Chavez’s social programs are something to back up

The mention of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in today’s political sphere, or even general society, seems to elicit no less than vigorous chair-throwing and shouting matches of great amplitude involving neck veins and eye bulges. Yet upon what is all of this anger founded?

To begin with, there is the not-so-discrete anti-American rhetoric utilized by the leader himself in which he compares the U.S. to a power-hungry locust, devoid of inhibition and spurred on by its own selfish, imperialistic desire. To compound this effect of damaged pride, Chavez openly touts his relationship with Cuba and Iran, and is in open negotiation for arms trade and oil distribution with China and Russia.

It is the first of these associations which causes the most outrage. The former leader of the “autocratic,” communist state of Cuba is the infamous Fidel Castro. Known for his suppression of free speech and strong stance against all U.S. policies, his passing of the figurative torch of leadership to his brother, Raul, was seen as a plucking of a small thorn from the body of the U.S. and replacing it with the forceful jab of a sharpened arrow. Chavez, thusly, is tossed into this heap of villains against whom the U.S. will not waiver.

However, it is important to educate oneself on what exactly the faults are of Venezuela and Cuba and other enmity-worthy institutions.

Venezuela, a populist state, elected Chavez because of the great economic disparity between the upper and lower classes.

As a majority of its population was impoverished, a campaign against corruption and in support of more equal economic distribution arose. After a failed coup, Chavez was finally elected as president in 1998. The publicized result has been his foreign policy – that of engaging non-typical allies, especially those who are opposed to the policies of the U.S. However, his goal is not to undercut or even threaten the goals of the United States. Instead, he is hoping to provide a response to what he views as a hegemonic power. Chavez believes larger economic policies have allowed for large corporations to exploit small groups within his borders.

Since he became president, he has instituted a variety of social, educational, and health care institutions into even the most remote villages of his country. Literacy rates have sky rocketed, and doctors and nurses are spreading their influence into areas that were formerly unreachable. Now, these initiatives are funded primarily through oil revenue controlled by the state, an unstable resource both in price and availability.

However, perhaps these efforts of attempting to establish a positive improvement in domestic policy should be more agreeably acknowledged. Chavez has also provided oil at reduced-prices to Third World countries and has provided aid to Bolivia, a country with a majority indigenous population that is plagued by similar problems of poverty, illiteracy and poor health care. Therefore, before fiery fingers of blame and outrage are asserted, perhaps the average citizen could pursue a little more research into the subject. After all, Che Guevara and Castro were best friends and revolutionaries growing up together.

Look at Che, his face is now an iconic t-shirt and his story is characterized as one of ambition and how it can lead to success in the “Motorcycle Diaries.” There are certainly negative components to Chavez’s policies, and he too has been accused of limiting freedom of the press and allowing corruption to occur. But a better policy may be to encourage the spread of these social programs rather than condemning his regime in general. A small smile would go a long way.

Matt Boaz is a senior political science major from Edmond, Okla.