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Hugo Chavez parties at Copenhagen like it's 1959

Hugo The Venezuelan president is becoming the world-stage equivalent of the drunk uncle you hope doesn't show up for Christmas. First there was his complaint to the United Nations General Assembly that the speaker's podium reeked of sulfur following a speech by devil-incarnate George W. Bush, and now there's his pitchfork-rattling rant Wednesday at the climate conference in Copenhagen:

Then President Chavez brought the house down.

When he said the process in Copenhagen was “not democratic, it is not inclusive, but isn’t that the reality of our world, the world is really an imperial dictatorship … down with imperial dictatorships,” he got a rousing round of applause.

When he said there was a “silent and terrible ghost in the room” and that ghost was called capitalism, the applause was deafening.

But then he wound up to his grand conclusion -- 20 minutes after his 5-minute speaking time was supposed to have ended and after quoting everyone from Karl Marx to Jesus Christ -- "our revolution seeks to help all people … socialism, the other ghost that is probably wandering around this room, that’s the way to save the planet, capitalism is the road to hell. ... Let's fight against capitalism and make it obey us."  He won a standing ovation.

Read the whole article from The Australian here.

I'll say this: The United States and other massive carbon-emitting economies shouldn't be surprised by much of the scorn they're getting from developing nations upset that they're being asked to fix a problem they didn't cause. But let's be clear: Chavez's socialism is as much about perpetuating his dictatorship over Venezuela and expanding his influence in Latin America as it is improving the lot of the poor (and if you can name a system on this Earth under which more people have been lifted out of poverty than free-market democracy, I'm all ears). It's especially ironic that Chavez would berate free-market nations for causing catastrophic climate change when he helps fund his own Bolivarian Revolution by selling his country's oil and natural gas to the United States. 

The real tragedy here is this sort of belligerence by Chavez further hardens developing nations against  agreeing to limit their carbon emissions. Countries that are traditionally marginalized at venues such as the United Nations have a powerful bargaining chip in Copenhagen. Chavez's influence outside Venezuela and his small sphere of influence is minimal; at Copenhagen, where poor nations can air their grievances, he has ears.

-- Paul Thornton

Photo: Chavez speaks at a meeting in Valby Hallen in Copenhagen on Dec. 17. Credit: Mads Nissen / EPA


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Mr Chavez is no angel, but he's fundamentally correct. The irony of his oil sales is correctly pointed out here (as can be the rock-bottom state subsidized oil price, which encourages inefficiency), but Venezuela is going to make oil regardless. Coal is the real polluter, and the US and China need to rethink how they power themselves.

As Chavez learned from Castro, Khruschev and Guevara before him, on the left, if you scream loudly the poor will love you for it. Any country is going to be irritated and insulted by us SUV-driving, $30,000-$40,000 average income Euro-Americans tell them to pollute less, and like with other fairly blatant injustices, the blowhards on the left often represent a legitimate anger by the poor. Until Chavez actually steals an election (he hasn't), he does have a voice at the table, because he represents a real popular outrage at American policies. I'm not saying he's right, but to dismiss him that way is just to make the same damn mistake the US keeps making towards its "enemies".

(also a side note, the US had involvement with a failed Venezuelan coup against Chavez in 2002, so the sulphur comment does have a history behind it.)


The ghost in Mr. Thornton's opinion piece is that while a free-market economy does indeed have the potential to lift people out of poverty, it has done so at the expense of others around the globe. To an extent, there is justification in what Mr. Thornton refers to as the hardening belligerence of these developing countries - a reality that, as sam points out, is mistakenly and irresponsibly ignored by the US.

andrew nelson

So why is anyone suprised that Chavez would show up with the speach he had? Carbon Offsets, 100 billion dollar wealth redistribution schemes care of the Obama administration, and CAP and TAX, are all part of the same scheme. Van Jones, you remember, who was the Green Job Czar, and left the administration in the dead of night after being 'outed', was a Marxist and only interested in the eco movement in order redistribute wealth to the oppressed masses. Any of this crap gets put into law, including any damn tax that gets put into place, you can stand by for a war.

