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Hugo Chávez is a hero to many in South America. “He roams Latin America, hurling insults at President Bush, sneering at the United States as the enemy ‘empire’ and spending billions in oil money to undermine Washington wherever he can.” The poor consider him to be a “liberator.” “I think God sent him,” Omaira Perez believes. “I think he’s the reincarnation of Simón Bolívar,” the nineteenth-century general who liberated Venezuela from Spanish rule. Bolívar was called the “George Washington of South America.” He was a student and admirer of the principles that led to America’s War for Independence as well as a critic of the French Revolution. Bolívar described himself as a classical “liberal” who defended the free market economic system. In his construction of the Bolivian Constitution he studied the U.S. Constitution and Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Bolívar’s many speeches and writings show that he was an advocate of limited government, the separation of powers, freedom of religion, property rights, and the rule of law. Chávez believes that redistribution of wealth will bring salvation, while Bolívar believed ideas—worldviews—are life transforming. Change what people believe, and societies will change from the bottom up. Chávez is no Bolívar. Chávez is a petty dictator who happens to have a large oil reserve. While he despises capitalists, it’s capitalists who are buying Venezuela’s oil.
An attempt was made by Bolívar to govern South America by using the U.S. Constitution. His attempts failed because the people were the problem. He died an “exhausted and disillusioned idealist” because the character of the people would not change. He considered them to be ungovernable. He understood that ideas and character matter more than governmental forms and money. Some months before his death Bolívar wrote:
There is no good faith in [Latin] America, nor among the nations of [Latin] America. Treaties are scraps of paper; constitutions, printed matter; elections, battles; freedom, anarchy; and life a torment.
Chávez’s policies will trap the people he claims to be saving. They will become dependent on the State. Incentives to work, build a business, save, and plan for the future will disappear. The next generation will have no good example to follow. The children will grow up believing that the State is their god. The principle of self-government under God will be undermined. Self-incentive will atrophy.
There is always the promise of security, the giving up of a little more self-determination, the handing over of a bit more jurisdiction to those who want to make us so secure. It’s happening in America as well. Chávez is buying votes by doling out oil money to the poor. Our politicians want to tax anything that moves so they can create new government programs to help the less fortunate. The effect will be the same: enslavement.