Venezuela's Marxist dictator, Hugo Chavez, has begun confiscating farms and ranches, a violent act worthy of Zimbabwe's ethinc cleansing, marauding socialist tyrant Robert Mugabe. Like Mugabe, his made his first target a wealthy British aristocrat. But unlike Mugabe, who openly reveled in barbarism, Chavez is using stagecraft calculated to create a melodrama that will excite his supporters, while putting the rest of the world to sleep. And he's doing it to conceal reality
Staged with troops, cameras, peasants waving machetes, circling helicopters, Chavez's cow drama aligns 'the people' against the 32,000—hectare cattle ranch of Lord Sam Vestey, a British—accented villain perfect for Chavez's political production.
Lord Vestey, known as 'Spam' by his friends because of his family's origins in the meat—packing industry, was just the first target. He's one of England's richest men, a friend of Prince Charles, and heir to a colonial legacy dating to the 19th Century. For Chavez, he is a perfect stock character. Who could sympathize with such a black—hatted capitalist, all but twirling his mustache in Chavez's first little expropriation? (The AP certainly ate it up). How could Spam even notice the loss of his farm, given his money?
But let's take a closer look at Spam. He's rich all right, worth about $1.2 billion, according to The Times of London's rich list. He's also descended from the sort of sturdy, adventurous English global traders who made the Victorian era so revolutionary — exactly the kind of people Chavez despises. And with a name like Spam, it's pretty clear he's a public—school boy who knows how to keep a stiff upper lip.
But Lord Vestey's family actually accomplished quite a lot in their path to riches. They pioneered the intercontinental refrigerated transport of meat, vastly improving the British diet in the process, and founded the famed Blue Star Line shipping company, among other accomplishments. They sold eggs from China and canned meat from Brazil. They moved to Argentina to avoid punitive taxes, and began many of Australia's vast cattle spreads. People on several continents live better and more prosperous lives because of their vast accomplishments.
They've also been targeted by the looney left before. Spam's been accused of destroying the rainforest and raising meat for McDonald's. The very act of raising cattle is suspect because leftists whine it's too much land use for too few calories. It is also inherently contrary to a vegetarian diet, which seems to be an incipient element of the emerging 'progressive' agenda. He's also been accused of secretly supporting the effort to preserve fox—hunting, another 'lifestyle' element of the left's agenda in the U.K. You can see where that would lead in a place like England. Worst of all, he's hated for liking guns.
Lord Vestey, in sum, is the kind of man that leftists love to hate.
He's also a bit of a fighter. He must have earned Chavez's wrath, or caught his interest, when he showed a willingness to stand up against Chavez earlier, in 2002, organizing actual protests at the Venezuelan embassy in London, to highlight Chavez sending his rabble of squatters to set up house on his well—run Venezuelan cattle ranch. The chutzpah of of the tropical Trotsky is astonishing: as squatters infringe on Spam's land, the Chavez camp condemns the ranch as 'idle land' and calls him 'idle rich,' even though chavista squatters themselves created the idle areas, ruining the smooth functioning of a skillfully managed modern, large scale cattle ranch.
Amidst that charge, there's an interesting elephant in the living room. As long ago as the Vestey fortune was made, Spam still has in his possession, and runs it, which shows he's no idle heir. History shows that unless descendents actively manage their holdings wisely, their fortunes disappear by the third generation.
Reports are mixed as to what the British lord, idiotically miscast cast in Chavez's villain role, will do now. Venezuela's El Universal reports that he intends to fight for the ranch. The Telegraph reports he is resigned to staying out of the Chavez farce and realizes he doesn't have many options. One would hope he fights as he can, even if only covertly.
But with Chavez's staging, it's going to be hard to win the PR war. Bizarrely enough, Chavez shows a strong taste for 19th—century Victorian stock plots and characters. He's malevolently sentimental, so the poor are noble, the rich are Scrooges, and the rich are rich only because the poor are poor. For him, Little Nell lives. He wouldn't be a Marxist otherwise, for it is a romantic philosophy rooted in poetry, according to historian Paul Johnson, and one firmly rooted in a bygone era.
Chavez has revealed a fascination with the 19th—century French novel, Les Miserables, too. How that happened is guessable when one considers that he is the son of a back—boonie leftist Venezuelan schoolmaster who didn't get out often. (Ironically, he's now one of Venezuela's biggest landowners. Funny how that works out, isn't it.)
If Chavez succeeds in selling his Dickensian theatre to the West, he can take over any farm or ranch he likes in Venezuela and end all private property rights, with little or no outside pressure. Spam is in a difficult position to fight him, due to his historic legacy and his many political foes. But robbing him will open the door to robbing others, which is clearly Chavez's intention. Ironically, Chavez's curiously frozen—in—time ideas are about to take his country straight back to the 19th Century in development.