Paul Thornton

@ozman: I absolutely did not call the developing nations pushing back against an emissions deal they view as unfair belligerent. did say Chavez was acting belligerently by feeding on these countries' displeasure and putting the possibility of any progress as risk.

@sam: Most of your points are well taken. And you're right that Chavez has never stolen an election; instead, he's shut down a TV station that aired shows critical of him, marshaled government resources to build his own omnipresent personality cult in Venezuela and taken every legal means possible to ensure he can serve as president for life. And be careful before you burnish Chavez's democratic cred: He led his own failed military coup against the Venezuelan government in the 1990s.

Da Maverick

Dictatorship? Excuse me? Last I checked, Chavez was re-elected to serve a second 6-year term. I don't know too many dictators who have elections that are certified by the Carter Center. Thornton should stop projecting his Cold War animus and find a healthier outlet for it, like perhaps writing. Oh wait...

A. Sikar

It is Chavez and his soulmate anti-Capitalist politicos worldwide who are the true merchants of evil, dispensing the usual hydra-headed talk of compassion and brotherhood while expanding their political powers and control over citizens.

Capitalism is the only economic system that does not rely on coercion, thus is the only system consistent with the nature of consciousness and free choice. To link Capitalism and dictatorship is overtly illogical and dishonest. Political government is the only institution on this planet that arrogates itself the right to initiate coercive acts, including wars, against the person or property of others.

In a volitional environment, people and organizations must provide value to the market / society in excess of the value of resources consumed in order to profit and survive, thus profit in a market environment is the measure of value added to society. "Market" environment must be emphasized, given the number of industries that are largely Fascist (eg healthcare, banking).

Value addition is the entire basis for societal prosperity and wellbeing. Without value addition, the only other state of existence is value subtraction, liquidation of wealth, and increasing impoverishment.

Socialism, government subsidy, regulations involve coercive allocations thus are antithetical to competition. Subsidized organizations are not competitively accountable for achieving profitability, thus follow paths of lesser resistance, a path that cannot add value; an entropic path cannot take things or situations to higher levels of order and value, work and energy must be input to the system.

One would think that politically-driven command economies would have died a quick death given their track record for impoverishing societies worldwide, besides their basal illogic.

Government subsidized approaches to solve problems or "create jobs" create politically-visible benefits at invisibly higher costs; they are a negative-sum political charade. Additional jobs can only be created with additional wealth. Ditto for technological innovation, which entails more than value addition, it requires value elevation.

Dishonest or deluded individuals are attracted to anti-capitalist environments because of their desire to avoid working to provide value to society with the discipline to meet a bottom line, the lure of getting things easy, an unnatural utopian existence that only spirals into impoverishment and death. The ignorant bias toward living this kind of parasitical and ultimately unhappy life is what creates the implicit hatred and fear of free-choice, genuinely democratic, market environments.

Capitalism, volitional exchange, is the natural "zero state" of society. It is unfortunate that Capitalism has a name as it conveys that it is a contrivance rather than a default state of existence.

The current gathering at Copenhagen may very well represent the deepest well of parasitical elitism, collective hypocrisy, high-level "Big Lie" dishonesty, and political destructiveness ever gathered at a single venue.

Tito Puentes

You are full of it. The US was not behind the coup attempt in 2002. I was there in the Embassy. We heard rumors of one but where instructed by State Dept senior leadership (I assume directed from the white house) not to offer ANY support . We were instructed to not respond. Our mistake was that we did not make it public.

Furthermore Chavez failed years earlier in his own coup attempt , was jailed and his sentenced reduced.


This is such a horrendous piece, disgusting in its smug comfort in right-wing lies which seems to pervade the American and Western news media. Indeed, it is this very same media that has fed garbage to the American people for the last decade and carries a huge responsibility in why the country is in such a mess.


