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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

The Rise (and Fall?) of Ridiculous Leaders

By Carlos E. Ponce

“The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur here still.” Who can forget these infamous words by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York referring to US President Bush.

“There must be a United Nations inquiry into the assassination of John F. Kennedy” said Libya’s Dictator Muammar Gaddafi at the same forum only three years later. He went on to demand 7.7 trillion dollars in reparations for Africa, and opined that he would be happy if President Barack Obama stayed president of the United States for life.

In 2010 it was Iranian dictator Mahmood Ahjadinejad’s turn as he revived September 11 conspiracy theories and announced that Iran – the world’s most significant sponsor of terrorism – would be holding a global conference in Tehran on how to combat terrorism.

Those three friends share the same megalomania and the same approach to power.

The eccentricities of these ridiculous leaders are well known. Muammar Gaddafi travels with a voluptuous blond nurse, is afraid of heights and tall buildings, and sleeps in a roving convoy that drives through the desert protected by only women bodyguards.

Hugo Chavez appeared on a stage wearing a huge Mexican “sombrero” and sang “rancheras” for a full hour in a misguided attempt to apologize to the Mexican people for a slight from his famously undisciplined tongue. “Condi Rice seems to be obsessed with me,” he once told a crowd of 700,000 people in downtown Caracas. “Maybe I should propose marriage to her, maybe that would fix things” he said to the jeering mob, “no, let another make a sacrifice for the country; ask me anything else, but don’t ask me that.” One day a communist revolutionary the next day a self proclaimed savior of the poor and latter a democrat persecuted by the “evil empire”.

In a recent conference on climate change Bolivia’s President Evo Morales confidently stated that eating genetically modified chicken makes people gay, and bald. He appeared in front of his own parliament promoting the use of coca and admitting that he used coca leaves and paste.

In a recent kerfuffle with his police, Ecuador’s President Correa waded through a mob of hundreds of armed, angry officers to stand framed in a window and yelled, “…if you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him,” and ripped open his shirt with a flourish to reveal his bare chest. “I prefer to be dead sooner than lose my life,” he shouted self-importantly to the armed crowd.

Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, violated his stepdaughter.

Birds of a feather, as they say. It’s no surprise at all that Chavez, Ortega, Castro, and Morales have all been the recipients of the highly coveted Muammar Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. This important trophy, with its corresponding $250,000 award, is given to “international personalities, bodies or organizations that have distinctively contributed to rendering an outstanding human service and has achieved great actions in defending human rights, protecting the causes of freedom and supporting peace everywhere in the world.”

It is a shame for the Western Hemisphere that the automatic and stronger supporters of the Gaddafi’s bloody tyranny are these three stooges.

The risible antics of these barmy leaders could be passed off as fodder for Saturday Night Live -- maybe a spoof featuring Tina Fey -- if these men weren’t at the same time so dangerous. As I write this, Libya’s Gaddafi is using weaponry of war against his own people in a desperate attempt to retain power.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad, after torturing and murdering thousands of Iranians after the fraudulent election of 2009 could be only months away from a nuclear weapon to call his very own.

Hugo Chavez has held onto power for twelve years, converting his tropical Caribbean paradise into a safe haven for drug dealers, terrorists and criminals while sitting back as they murdered 150,000 Venezuelans in senseless acts of turf warfare. He turned a progressive oil country (with undoubted social and economical disparities) into a banana republic. He talked about his revolution but instead of a “jasmine” one he has been implementing a banana revolution in Venezuela and exporting his authoritarianism to Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries.

So far, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua – all Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) member countries – are the only countries willing to defend Gaddafi’s carnage. Not even Iran, who can barely contain its pleasure at a competitor’s demise; or Russia who must fear losing an important arms client, are coming to the defense of the Butcher of Tripoli.

I had hoped that after the slaughter of the twentieth century an exhausted world would be unwilling to watch again – this time in High Definition – the plight of countless millions demanding that we come to their aid.

Apparently, I was wrong.

While the international community debated whether or not Libya should lose its seat in the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Gaddafi regrouped and hired African mercenaries who are attempting to retake areas lost to the rebels.

While the United Nations Security Council votes to open an investigation by the International Criminal Court into war crimes – Gaddafi’s military continues to commit them. In the Western Hemisphere, not a single word from the Organization of American States in support for democracy in Libya and the end of the criminal massacre at the hands of Gaddafi and not a single critic from the heads of the countries in the region or the ones responsible for the Western Hemisphere’s policies in the Department of State or the National Security Council.

It is time for the timidity of the Obama Administration to cease. They sat on the sideline while Ahmadinejad tortured thousands. They say nothing while Chavez harbors terrorists, persecutes civil society, closes down TV stations, supports drug traffic and sells gasoline and uranium to Iran in violation of international sanctions.

President Obama famously said from Cairo University, “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” It is time for the Obama Administration to stand up for those beliefs, and help free the world from its ridiculous, dangerous leaders.

Carlos E. Ponce is the Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and General Coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, a network of over 210 leading civil society organizations across the Americas. In his native Venezuela, Dr. Ponce successfully founded and led the Justice and Development Consortium (Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia)—a nongovernmental organization that develops justice-reform and conflict-resolution programs at the local level—and advised its student movement. He previously worked as executive secretary of Venezuela’s National Human Rights Commission and as an advisor to the Venezuelan Congress. He earned his PhD from Northeastern University, Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University, Master of Studies in Environmental Law (M.S.E.L.) (Magna Cum Laude) from Vermont Law School, and his law degree from Andres Bello Catholic University in Venezuela. He also was a Fulbright Fellow, Tufts Fellow, World Bank/Fundayacucho fellow, European Union Visitor Program fellow, and in the US Department of State Visitor Program. The views expressed in this article represent the opinions and analysis of the writer and do not reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy or its staff. Twitter: @ceponces


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