Hugo Chavez vs. "Mr. Danger"
The Venezuelan leader's no-nonsense style, his criticism of the United States and his advocacy of revolutionary changes to benefit the poor have made him a hero to many in Latin America's resurgent left.
Chavez, 50, seems to be positioning himself as Washington's chief detractor in Latin America, a role long played by Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez's 78-year-old role model. And while few Latin leaders are willing to go along with Chavez's harsh anti-U.S. rhetoric, fewer still are willing to criticize him.
"Venezuela has the right to be a sovereign country, to make its own decisions," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said. Responding to criticism from Washington, he added: "We won't accept defamations against friends.''
Across the region, left-leaning political leaders have voiced support for Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution" aimed at bringing down a decades-old oligarchy and helping the poor. The Venezuelan president frequently invokes independence hero Simon Bolivar when he speaks of a more politically integrated South America.
In Chavez the left has found a significantly better leader than Castro. While Castro has set up national health care in Cuba (something that the US still cannot claim) and can boast an education system with first-world literacy rates, the fact remains that he is authoritarian. He is more benevolent than Batista was and more benevolent than many US clients today (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia et al), but he retains too tight a control on his own population to truly be an example of progress. Chavez on the other hand has faced the electorate - more than once - and won. His opponents control many media outlets and several key industries, and yet he stays in power. In this enviroment the sensible conclusion (Which the American neocons would deny, but who said they were sensible?) is that he enjoys broad popular support. And, as the article goes on to suggest, other leftists groups are taking power with broad democratic support in the same fashion all over Latin America. The American government can stomp its feet and fuss, but but, as the saying goes, they sowed the wind and are reaping the whirlwind. The US has been unleashing awful, terrible things on Latin America ever since the Spanish American war. As late as the 1980s, the US was supporting dictators in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, and the Contras of Nicaragua. If Latin America is listening to Chavez, it is because the American government has been such a source of evil in that part of the world.