All these people fantasizing about Chavez' socialist/communist utopia really should pay a visit to the former soviet satellite states in eastern europe and talk to the people there. They can tell you where all this leads, few of them would want to go back. Chavez' government only looks benign from the outside in, once you're inside it will loose its charm fast. As with the Soviet Union his government too will collapse under an unworkable economic system.


Hugo, the lights are on, but nobody's home:

Blackouts Plague Energy-Rich Venezuela:

...well, the lights are barely on since you took over.

A. Sikar

Poster ceti said: "This is such a horrendous piece, disgusting in its smug comfort in right-wing lies which seems to pervade the American and Western news media. Indeed, it is this very same media that has fed garbage to the American people for the last decade and carries a huge responsibility in why the country is in such a mess."

Instead of unfocused ranting, could you perhaps provide a logically cohesive explanation of how socialism (something reasonably on-topic) and its inherent lack of productive accountability to a bottom line can possibly add value and build societal prosperity?

Just answer the question. Oh, and per your comment, don't be like the evil "Western news media... feeding garbage to the American people..."

Just answer the question.




Now if Chavez could only figure out how to make that Kool-aid drink.


If socialism works, why aren't we all on boats to Cuba or Venezuela?
Having been in European countries such as Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, I can confirm that what AR is saying is correct. Being from The Netherlands I watched the Berlin wall go down 20 years ago and saw how the Germans were reunited and liberated. Please don't act as if socialism or communism works, if you feel it works, move to socialist countries.

Paul Thornton

@A. Sikar and @ceti: It's an awfully convenient argument for you to chalk up someone else's views to "lies" (for the record, I voted for Obama in 2008). And for you to blame our recession on an ideology instead of anything remotely specific (say, the Federal Reserve's monetary policy between the dot-com bubble burst and 2008 and government backing of risky mortgages, among many, many other factors) is intellectually lazy.

Regarding your question, A. Sikar, I doubt you mean true socialism, where government owns the means of production. Perhaps you mean a market system with substantial government intervention to create a safety net, such as Norway, France, Great Britain and so on. Comparing systems in those countries to ours (which is far from perfect) is a discussion I'd be glad to have. If you really do mean true socialism, however, then I encourage you to take a look at once centrally controlled economies that introduced market reforms to build, as you put it, societal prosperity. Just about any former Eastern Bloc country will do, as will Vietnam and China. The latter two nations have a long way to go before one could consider them truly free, but the dramatic quality of life improvements there have come as a result of the governments giving up some control, not extending or maintaining their reach. I suppose you could argue the United States should incrementally move in the other direction, and that perhaps there's some middle ground to be found that allows for a market economy to co-exist in harmony with a healthy social safety net. But if it really is socialism vs. free-market democracy you want to discuss, I'm all ears. Just answer the question.


I don't think there's anything in the Constitution that says the US is a capitalist country. So why do so many people go nuts when they hear something critical about capitalism? I think respect for dissent and keeping an open mind is the true American tradition. Better leave Chavez alone and try to fix at least one of America's festering problems.

Paul Thornton

@Charles: You also won't find the right to privacy in the Constitution, but it is nevertheless a constitutional right (as it should be). The point is, the Constitution grants the federal government only so many powers that were Washington to empower itself to the point that the U.S. became a truly socialist republic, it would no doubt be unconstitutional. Remember that the Supreme Court invalidated many of FDR's New Deal programs.


"The United States and other massive carbon-emitting economies shouldn't be surprised by much of the scorn they're getting from developing nations upset that they're being asked to fix a problem they didn't cause."

Yeah, they didn't cause the problem, because the problem doesn't exist.

A. Sikar

@Paul Thornton: Actually I don't distinguish between the popular intervention vs. formal ownership sense because I don't see how the distinction affects outcomes with respect to coercion. State ownership encompasses coercive control over capital usage, distorting values, preventing things from going to their best use. Maybe I miss your point.

By "societal prosperity" I mean the sum of wealth contributions by private enterprises, not via state measures. I envision government services accountable to a market mechanism, where government itself is just a loose conglomeration of competing businesses (and cooperating also, as in the case of infrastructure, eg long distance telecom). As businesses, there will be failures, but everything accountably held to the disciplines of a bottom line, thus additive of value.


