Before traveling south, I was pretty much pro Hugo Chavez, though I didn't know much about him. My thought was, If poor folks like him, he must be good. Plus, I gotta admit, I got a kick out of his strident speech at the UN.
But in Costa Rica I got to talking about him with a Canadian ex-pat who owned one of the places we stayed at. He and his wife hate him. They say he's insane, that he wants to be a dictator and that someone needs to put a bullet in his head. That same day, as it happens, Chavez closed a Venezuelan-owned factory in small town on the C.R. coast, stripping 400 people of their jobs, apparently in political retaliation for President Oscar Arias's recent criticism of Chavez.
These were the first blows to my respect for Chavez. Arias is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he's leading an international effort to limit arms trade. He also pushed unsuccessfully to transform Central America into the world's first de-militarized region. It didn't work out, but he did persuade Panama to get rid of its military in 1994.
I still have a fair amount to learn about Arias, but at first glance he seems my kind of guy. So if Chavez is taking petty vengeance against him and his nice country, I'm naturally going to be suspicious.
So I come home and pend an afternoon researching him, trying to find trustworthy reports. And I can't make heads or tails of it until I come across a study by the International Crisis Group. They seem an honorable, trustworthy group, and their report is damning.
While Chavez appears to have some well-intentioned plans, it looks as though his economic strategy is suicidal and, worst of all, he's consolidating pretty much all of the government under his direct control, he's using extra-constitutional military groups to intimidate the opposition and silencing his critics (even going so far as to shut down one of the country's oldest TV networks).
So consider me an anti-chavizta hence forth. No me gusta.