The Dictator Club

February 25, 2011

by Dane Vallejo

Latin American reactions to the on-goings in Libya have been split and all the more interesting as such.  On the one hand, there’s Peru which has become the first state to sever ties with Libya following Gaddafi’s repulsive response to the protests against his despotic regime.  A gold star for Lima; good work.  But before we get carried away with celebration, let’s not forget the gruesome twosome: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez.

Castro has gone on record to criticize the West’s response to Gaddafi’s gross crackdown in Tripoli and Benghazi.  Oil, he says, is the main concern in Washington and not peace for Libya.  What is more, the US is supposedly ready to invade in “a matter of hours or a few days” according to the Cuban dictator who still runs the show behind Raul’s figurative leadership.  These are bold claims given the relative quiet that has dominated the White House since events broke.  One can only imagine that Castro’s rhetoric will spew like an erupting well now that Obama has finally reacted to events in Tripoli.

Then there’s Chávez: Latin America’s very own peculiar political performer.  Direct ties between Chávez and Gaddafi have been growing incrementally over the years and just when you thought their relationship could not get any more bizarre, it inevitably does.  Gaddafi has named a football stadium after Chávez in Benghazi; he has offered a Bedouin tent to Chávez as a warming gift; and Chávez has bequeathed a replica of Simon Bolivar’s (the championed liberator of South American independence from the Spanish) sword in return.  Ah yes, the famous Bolivar sword.  Everybody has one:  Mugabe, Castro, Gaddafi.   Somehow this symbol has perversely come to represent staunch opposition to democracy, prosperity and liberty.

So while this exclusive club of dictators hides behind the pretext of perceived Western imperialism and exploitation of their resources, it is important to recognise that their relationships really boil down to a cosy bracket designed to protect the sanctity of their own personal sovereignties.  For all of Chávez’s endeavours to endear himself to indigenous peoples and minorities worldwide, where is his support for the hundreds dead in Libya?  If “revolution for the people” is what he stands for, then where is his support for those who continue to brave the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi to force political change?  It’s very easy for me to sit here poking fun at the lunacy of these dictators and illuminate the contradictions in their ways, but there is a serious issue at hand here.  As long as there are dictators such as these, violations of human rights will continue.

This brings me to my final point.  Considering Chávez’s incessant reference to Simon Bolivar, perhaps he ought to take heed from one of Bolivar’s own musings: “Nothing is so dangerous as allowing a single citizen to remain in power for a long time. The people get used to obeying him, and he gets used to giving them orders, and that is the root of tyranny.”

There is a glaring lesson in there for Chávez, Castro and Gaddafi.