Friday, June 29, 2007

The second coming of the Napoleon of South America

Chavez hints at nuclear future for Venezuela | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited:
"During his three-day visit to Russia, Mr Chavez is expected to buy more military hardware, including as many as five submarines."

Yet more evidence that the leader of what he himself calls the Bolivarian revolution is in deadly earnest. A country with little justification for a blue ocean surface navy is buying submarines and talking about building nuclear weapons.

Simon Bolivar - Chavez' inspiration - was a complicated man who began his career in public life as a fairly typical creole aristocrat revolutionary. During a sojourn in France he was briefly associated with Napoleon Bonaparte, although he later sided with Spanish legitimists against Napoleon's placing his brother on the throne of Spain.

In his early military campaigns back in South America, he claimed to be establishing a federation of republics more or less modeled on the US but progressed to the point of attempting to establish himself as dictator for life of a unitary republic of continental scale more on the order of Napoleon but without the imperial court trappings. His later battles were fought, not for independence from Spain, but to consolidate his personal power. He died en route to exile, of tuberculosis, at the age of 47.

It is the latter part of Bolivar's career - the part that came years after he was hailed as El Libertador, the part that alone would never have justified all those statues and memorials to him from Canada to Bolivia - that Chavez seeks to emulate. There is no Spanish empire to fight, and despite some of Chavez' more fanciful claims, no US empire frustrating the will of independent countries in Latin America. Yet, he needs the cloak of anti-Americanism to justify his growing dictatorship at home and his projection of power into other nations in the region. (See, for example, my recent post on Cuban and Venezuelan meddling in the internal affairs of Bolivia.)

Just as Napoleon turned from defender of republicanism in France to imperial despotism, so Bolivar turned from democrat to dictator. And, as Hitler was the bastard offspring of Napoleon in his vision of a continental empire, so Chavez is Bolivar's.

Make no mistake, the formation of the Havana-Caracas axis should be treated as seriously as the Rome-Berlin axis that led to World War Two.


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