As Ukraine burns, our attention has unfortunately shifted away from the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, a potential revolution over a decade in the making. The New York Times gave a good quick summary of the situation today for those unfamiliar with the country:
Behind the outpouring is more than the litany of problems that have long bedeviled Venezuela, a country with the world’s largest oil reserves but also one of the highest inflation rates. Adding to the perennial frustrations over violent crime and chronic shortages of basic goods like milk and toilet paper, the outrage is being fueled by President Nicolás Maduro’s aggressive response to public dissent, including deploying hundreds of soldiers here and sending fighter jets to make low, threatening passes over the city.
President Maduro is the successor to Hugo Chavez, a man loved by the socialist Left in Hollywood and the fringes of the Democratic Party. Most observers place the blame for the situation in Venezuela at Chavez’s feet. While Chavez and Maduro have the same base of support and the same policies, Chavez possessed a political ability to keep tensions at a simmer, unlike Maduro, who has seen them boil over. As we watch dozens of Venezuelans die in the streets, struggling to save their country from the brink of disaster, this is a good opportunity to point out who on the Left in the United States helped legitimize Chavez during his time in power.
1. President Barack Obama
During the Clinton administration, amid negotiations with Yasser Arafat, the White House became consumed with hugs; specifically, how President Clinton could avoid Arafat’s famous bear grip handshake that would become a full-on embrace. There’s an amusing anecdote about how the White House practiced and choreographed how Clinton could avoid appearing too chummy with Arafat in front of the cameras (“Clinton would squeeze in underneath the biceps and block him.”). Why did Clinton’s staffers spend hours practicing how to avoid an Arafat hug? Because they knew that optics matter.
This is a lesson that President Obama has yet to understand, and this photo, widely circulated around the globe, including inside Venezuela, lent Chavez enormous clout.