on the sidelines. In an open letter to the bishop’s conference, they stated that the “reforms” were “morally unacceptable” and “irreconcilable with the Christian faith and its view of man and society.” As for Chavez’s plan to stifle dissent, the seminarians expressed support for those who act and speak “in accordance with their conscience” and condemned “as a threat to democracy when violent physical or verbal means are used against those who express their views openly.”
After the constitutional referendum was defeated, 51 percent to 49 percent, Chavez went ballistic and condemned the bishops, priests, and seminarians as fomenting rebellion and “talking nonsense.” He ordered them to read “Marx, Lenin, and the Sermon on the Mount to discover the true inspiration of socialism.”
To break the influence of the Church, Chavez designed a law that ended traditional government subsidies to Catholic schools and ended the right of children to receive religious education in government-run schools. Cardinal Jorge Urosa condemned the measures and warned that he would continue to vigorously oppose Chavez’s “socialism of the twenty-first century that was proving to be similar to old style communist regimes.”
The bishops have also opposed to Chavez’s fifteen-year plan to integrate Cuba, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador under one socialist-government umbrella.
In July of this year, Chavez, in an address to the National Assembly, denounced Cardinal Urosa as a “troglodyte” who is “unworthy of calling himself Cardinal.” Looking directly at the papal nuncio, a guest in the audience, Chavez said: “Nuncio, please tell [His] Holiness that as long as we have these bishops we feel that we will be far away from the hierarchy of the church. . . .This battle is not over. . . .I feel sorrow when the Cardinal talks like a troglodyte and he tries to scare people about communism. We do not deserve such a Cardinal.”
Cardinal Urosa reacted immediately stating that Chavez’s ultimate goal is “to impose a socialist-Marxist system in the country to control all sectors. . . . A dictatorship led by the [ruling] elite.”
Despite threats and violence against the Church, the bishops and priests have refused to back off. Cardinal Urosa continues to battle the regime even after a government gang, La Esquina Caliente, physically assaulted him. The people of Venezuela are fortunate that their fearless Church leaders have prevented Chavez’s bully-state from totally enslaving them. American Catholics – and everyone of goodwill – should support them in this all-too-familiar struggle.