Herma Marksman, who spent nearly 10 years of her life as “the other woman” at the side of Hugo Chavez, as the military man plotted his way to power in the ’80s and 90’s, still recalls her ex-lover as “sweet” and “kind,” but when it comes to his current rule over Venezuela, the ex-mistress uses words like “totalitarian” and “fascist dictatorship.”
The professor of history, who’s written two books about Chavez’s politics, told the London Times: “He is imposing a fascist dictatorship. A totalitarian regime is coming because he doesn’t believe in democratic institutions. Hugo controls all the powers.”
Marksman, whose home was used by Chavez to plan his coup against the Venezuelan government, says the two once shared a dream of “a prosperous Venezuela where justice would reign”.
“We were preparing for the time when we would be in government,” Marksman has written. “We wanted to establish a state in which the law was respected, to abolish corruption, to develop our basic industries and to do a real restructuring of the education system. None of that has happened.
“If anything, there has been a turning for the worse. Today there is more injustice, and no sign of that group of democrats who voiced, and accepted, different opinions. We live under an autocrat who does not respect the separation of powers. There is a chief justice who does not act, a financial comptroller who does not control, an ombudsman who only defends government interests. So where is the Bolivarian project?”
Chavez’ populist “Bolivarian revolution” has propelled the Venezuelan president into the spotlight and made him one of the leading voices of anti-Americanism around the world. It is a voice backed up by billions of dollars from Venezuela’s vast oil riches.
“Is Chavez another Fidel Castro?” asked Alberto Garrido, a Caracas political scientist. “Is he a 19th-century caudillo? Or is he a Peron with oil? Venezuelans debate this continuously, and all we know for certain is that the Chavez phenomenon is different from everything that has gone before.”
Opposition leaders argue that Chavez’s championing of the poor and his much-publicized welfare program are a facade and that little has been done to improve the nation’s infrastructure or to root out fraud and ineptitude in government. Venezuela’s police force has been blamed by human rights groups for much of the nation’s violence and Caracas, the capital, has the world’s highest murder rate per capita.
“In Venezuela they say we have no good presidents or bad presidents,” said Julio Borges, an opposition candidate in December’s election. “We have presidents who either benefit from high oil prices or suffer from low oil prices. Chavez had the luck to be a president with high oil revenues, but he’s like a man who wins the lottery and at the end he spends it all and turns out more broke than before.”
Chavez has been using his luck to buy influence domestically and internationally.
During a recent visit to Cuba, Chavez told Castro, “Capitalism leads us straight to hell, Fidel, I think you were always right: It’s socialism or death.”
Earlier this year, Chavez embraced U.S. antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan on national television and announced his plot to bring the U.S. to its knees. “Enough of imperialist aggression,” Chavez said. “We must tell the world: Down with the U.S. empire. We have to bury imperialism this century. Cindy, we are with you in your fight.”
Chavez’s plan for burying imperialism includes attempting to build a 2-million-man army in a country not threatened by any external forces.
Increasingly, Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution is being viewed negatively by Venezuela’s neighbors. The candidate endorsed by Chavez in Peru’s upcoming presidential election has plummeted in the polls. In Mexico, the presidential candidate identified with Chavez has fallen behind a pro-business, U.S. educated opponent. Brazilian officials have complained of Venezuela’s oil policies and criticized Chavez ally, President Evo Morales of Bolivia, for his nation’s plans to nationalize it’s natural gas industry.
Marksman, now a member of the opposition, understands why those once attracted to Chavez might be having second thoughts.
“I keep the best memories of him close to me,” Marksman said. “He’s the kind of man that showers you with flowers and chocolates, serenades you with romantic songs and never forgets your birthday. People say he is a violent man, but he never raised a hand or his voice to me.”
But now, she says, Chavez is a man who “disguised himself as little Red Riding Hood and turned out to be the wolf.”
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