As you’ve probably heard, Hugo Chavez, who for 14 years ruled Venezuela and had long been a thorn in the side of American presidents, passed away on Tuesday. Chavez had been fighting cancer and died from a massive heart attack.
This was welcome news to expatriates of the South American country, many of whom left after Chavez began to implement his leftist agenda and crack down on dissent.
Strangley, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who recently introduced a resolution to repeal the 22nd Amendment, praised Chavez via Twitter last night:
Hugo Chavez was a leader that understood the needs of the poor. He was committed to empowering the powerless.R.I.P. Mr. President.
— Jose E. Serrano (@RepJoseSerrano) March 5, 2013
It didn’t take long for Rep. Serrano to have to explain that one. In a statement from his office, Rep. Serrano said that he met Chavez during a visit to his district in 2005.
“When he visited, President Chavez offered a new type of program to the people of the Bronx. He had harnessed the power of his nation’s oil resources and was using their profits—through Citgo—to enact social spending programs,” said Serrano. “Now he offered people in the Bronx that were struggling economically the same deal. He would provide home heating oil at a huge discount, provided the savings were reinvested in programs that benefited the underserved and underprivileged.
He added, “I am proud to report that we have benefited from that program ever since, with millions invested in our community through this program and through a grant program he set up.”
“Though President Chavez was accused of many things, it is important to remember that he was democratically-elected many times in elections that were declared free and fair by international monitors,” Rep. Serrano stated. “Even today, people in North America seem unable to accept that Venezuelans had taken our admonitions to have democracy to heart and elected the leader of their choice. President Chavez carried out the programs that his constituents wanted enacted, and won reelection. This too was revolutionary in the history of Latin America.”
Does Rep. Serrano actually believe this? Chavez’s legacy is one of voter fraud, which is how he won those so-called “free” elections, and significant human rights abuses. Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst for the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute, explained some the glaring issues with Chavez’s record yesterday at the New York Post:
Chavez called it “Socialism of the 21st century,” but its main features — messianic leadership, state control of key industries and political repression — more closely resemble the fascism that marred some South American countries in the past.
Venezuela’s social fabric will take years, if not decades, to mend. According to Transparency International, it’s now the most corrupt nation in Latin America. It’s also one of the most violent, with a staggering murder rate of 73 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
In explaining why Democrats shouldn’t praise Chavez, ThinkProgress noted some of the more concerning parts of the South American leader’s regime:
Chavez hurt the vulnerable in Venezuela in other ways. Chavez’s state-run media hounded Venezuela’s small, beleaguered Jewish population — he himself once said “Don’t let yourselves be poisoned by those wandering Jews.” A study released by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University found that Chavez’s rule “witnessed a rise in antisemitic manifestations, including vandalism, media attacks, caricatures, and physical attacks on Venezuelan Jewish institutions.” Indeed, roughly half of Venezuelan Jews fled the country because of “the social and economic chaos that the president has unleashed and from the uncomfortable feeling that they were being specifically targeted by the regime.”
Chavez also attacked Venezuela’s democratic political system. Human Rights Watchreported in 2012 that “the accumulation of power in the executive and the erosion of human rights protections have allowed the Chávez government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute critics and perceived opponents in a wide range of cases involving the judiciary, the media, and civil society.” Contra Serrano, Venezuela’s elections were not certified as “free and fair” by international monitors of late: Chavez had not allowed international election monitors to observe Venezuelan elections since 2006.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of Chavez’s transgressions. It’s not a record to gloss over, nor is it something that should be praised. Rep. Serrano not only embarrased himself by showing a complete lack of understand of how bad Chavez actually was, but also his district. He should be ashamed.