Hugo Chávez and the inability to control the internet

Today, 21 Nov, the BBC reports that Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez has gone on what so many of us think of a typical zany outburst, commending the (Venezuelan-born) Carlos the Jackal as a freedom fighter, at the same time as lauding Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and the late, otherwise unlamented Ugandan leader, Idi Amin.   According to the report, at the Caracas-held Encuentro Internacional de Partidos de Izquierda, Chávez said of Carlos “I defend him. It doesn’t matter to me what they say tomorrow in Europe.”
He said he believed Carlos had been unfairly convicted, and called him “one of the great fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation”.
The Venezuelan leader has previously called Carlos a friend, and is reported to have exchanged letters with him in the past.
In his speech, Mr Chavez also described Presidents Mugabe and Ahmadinejad – who like Mr Chavez are strong critics of the US – as brothers.
About former Ugandan President Idi Amin, Mr Chavez said: “We thought he was a cannibal… I don’t know, maybe he was a great nationalist, a patriot.”

That article prompted me to turn to Venezuela’s most respected newspapers to see whether I could flesh out more of Chávez’s opinions of one of history’s more notorious flesh-eaters. As with other newspapers, radio and television, El Universal is subject to censorship, although for the most part in Venezuela it remains more de facto than de jure. That is, “censor yourselves or we will do it for you”.

I quickly lost that track as I became enmeshed in the newspaper’s website, and was amused if not surprised to learn that, regardless of any putative control Mr. Chávez may have over news outlets, he seems to have none over Vox Populi.  In Alaska and the rest of the United States, internet voices learned and shrill, from across the political spectrum, uphold their favorite politicians and decry their bugaboos and those who support them. In Venezuela, it appears, internet commentary is close to unanimous in its condemnation of Mr. Chávez.  I read four articles featuring the Venezuelan president and found vanishingly close to none supportive of him.  Here is my translation of one regarding Chávez’s August trip to Libya, which occurred days before the Sept 4 Venezuelan elections:
Up to now I see 34 commentaries on this article, of which 31 are against Chávez, 2 demonstrate no inclination and one ditz* (*”mareado”, lit. the sea-sick one) who was breathing paint fumes in favor of el comandante. Could it be that the ditzes like this last one don’t write commentary until the last minute prior to the polls, or could it be that we’re all against this communistic trash (comunistoide de pacotilla) but too afraid or lazy to show ourselves and get rid of him for good? I don’t know what it is but one way or another Chávez has managed to keep himself afloat while all of Venezuela eats this manure courtesy of the worst government in history.

Now, I can internet-pick to support my arguments or political leanings as well as the next commentator, but if you make the assumption I am correct in stating the overwhelming preponderance of internet writings is anti-Chávez, where does that leave us?  Two possibilities arise: first, that the internet remains a potent force in authoritarian regimes for voicing opinions, and second, that the populism which created and sustained a Hugo Chávez was and is a populism of the illiterate. Can the former overcome the latter?

Links to the articles and commentary I have used above:

El Universal:  Chávez llega a Libia como parte de su gira que lo llevará a cinco países – Nacional y Política – EL UNIVERSAL
BBC:  BBC News – Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez defends ‘Carlos the Jackal’

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