Shilling for the new Castro
Last week, three US Senators, Florida's Bill Nelson, Connecticut's Christopher Dodd, and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee visited with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in Caracas, to try to assess the deteriorating state of US—Venezuelan relations. The three Senators left their meeting, reciting the need for improved relations, and describing how central was Venezuela's role in supplying oil to America.
The identical statements could have been uttered had the three Senators visited the sheikhs and princes in Saudi Arabia, of course. However, other than the many paid shills for Saudi Arabia in the think tanks and Middle East studies institutes in this country, the rapture for Saudi Arabia has fallen off among the political class since 9/11. America does get a fair share of its imported oil from Venezuela. But the recent problems between the two countries are not of America's making. As even the mainstream American press has begun to report, Chavez is a bit of a megalomaniac, and is behaving like a thug. In Zimbabwean fashion, he has begun seizing land from large landowners. He has packed his Supreme Court, imprisoned political opponents (and criminalized anti—government demonstrations), and had a new law passed that would allow him to shut down opposition television and radio broadcasters, and intimidate newspapers and journalists in a fashion the mullahs in Teheran would admire. He just made a world tour of countries with no affection for democracy: China, Russia, Libya, Iran, and Cuba, among them, both to coordinate oil pricing, sales and production strategy, and to secure new advanced weaponry for his military.
Chavez often talks of his warm feelings for Fidel Castro and the Cuban system, and as an unreformed Marxist himself, is clearly steering Venezuela in that direction.
Chavez, not surprisingly, admires Castro's control of his one —party state, kept in power by suppressing all opposition, and jailing political opponents. Chavez is also following his mentor by routinely trashing America in his public statements.
So one might ask, when Venezuelan policies are so noxious, why are three Senators flying over there to make nice? Where once politicians tended to leave behind their political differences with an administration when they went overseas, especially in wartime, the new trend seems to be to highlight policy differences at home by shouting them out overseas. Washington state Congressman Jim McDermott made a courtesy call on Saddam just before the American invasion. Defeated Presidential candidate John Kerry (who clearly still has the bug, and wants another shot), just found time to buddy—up with Syria's Assad, while that country provides weapons and funding and soldiers for the struggle by 'insurgents' against America and a free Iraq and supplies the Hezbollah forces which shell and kill Israelis from Syrian—occupied Lebanon. Saying that Kerry's visit undercuts attempts by our government to pressure Syria to behave better, would be too kind.
In the case of Senator Dodd, his behavior with Chavez should come as no surprise. Just as in the 1980s, when Dodd and Senator Kerry led the opposition to US funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, Dodd has always favored lefty strongmen or radical forces in Latin America, rather than their democratic or pro—market opponents. Dodd was a prime critic of the government of El Salvador when it was under attack from Marxist rebels supplied and funded by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Had the rebels won their fight, Dodd would undoubtedly have been the first US Senator to visit them. Dodd has been the leader of a group in the Congress that can be best described as anti—anti—Communists when it comes to Latin America. While the scourge of Communism (though not authoritarianism) may be dead in Russia and some of its former satellites and former republics in the USSR, in Latin America, the Marxist struggle lives on in many countries. One can read about it in indymedia.com, which is of course always sympathetic to the cause.
Dodd is not up for re—election in 2006, and will likely face no political fallout for his actions. He is a Democratic Senator in what has become a fairly safe blue state. But his two other fellow travelers on the trip to Caracas are another story.
Lincoln Chafee is the leading member of the RINO club in the Senate — Republicans in Name Only. He was elected off the strength of the affection his state's voters still hold for his father, John Chafee, who served honorably in many government capacities for many years. In the 2004 election, Lincoln Chafee refused to vote for President Bush, instead writing in the name of Bush's father.
Chafee will run for re—election for his seat in 2006. Rhode Island is perhaps the country's most safely Democratic state. Only somebody named Chafee can win there as a Republican. By behaving like a Democrat, Chafee may preserve his seat and discourage opposition from Patrick Kennedy and others. Maybe Senator Dodd will tell his fellow Democrats to go easy on him, since a maverick Republican may be more embarrassing to Bush than one more robotic opposition Democrat. Coddling Communist dictators might strengthen Chafee's appeal among the DailyKos crowd.
The endangered species in this story may be Florida's Senator Bill Nelson. Nelson won his seat narrowly in 2000, and will face a tough re—election battle in 2006 in a state that leans Republican. Governor Jeb Bush might challenge him. So might Congresswoman Katherine Harris. President Bush won the state by 5% in 2004. Jeb won re—election by 13% in 2002, and Republican Mel Martinez was just elected Senator for the open seat vacated by Bob Graham in November (the first Cuban—American in the Senate).
Nelson making nice with Chavez may play well in the New York Times, but might not play so well among Florida's large Cuban—American population, which remains very hostile to Cuba's government and Marxism. Many other Latin Americans, who have migrated to Florida, also might not be so high on Chavez, regardless of their political affiliations. Unlike the drawing room leftists and media demagogues who pilloried John Ashcroft, many Latin American immigrants have a first—hand acquaintance with political repression, and do not suffer fools gladly, when they are blind to the consequences of playing kissy—face with dictators. Much like the recent Democratic Senate candidate in the state, Betty Castor, who handed Mel Martinez a giant gift by her record of support for terrorist Professor Sami Al Arian when she served as President of the University of South Florida, Nelson may have just provided some fodder for his challenger in 2006.
Senator Dodd did not need political cover for his behavior. He has always been first to embrace Latin dictators, so long as they lean to the left. But he may have endangered one of the few remaining Southern Democratic Senators, by bringing Bill Nelson along for his trip. As Chavez inevitably becomes more of a thug and more hostile to America, the past week's photos of Nelson coddling him will find their way into the campaign, with consequences for Democrats' hopes to regain control of the Senate.
For far too long, Republicans and the MSM have ignored an unfolding tragedy, a Twentieth Century story reappearing in the Twenty—first, in which a nation and a people slip away into Marxist tyranny. Reagan—era triumphalism may have blinded us to the ability of Communism seemingly to rise from the dead, like a blood—sucking vampire. It is well past time for America to go on the offensive against the spread of Communist tyranny in the Western Hemisphere. George W. Bush and the GOP should be no less vigilant on this score than was his predecessor John F. Kennedy.