World Top Ten Foreign Aid Donor Countries
Country In Billion Dollars

United States 12.9
Japan 9.2
Germany 5.4
France 5.2
United Kingdom 4.8
Netherlands 3.4
Italy 2.3
Canada 2.0
Sweden 1.8
Norway 1.8

Topping the list is the U.S. - This is what capitalism can do - it allows you to share your wealth with others. Where's Venezuela? ...Interesting - I don't see it here.


Shame on the western world for accepting dictators and mass murderers. The Ethiopian prime minester wrightful place is in international criminal court, not as a head of African delegation. This is a head of state heated and loathed by the majority of the Ethiopian people.

Arnaud Forestier

The number of people that have been lifted out of poverty by "free-market democracies" is exactly zero, because there is no such thing as a free market democracy yet.

The US, for some reason, is seen as the closest example of a free market democracy. That is odd, since the US rose to its status through protectionism and military intervention, first to open up to take the large amount of resources from the native's land, then to open up resources abroad for itself, and protect them from being controlled by anyone else.

Most of the US wealth today, is a direct result of state-sponsored research and development in technology. Computers, the internet, aerospace, etc... are just a few examples. These state-sponsored projects are the reason why the US has been the #1 economic power all these years. The US government has all but given up on such large scale projects, and the current decline in US economic leadership is a direct consequence.

In comparison, by the way, the soviet union grew from a medieval-like agricultural society to global superpower level within 50 years of adopting communism. It sure didn't last very long for them, and it was a genocidal journey (much like the birth of the US). But if your metric is economic success, I don't think there is anything out there matching this level of economic rise on such a large scale yet.

So, Paul Thornton, nice job with the empty rhetoric (free market good, socialism bad). Come back when you get a clue.


Arnaud Forestier, that makes complete sense.

Obviously, the US is primarily reliant on using natural resources from foreign nations - as you say, the US "exclusively" controls such resources. Venezuala is a great example of this, the US relies on Venezuala for most of it's oil, and the puppet regime of Hugo Chavez cow-tows to the whims of US presidents and gave the US exclusive access to his market. Wait... actually that completely REFUTES your point because Hugo Chavez is as belligerent as can be but sells oil to the US on the basis of a mutually beneficial trade. E.g. a free market.

Not to deny, there have been times when profit and resource exploitation have played a role in US foreign policy. One of the more egregious examples being the re-installation of the Iranian Shah in the 1950s. But that was for relatively minor (when compared to the size of the US or UK economies of the time) profits. Not insuring a "supply" of oil, since the government that replaced the Shah did so precisely so it could sell the oil, but keep the profits. The point about the profits is what rubbed the UK.

Ontop of that, WW2 provides yet another example. Almost the entire US merchant-marine fleet was dedicated to the transport of weapons and supplies to Europe. The US was in fact a resource and finished goods exporter during World War 2.

And the point about the US being lifted by government projects and a decline being due to a lack of suck, INFORM YOURSELF. The US spends more in inflation adjusted terms on R&D Today then any time in the past (except the Apollo program). And you mention computers, who was it that invented computers and advanced them incrementally - the US government? Nope, it was largely IBM for the purpose of providing businesses labor saving calculating machines. A very practical short term interest, not some far reaching visionary government program.

Since you obviously dislike the US, take a look at Chile. There's a country that has lifted people out of poverty with free market economics. In fact, economic liberalization brought the DOWNFALL of a oppressive regime.


PS. I almost think you must be a troll and sarcastic, you demonstrate such a odd mix of boneheaded ideas that you discredit anything you say, instead of making points, you disprove them.


I really wish someone could put a "cork" in Chavez´s mouth . He is contradicting all the time, talking in a bad way to U. S government and making bussines like selling fuel at the same time with them . I remember once I read that while Venezuela is living in a poor and dictatorial state, Chavez spends I million of dollars per year in suits for him.
I gues we need to worry about things really importants as global warming that involves all us.




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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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