Venezuelan president’s tirades tiresome

When King Juan Carlos of Spain told Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to “shut up” at a summit this month, many people wanted to buy the monarch a drink.

What prompted the king’s outburst at the Ibero-American Summit was Chavez’s persistent interruptions of Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as he chided Chavez for calling former Spanish prime minister and free-market advocate Jose Maria Aznar a “fascist.”

The Venezuelan leader also became upset over Zapatero’s remarks that Latin America needs to attract more foreign investment to break away from poverty.

King Juan Carlos may not get good marks on manners, but Chavez was due for a royal comeuppance.

Chavez is notorious for his tirades against capitalism and insulting other world leaders. He made headlines when he called President Bush “the devil” at the United Nations last year, going so far as to say the podium “smells of sulfur still.”

Oh, Chavez. Nothing says “powerful and awe-inspiring leader” like name-calling.

As Zapatero pointed out in his speech, it is valid to radically disagree with ideas and actions, as long as one keeps within the bounds of respect. If Chavez doesn’t like the politics of Bush and Aznar, he can say so without resorting to histrionics, a behavior unbecoming of a chief of state.

Chavez can snub foreign investment as he snuggles in his nest of oil money, but other Latin American countries can’t afford the luxury. However, some Latin American leftist leaders are mimicking his rhetoric, to the detriment of the region. The result is not an influx of capital but the whirlwind of dust left by investors as they flee these countries.

When it comes to attracting foreign capital, Asia has an edge over Latin America. In a trip to China, Argentinean journalist Andres Oppenheimer noticed the contrasting attitudes of China and Venezuela concerning foreign investment. A Chinese newspaper celebrated an increase of McDonald’s restaurants in the country, whereas Venezuelan media reported the temporary closing of all local McDonald’s because of the company’s alleged violation of tax laws.

Chavez and his supporters accurately argue that the wealth yielded by capitalism is not fairly distributed. Certain governments cater only to the business elite, disregarding the interests of the majority.

However, what Latin America needs is not Chavismo but a moderate left wing that can balance free-market politics with social welfare.

Chile – led by leftist president Michelle Bachelet – has one of the highest foreign direct investment rates in South America. The country funnels almost one-fifth of its public expenditure to education and gets more than 90 percent of its children through primary school, according to a recent Time magazine article.

Chavez told his opponents to take a Valium when he announced plans to modify the national constitution so he can continue to hold office through perpetual re-elections. Latin America begs for smart leadership, not rabble-rousing. Perhaps Chavez is the one who needs a sedative.

Julieta Chiquillo is a sophomore news-editorial journalism major from San Salvador, El Salvador. Her column appears Tuesdays.