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The caudillo and the columnist: O'Grady on Chavez

The Wall Street Journal's Mary O'Grady trashes Chavez yet hypocritically pours lavish praise on Uribe.

Last Modified: 09 Mar 2013 13:08
Belen Fernandez

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.
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In her analysis of Chavez's demise, O'Grady reiterates the centrality of "free markets" to the cessation of "dictatorship" and the achievement of the Venezuelan "dream" [Reuters]

For many years, Wall Street Journal columnist Mary O'Grady - a member of that special category of human being for whom anyone slightly less than fanatically right-wing qualifies as a raging leftist - has functioned as a caricature of herself. 

Case in point: In the same 2009 dispatch in which she determined that Hillary Clinton and Fidel Castro were ideological bedfellows, O'Grady argued that Honduras had "defend[ed] its democracy" by overthrowing its democratically-elected president in a military coup. 

Given her track record, it wasn't hard to predict the contents of O'Grady's obituary for Hugo Chavez, premised on the notion that the Venezuelan "caudillo in the red beret" had thwarted his country's accession to "the Free World". 

According to the article, "any election that [Venezuelan] Vice President Nicolas Maduro calls, as required by the constitution, will be neither free nor fair. It will be merely a formality designed to legitimise the next dictator." 

Never mind Jimmy Carter's 2012 appraisal: "[O]f the 92 elections that [the Carter Center has] monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world." In O'Grady-land, such statements presumably indicate not the existence of Venezuelan democracy but rather the existence of a Castro-Carter axis. 

The terrible scourge 

O'Grady insists that Venezuela must "rid itself of the terrible scourge known as chavismo" in order to "reach the dream of living in a free, prosperous country". 

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Of course, seeing as chavismo is to thank for cutting domestic poverty in half and reducing absolute poverty by 70 percent, relevant portions of the population might be forgiven for associating the so-called "terrible scourge" with increased freedom and prosperity. 

One major factor prevents O'Grady from falling into the same trap - namely, her conception of freedom as freedom for capital, the paramount sanctity of which then justifies the trampling of less critical freedoms such as the freedom not to have one's country spliced into neoliberal colonial enclaves governed by foreign investors

Indeed, the unleashing of the charter city plan on Honduras elicited O'Grady's rapt endorsement despite the fact that the Honduran citizenry and the inhabitants of the territories slated for auctioning were not consulted about the scheme, which furthermore stipulated an initial ban on elections in the newly formed city-states. 

We are left to deduce that democracy is less of a necessity in countries governed by right-wing zealots. In her analysis of Chavez's demise, O'Grady reiterates the centrality of "free markets" to the cessation of "dictatorship" and the achievement of the aforementioned Venezuelan "dream". 

As for the rampant "repression" O'Grady reports has enabled chavismo's longevity, the shackles of dictatorship are clearly visible in historian Greg Grandin's Chavez obituary in The Nation

There are at most eleven political prisoners in Venezuela, and that's taking the opposition's broad definition of the term, which includes individuals who worked to overthrow the [Chavez] government in 2002. 

Alvaro Uribe, knight in shining armour 

Unsurprisingly, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe managed to wow O'Grady to such an extent in 2010 as to merit the headline: "The Man Who Saved Colombia". 

The Colombian saviour's CV happens to include such items as presiding over the country with the worst human rights record on the continent, where more trade unionists were regularly assassinated than in the rest of the world combined

Other regime accomplishments ranged from the "false positives" scandal - in which Colombian military troops slaughtered civilians and disguised the corpses as guerrillas in exchange for extra holiday time and financial bonuses - to terrorisation of peasants, farmers and indigenous groups whose existence had been known to impede the extraction of local resources. 

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Needless to say, the victims of such policies probably wouldn't characterise the country, as O'Grady does, as being mostly "remarkably peaceful" thanks to the president's focus on "security". Uribe informs O'Grady that his government is battling "terrorists sponsored by narco-trafficking" - a pretext for state violence that becomes even more problematic when we recall the man's own appearance on a 1991 US Defense Intelligence Agency list of the More Important Colombian Narco-Traffickers and Narco-Terrorists

Undeterred, O'Grady declares that Uribe "has salvaged democracy in a part of the world where criminality is on the rise". In case any doubts remain as to the general provenance of said "criminality", we are reminded of Chavez's aspirations to continental domination. Uribe chimes in with confirmation that socialism endangers "private initiative". 

And so it is that we end up with the premature canonisation of bloodstained Uribe on the pages of one of the nation's foremost periodicals. In the wake of Chavez's death, these pages have played host to further demonisation of the "caudillo", accused by O'Grady of "fomenting hatred on a daily basis". 

Apparently the caudillo and the columnist kept similar schedules.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blogThe BafflerAl Akhbar English and many other publications.

Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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