Back in February I attended a rally in Caracas of the Venezuelan anti-government opposition, where various protesters took it upon themselves to educate me as to President Hugo Chávez’ latest transgressions. These included consulting Cuban assassins on the issue of the electricity shortage in Venezuela and emulating Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
Given that other world leaders have likened themselves to Mussolini, I thought it might be interesting to briefly compare Chávez and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, only one of whom is considered a “great friend” of Barack Obama despite repeated references to the U.S. president’s suntan.
A few basic areas for comparison:
Media control: Chávez is accused of dominating the media despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of outlets are in control of the opposition and, as Mark Weisbrot and Tara Ruttenberg of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. point out, “as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share.” Berlusconi meanwhile owns Italy’s three largest television channels and a publishing house, and has a history of violating broadcasting laws.
The War on Terror: Chávez opposed the War on Terror and famously announced that “you can’t fight terror with terror” in response to photographs of Afghan children slaughtered by the U.S.-led coalition. Berlusconi opposed the War on Terror-inspired tactic of domestic wiretapping only because wiretap transcripts implicated him and his colleagues in criminal and other dubious behavior.
Women: Chávez is more often seen in photographs with Fidel Castro than with underage sex workers.
Sports: Chávez engages in friendly games of baseball with other government ministers. Berlusconi owns AC Milan football club.
Interpersonal communications: Chávez talks for hours to his citizens on his weekly television show Aló Presidente. Berlusconi creates a stir at NATO summits by refusing to interrupt his cell phone conversation in order to greet the Chancellor of Germany.
Anti-Semitism: Chávez has neither received the Distinguished Statesman award from the Anti-Defamation League nor told jokes about the Holocaust.
Argentine Dirty War: Chávez has never told a joke about death flights ordered by Argentina’s military dictatorship.
Wealth: Chávez does not appear on Forbes’ “The World’s Billionaires” list.
Religion: Chávez—who has not been involved in scandals related to membership in a Masonic lodge—has cast Jesus Christ as an anti-imperialist who died on the cross as a result of the class struggle. Berlusconi has cast himself as “the Jesus Christ of politics.”
Refugees: Chávez welcomes displaced Colombians. Berlusconi sounds the alarm that some areas of Milan look more like Africa than Italy.
Iran: Chávez has come under attack for his relations with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, enabling him to joke to Oliver Stone in Stone’s documentary “South of the Border” that a certain corn processing facility in Venezuela “is where we are making the Iranian atomic bomb.” Berlusconi has limited himself to asserting that no one can stop Israel from attacking Iran.
Conduct in times of natural disaster: Following the devastating floods in Venezuela in 1999, Chávez was dubbed “Action Man” based on his leadership of the rescue efforts. Following the 2009 earthquake in the Italian city of L’Aquila, a similar title might have been awarded to members of the Camorra—the mafia of Naples—along with their lucrative rebuilding contracts.