Let me begin by emphatically denying any culpability in the demise of Hugo Chávez, the thuggish, Venezuelan overlord, who shuffled off his mortal coil this week, aged 58, from pelvic cancer, as some of his doctors have now confirmed.
It would have been convenient if I’d had the odious autocrat ‘retired’, as the intelligence community mundanely refer to such ‘black ops’. However, I didn’t, so the wild conspiracy theories fanned by Chávists – no, they’re nothing to do with Wayne and Colleen Rooney – continue to gain traction.
According to them, someone slipped their Commandante, as he was known, a killer Mickey Finn virus while he was doing what he loved best, hectoring the world and squandering his nation’s oil riches. It was much in the manner of his soulmate, Iran’s nutter-in-chief, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a likeminded megalomaniac, who fritters away his country’s petroleum wealth on pipedreams of becoming a regional tyrant.
Obviously, the Yanks – rumoured to be aided and abetted by neighbourhood villains, the Colombians – are in the conspiracy frame for arranging Chávez’s date with his Maker.
All the same, in the far-flung unlikelihood someone fingers me, my alibi is: I was watching EastEnders.
I was also glued to the everyday story of quasi-incestuous Cockney folk when Chávez’s bosom buddy, Yasser Arafat, slid off the plate and I remember being transfixed to the goings-on in Walford when North Korea’s fruitcake, Kim Il Sung expired.
So, as Dot Cotton would say, ‘Nah, it weren’t me wot done it, but I’ll ‘ave a sweet sherry all the same.’
Not that anyone’s denials will halt the conspiracy theory mill grinding into overtime.
Strange, though, that every time a nasty pops his clogs – unless there is incontestable proof he was terminated, as in the cases of Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden – the loonies and mischief-makers don their thinking caps. And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, every hair-brained, crackpot, beyond-belief fantasy takes root.
However, in Chavez’s case, there’s method in the madness of concocting a fiendish plot to cast doubt on nature taking its course.
Apart from playing to Latin America’s obsession with a populist martyr (think Evita Peron), the red-shirted Venezuelan Leftists, whom Chávez bossed from for 14 years, desperately need to kindle the flame of his memory to keep their grasping mitts on the nation’s helm, because they were the chief beneficiaries of his ‘Bolivarian’ revolution.
These uncivil servants are the ones who man the vast tranche of needless ‘ministries’ he created and they needed his magic oratory at the polls, each time the fear of being rumbled in an election haunted them.
And Chávez never let them down. He was a master at mind-bending the masses’ will to his needs and those in his nepotistic, bureaucracy-batty United Socialist Party. He was also a dab hand at hiding behind a veneer of democracy, though, in reality, he always had the last word – usually a foul-mouthed one.
Having snatched the country in a coup d’état in 1999, the ex-army officer embraced a crude form of ‘ex-parliamentary’ rule that extended to suppressing the centre-Right opposition, emasculating the judiciary, stifling the electoral commission and censoring the independent media.
Freedom House listed Venezuela’s Press as being ‘Not Free’ in 2011 and Reporters Without Borders criticized the Chávez regime for ‘steadily silencing its critics’, branding Venezuela ‘now among the region’s worst Press freedom offenders.’
Yet, Chávez’s recipe of red-hot socialism, heavily laced with nationalist fervour and tinged with religious zeal, resonated elsewhere in the region. Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Paraguay and even bourgeois Uruguay saw power shifts to the Leftists, for whom ‘statism’ was the war cry. Rafael Correa, in Ecuador, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales were Chávez’s most fervent copycats, riding roughshod over their national parliaments, supreme courts and constitutions, on the hallowed altar of ‘anti-imperialism’.
Only Chile and Colombia resisted the temptation and stuck, more or less, to credible, transparent democracy.
So, regardless of a commodities boom in which mineral-rich South America should have been a major winner, the countries that followed in the ranting demagogue’s wake – surging Brazil apart – have merely experienced corruption, inflation and dire shortages.
Naturally, Chávez’s defenders will insist he purged the country of just such malaises orchestrated by the old, Rightist cabal, which is partially true. What they don’t say is that he was the architect of an entirely new repertoire of repression, which saw the crime rate – particularly murders – soar unimaginably.
And, as always with neo-Marxist polemicists, there was always a convenient scapegoat for a country’s self-inflicted ills.
As Cristina Kirchner presides of Argentina’s woeful economy, she shifts blame to Britain’s refusal to negotiate away the Falkland Islands, while Morales goes ballistic about territory lost to Chile in the 19th century.
This behaviour is the hallmark of the autocrat and Chávez based the template for Latin America on the Fidel Castro model.
Unsurprisingly, then, he chose pariah allies…Iran, North Korea, Syria, the local states he urged to go beyond the democratic fringe and Ken Livingstone, when, as mayor of London in 2000, he welcomed Chávez, declaring he was ‘the best news out of Latin America in many years’.
If a person is judged by the friends they keep, such company speaks volumes for Hugo Chávez.
And so, too, were the enemies he cherry-picked, principally the Great Satan to the North, the USA, at whose door Venezuela’s many ills were laid. The first President Bush was tarred a ‘monkey’, the second a’devil’.
Almost with his dying breath Chávez underscored his scorn for Western values when he ordered the expulsion of a US diplomat from Caracas, as he scurried back and forth from Havana for medical aid, while teetering on the precipice of the hereafter.
The Commandante also despised the International Monetary Fund, the ‘rich’, and the then Columbian leader, Álvaro Uribe, for taming the Chavez-back Maoist insurgents of FARC and introducing a reformist, liberal agenda.
So who can claim surprise that Chávez’s lackies are crying foul and a claiming a dastardly plot was behind the death of their sainted leader, a great man of the people for the people, who conveniently forgot his people?
All I know is: don’t blame me. I was watching Jack Branning duffing up Phil Mitchell at the time. But if the Queen Vic was a real pub, I’d be in it…drinking a toast to one less bullyboy stalking the planet.