In Defense of Hugo Chávez
Bernardo Alvarez Herrera
In her recently released book, Friendly fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century, Latin America scholar Julia Sweig writes, "When U.S. elites -- in government, media, and the private sector -- get their information mainly from their counterparts in other societies, the United States becomes disconnected from the conditions, feelings, preferences, and experiences of those living on the margins of what Americans have incorrectly assumed to be a universal phenomenon of political, social, and economic progress promised by democracy and globalization."
As Venezuela's ambassador to the United States, I have spent a large part of my tenure attempting to encourage Washington's policy and government establishments to look beyond the information they receive about Venezuela from Venezuelan elites. Given the generally hostile attitudes toward Venezuela and its president, Hugo Chávez, in Washington today, it seems that there is much work left to be done.
In recent months, there has been a lot of discussion of Venezuela in the pages of Foreign Affairs. Peter Hakim ("Is Washington Losing Latin America?" January/February 2006) sharply criticized President Chávez in an article on U.S. relations with Latin America; former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda attacked his "populism" ("Latin America's Left Turn," May/June 2006); and Michael Shifter negatively assessed his domestic and foreign policies ("In Search of Hugo Chávez," May/June 2006). Unfortunately, their analyses misunderstand the dramatic processes of change that are occurring in Venezuela. If anything, their opinions reflect a rightward shift in Washington's perspective on Latin America, a region that is slowly escaping the binds of an economic and social model imposed on it by the United States and international financial institutions in the 1980s and 1990s. People across the region are electing leaders who promise to lead their countries down an independent path, one that expands the means for democratic participation while narrowing the large gap between the wealthiest and the poorest in the region. This
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