Sara Miller Llana of the Christian Science Monitor reports that a most unlikely passenger may be jumping aboard the Straight Talk Express:
At a recent summit in Argentina, Venezuela’s leftist president Hugo Chávez said that if he were a United States citizen, he’d vote for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona.
The comment was passed off as a joke – but many observers say Mr. Chávez might not be laughing at the prospect of victory by democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois.
Mr. Chávez has made an art out of insulting President Bush and his “imperialist” foreign policy. His anti-Bush diatribes resonate in Venezuela and have helped insulate him from growing criticism that he neglects domestic affairs. And every time he launches into his famous oratory, he impresses a slew of left-leaning international admirers who wonder at his defiance of the world’s sole superpower – which they say has taken an arrogant and aggressive tack.
A McCain victory would allow him to sustain that message: Mr. McCain, after all, hails from the same party and shares many of the same policies as Bush. But Senator Obama is a different story. It remains to be seen how Obama, who has never visited Latin America, would actually shape his policies here, but many in the region identify with his mixed-race heritage, share more similar politics, and would welcome what they consider a newcomer to the Washington beltway.
“It’s hard seeing Chávez calling Obama ‘Satan’ and the likes,” says Ray Walser, a Latin America expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “He won’t get as much traction.”
Policies aside, the people of Venezuela seem much more drawn to Obama than McCain. “I would say that traditionally here in Venezuela, most Venezuelans support a Democratic Party candidate,” says Steve Ellner, Venezuelan-based author of the recently published book “Rethinking Venezuelan Politics.” “And that cuts across political and ideological differences.”
That affinity is reflected worldwide in a recent survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which showed that respondents in most all countries surveyed say they have more confidence in Obama than McCain. The survey included 24,717 responses across 24 countries, including Brazil and Mexico in Latin America.
But in Venezuela, Obama, who would be the first African-American president of the US, inspires because he represents a world changing – the same transformation that so many Venezuelans believe in with Chávez, who they say is governing for the poor for the first time. “To have a black president in the US? That has to be a good thing,” says Nancy Lam, a housewife from Caracas.
What may be historic for some might backfire for Chávez, however, as he has thrived on confrontation.
Probably his most audacious move was calling Bush the “devil” at a UN General Assembly meeting in September 2006. In another particularly virulent speech Chávez called Bush everything from a donkey to a drunkard – not to mention a coward and an assassin, ignorant and genocidal – in the span of three minutes.
“I think that if Obama were elected, that would certainly take a lot of wind out of [Chávez’s] sails,” says Nikolas Kozloff, author of the recently published book “Revolution! South America and The Rise of The New Left.”
What is it that The Joker says to Batman in Nolan’s The Dark Knight?
“I don’t want to kill you. You complete me.”