During a recent visit to the United States, I heard a woman say that she felt Vice President Dick Cheney was an evil man. Her sister, with a different view of the world situation, said she felt all Arabs were evil. For the past few years President George W. Bush has been speaking of an axis of evil in the world. And, just a few days ago, President Chávez of Venezuela said President Bush is a devil. Let me first of all share my personal opinion on the matter of evil. I don’t believe there are evil people. There are people who do bad things (I don’t like the word “evil”), but that doesn’t make them bad. I have done bad things in my life. Everyone has. That doesn’t make us bad people.
Secondly, I have a prejudice against identifying people with evil and the devil. I once asked a priest who was tortured in Argentina, how one human being could torture another. He replied that his torturers denied that he was human. His words as I recall them: “They said I was a devil dressed as a priest and as such they could do whatever they wanted to do with me.”
Thirdly, I don’t like name-calling. I was taught in high school that it was the lowest form of argument. It can hurt; it can bring laughter; but it doesn’t contribute to a fair discussion of ideas.
Having said this, I would like to present my analysis of the repercussions resulting from Chávez’s address in the United Nations.
Within Venezuela, the reactions have been mixed. Those who oppose Chávez see it as another strike against him as president. But among those who support him, I have found no one so far who felt he did wrong with his comments.
I watched Chávez’s speech in the office of a public building. The secretaries were all cheering Chávez as he spoke the words. Later, a respected lawyer told me he didn’t see any difference between Bush’s designating countries and their leaders as part of the “axis of evil” and Chávez’s calling Bush a devil. A labor leader felt the talk was excellent and necessary. A radio commentator said Chávez voiced what many world leaders would like to say but don’t have the courage to do so. The most hesitant comment was from a taxi driver who said it was ok that Chávez made the comparison once in the U.N., but that he shouldn’t have continued repeating the idea.
The Sunday 24 September issue of the Caracas daily, Ultimas Noticias, had a cartoon showing the devil sitting in front of a television set watching Chávez’s U.N. speech. The devil is saying, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Chávez but Bush is a lot worse than I am. In addition the odor he leaves behind is not that of sulfur but of gun power.”
Within the United States, I have no idea how people are reacting because I haven’t had access to the Internet these days and I don’t trust the major news sources anyway. One fellow journalist who did check out the reporting said that it was unfortunate that the articles were concentrating on Chávez’s devil remark and not on the rest of the message he delivered.
In any case, I do think it is time that people in the United States wake up to the fact that Chávez simply voiced what many people in the world think about their president. Two or three years ago I was on an airplane passing through Mexico City and received from the airline a major Mexican daily. That day it carried a long editorial comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler. One may agree or disagree with the comparison, but it is important that U.S. citizens are aware of it. I don’t know if many Germans in the 30s and 40s knew what was being said about Hitler and their country in other parts of the world. U.S. citizens today do not have that excuse. Many, many people in the world are having difficulties justifying the massive killing of several thousand innocent people because a few thousand people died in the Twin Towers. There is some similarity with Israel’s killing of Lebanese citizens because two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, another action the U.S. supported.
It is also important for U.S. citizens to realize that their leaders have not been kind in their words about Chávez. Major government spokespersons have called Chávez a hyena and a pied piper. Also, there is no question that the U.S. government was happy when the 2002 coup against him took place, and may have even helped finance it.
The time has come for U.S. citizens to wake up and realize that they are becoming hated because of the policies of their leaders. As Chávez pointed out, the greatest enemy that the U.S. people have is their own government.
How will Chávez’s remarks affect his position in the world and his relation with other world leaders? I don’t think what he said will hurt him. Venezuela would like a seat in the UN Security Council. The vote will be in secret. I think they will easily win it. If that happens, it will be a huge victory for Chávez and a horrible defeat for the Bush administration. But if Venezuela doesn’t win it, it will show that the U.S. might still be politically more powerful than Venezuela. So, what’s news in that?
I would expect other world leaders, friends of Chávez, to tell him he shouldn’t say things like he did in public forums — even though they feel likewise. Even if they don’t have similar feelings, I don’t think they will stop supporting him. My brother once called another driver, who cut in front of my brother’s car, an “asshole.” I wouldn’t have used such a word, but it didn’t stop me from loving my brother.
Hugo Chávez is Hugo Chávez. Upon his return to Venezuela, I heard him tell a group of people that he didn’t know exactly what he was going to say until he said it. But he also said that he doesn’t take back what he said.
Four years ago I wrote that one of Chávez’s major problems as a politician is that he says what he thinks. Many people see that as being honest—and love him for it. Others see it as being inept and stupid—and hate him for it. But Hugo is Hugo. I don’t expect him to change.
Let me add one final thought. When I shared what I just wrote with a friend, he made an important distinction, which I share, between the attitudes of President Chávez and that of President Bush. He said that when Chávez spoke of Bush as a devil, he was joking. He entered the podium of the General Assembly saying it smelled of sulfur. He made the Sign of the Cross, a common Venezuelan practice not only to show one’s Catholic faith but also to ward off evil spirits. It is done seriously, but often it is done in jest. I know a person who is always making it in front of friends and saying, “Away from me Satan.”
But when Bush speaks of the “axis of evil,” he is deadly serious, and I put emphasis on the word “deadly.” It is my belief that Chávez shares my feeling that Bush is doing bad (evil, if you prefer the word) things. I don’t believe he sees him as a devil in reality. Not so with President Bush. His words seem to reflect a fundamentalist Christian attitude that the devil has taken possession of some people. They must therefore be wiped out. Too bad if others happen to be in the way, but the evil ones must be eliminated. Therein lies the danger for the world—and for you and me if we should fall into that category for the U.S. government.
Chávez wants to wipe out imperialism. He doesn’t see the need to kill those who are imperialists. Bush says he wants to eliminate terrorism. His only solution seems to be to kill those who are classified as terrorists. I repeat: therein lies the danger for the world — and for you and for me.
© Charles Hardy
Charles Hardy is a freelance writer and former Catholic priest who has lived in Venezuela for over twenty years. He is author of a forthcoming book on Venezuela from Curbstone Press (http://www.curbstone.org) . His personal blog is Cowboy in Caracas (http://www.cowboyincaracas.com) and he can be reached through [email protected]