Sunday, December 2, 2007


There is a species of South American frog noted for its mottled, doughy flesh, its extremely penetrating and persistent croaking, and its prodigious toxicity. It is called the Hugo Chavez.

I kid. There is no such amphibian. It is a human. But my description is otherwise correct.

The reason we even heard about the comment of King Juan Carlos -- "Why don't you shut up?" -- is that the Toad called several news conferences to talk about himself and his opinions and feelings and reactions regarding the comment. During one such, he explained to the world about Spanish colonialism (which is the reason Chavez is not living in a grass hut right now) and likened his trials to those of Jesus Christ. During another he declared that all intercourse between Venezuela and Spain was now under review. "Mr. King, I will not shut up," declaimed the Genius of the Tropics.

You can't deal lightly with a demagogue. Any response at all is likely to energize him and his mob. In itself this is no good thing, but crafty Chavez, planning ahead no doubt, manipulated this nothing into a something at the time when an actual something is actually going on. Today, this very day, at this very time, Venezuela is becoming even more second-rate than Chavez has heretofore made it. There's a referendum, you see, at this very moment, which is installing Chavez as dictator. King, if you will. A non-constitutional monarchy.

Venezuela will be the second officially socialist country in the Americas, and Chavez will be its president-for-life-and-death. He decreed changes to the constitution to achieve this end. Chavez has already taken control of the courts, the petroleum industry and the television stations. His congress has ceded to him the right to rule by decree. He uses the military to impose his brand of domestic order, using the slogan "Fatherland, socialism or death!" With his new constitution he can declare an indefinite "state of emergency" that suspends due process and freedom of information. He has given himself control of the central bank and its foreign currency reserves, and can replace local governments with his own adherents.

He gunned down student protesters to achieve his new constitution. Revolutions must after all have their bloodshed. Other people's blood, that is. The fact that only a third of Venezuelans support his plans bears no nevermind. What concern has the revolutionary for legalities? And rather than risk the predictable and inevitable systematic retaliation, normal people will simply not vote. Alas, qui tacet consentiret.

Courage? A few surviving media voices sound against the state-controlled agitprop foghorns. Tens of thousands of students have taken to the streets, risking their lives for their futures. Gen. Raúl Isaías Baduel, Chavez's former defense minister, has called the scrapping of the constitution "a coup d'etat" -- in response to which Chavez led his mob in chanting that Baduel "will end up before a firing squad."

Well, there's nothing to be done about it. Chavez has spent billions of petrodollars to buy the debt bonds of his neighboring countries and to subsidize their fuel costs. A blast from the past: petrodollar diplomacy. They've been bought off, and cowed by all the tough talk. Among the, uh, statesmen, only a powerless king has stood up to him, and the king misapplied his emphasis. Chavez will never shut up. Everyone else around that table should have been told to speak up. Bullies are cowards -- didn't you go to elementary school to learn just that very fact? But candy is an excuse to avert the gaze, and if some proportion of the Venezuelan student body gets downsized into the bloody earth in its quest for liberty, well, you can make your own list of rationales. Lists like that are easy. If they were hard, maybe the world wouldn't be the open wound that it is.

Exit polls are showing that the "reforms" are passing by 6 to 8 points. Very low turnout. It must not really be important after all. Chavez predicted he'd win by 10 points. Well? If he predicted it, it will be so. He is after all in charge of the information.

What then?


Mr. Dictator, if you won't shut up, would you go to hell? And sooner rather than later?

No, it doesn't do any good. It is mere posturing. It's not as if anyone is shooting at us. Yet. Petrodollars can buy more than silence, you see. And Socialism has proven by orders of magnitude to be more deadly than islamism. If you catch my meaning. Funny how we used to think of far-off Saddam Hussein as a threat. Caracas is a two-hour flight from Miami.


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