If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, I’ll Deport You

To say that Hugo Chavez has a thin skin qualifies as an understatement. The Venezuelan dictator has announced that any foreigner who criticizes him insults the “national dignity” and will be forcibly removed from the country:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has vowed to expel foreigners who publicly criticise him or his government.
“No foreigner can come here to attack us. Anyone who does must be removed from this country,” he said during his weekly TV and radio programme.
Mr Chavez also ordered officials to monitor statements made by international figures in Venezuela.

This outburst came after Mexican politician Manuel Espino, head of the National Action Party that controls the government, spoke at a pro-democracy conference in Caracas. Did he call Chavez a tyrant? Implore Venezuelans to conduct a coup d’etat? Espino didn’t do either; he pointed out that Chavez’ plan to end term limits on the presidency would turn him into a Presidente-for-life and undermine democracy.
For this unforgivable sin of pointing out the obvious, Chavez has decided to expand the police state. Not only will foreigners get expelled for voicing criticism of Chavez, the dictator wants his security forces to monitor them constantly just in case tourists get crabby in Caracas. It promises to become a Gestapo-like regime, where every little complaint gets reviewed by police to determine whether it offends to the point of deportation.
And if Venezuelans think this system will only affect foreign visitors, they will be fooling themselves. Chavez’ paranoia will not limit itself to foreigners, who wouldn’t be his biggest threat in any case. When calling the dictator a tyrant becomes a crime against the state, the law will not apply to non-citizens alone.
Chavez is well on his way to making Venezuela another Cuba, and perhaps even worse. The cult of personality has already begun under his dictatorship, and is history is any guide, it will get worse in a short period of time. Venezuela looks set to become the Turkmenistan of South America, and Chavez its new Turkmenbashi. And if anyone wants to travel to Venezuela, they’d better develop a case of laryngitis first.
UPDATE: This may not be the most disturbing story out of Venezuela today. Sean Hackbarth notes that Chavez is expanding his petroleum monopoly into all sorts of other ventures, squeezing out private enterprise in the meantime:

Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company that controls the biggest reserves in South America, may begin making shoes, building ships and farming soybeans as President Hugo Chavez widens the government’s role in the economy.
Chavez has approved the creation of seven subsidiaries that range from oil services to agriculture, according to a written report to the company’s management.
The plan would make PDVSA an even bigger force in the country’s daily life and put it in competition against companies from around the world.
PDVSA already controls the oil production that accounts for 90 percent of Venezuelan foreign trade and about half of government revenue. The effort to expand may siphon off managers and capital, hobbling efforts to reverse a slide in energy production.
“Having more of the economy under one roof, you’re more and more vulnerable,” said Robert Bottome, an analyst at Caracas-based research company Veneconomia. “The state is taking over everything. Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad idea if they knew what they were doing.” Declining oil output “suggests they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.

He knows what he’s doing when it comes to imposing a dictatorship. That seems to be the extent of his talent.

Chavez Wants A Guerilla War Against The US

Under normal circumstances, Hugo Chavez would get diagnosed as a run-of-the-mill paranoid and treated with proper medication. Unfortunately, as dictator of Venezuela, the paranoia gets combined with oil revenues to produce real problems for the US, neighboring countries, and the Venezuelans themselves. Chavez has begun a spending spree on arms and now threatens to conduct a guerilla war against the US:

President Hugo Chavez urged soldiers on Sunday to prepare for a guerrilla-style war against the United States, saying that Washington is using psychological and economic warfare as part of an unconventional campaign aimed at derailing his government.
Dressed in olive green fatigues and a red beret, Chavez spoke inside Tiuna Fort — Venezuela’s military nerve-center — before hundreds of uniformed soldiers standing alongside armored vehicles and tanks decorated with banners reading: “Fatherland, Socialism, or Death! We will triumph!”
“We must continue developing the resistance war, that’s the anti-imperialist weapon. We must think and prepare for the resistance war everyday,” said Chavez, who has repeatedly warned that American soldiers could invade Venezuela to seize control of the South American nation’s immense oil reserves.
U.S. officials reject claims that Washington is considering a military attack. But the U.S. government has expressed concern over what it perceives as a significant arms build-up here.

The only development that could possibly cause us to make war against Venezuela would be an attack from Chavez on the US. No one here has any interest at all in storming Caracas for any reason. We don’t need the land, and we don’t need the hassle, and we have plenty of other sources for oil. The US could drill its own, higher-quality reserves before spending billions on a fight for Chavez’ sulfuric crude.
Unfortunately, the increasing irrationality of Chavez may touch off a war regardless. The US and the rest of Latin America cannot help but wonder what a lunatic like Chavez might do with all of this military equipment he’s buying. Chavez may be talking defense, but submarines are not a defensive weapon. They exist primarily to provide an attack force against surface fleets in open waters, and his consideration of those systems along with his other purchases indicates that he has something else in mind than just defending Venezuelan territory.
Like most other dictators, Chavez wants to stoke fears of war to keep people from rising up to depose him from power. He also wants to buy off the military to keep them from executing a coup d’etat. At some point, when Chavez has emptied the treasury in arming himself to the teeth, his credibility will fail unless he gets the war he’s using to frighten Venezuelans now. That’s when Chavez will be most dangerous, and Venezuelans will have to act before that moment arrives if they want to avoid the catastrophe that will follow.

Dissent Without Borders

Hugo Chavez may have chased his critics off the air in Venezuela, but he has not chased them out of Venezuelan homes. Radio Caracas Television could soon start transmitting its programming — and its criticism of the Chavez government — from Mexico, confounding the dictator’s efforts to silence RCTV:

The head of an opposition-aligned Venezuelan television station that was forced off the air by that nation’s government said he has received offers to co-produce and transmit programming from Mexico.
Marcel Granier, whose Radio Caracas Television went off the air May 27 after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decided not to renew its broadcast license, vowed Tuesday to keep trying to reach Venezuelan audiences by any means possible.
He said he had “good friends” in Mexico’s two major TV networks.
“Our commitment … is to re-establish that contact [with Venezuelans], either from Venezuela or from abroad, by any means possible, by cable, by satellite, by Internet,” Granier told reporters.

The distance would be too great for television broadcasts, unless RCTV can get repeaters closer to Venezuela to carry their signal. Cable seems problematic, as Chavez can probably keep providers from carrying the new station. RCTV’s best opportunities will be satellite and Internet ventures.
This will force Chavez to impose ever-stricter state control over the media if he expects to block them. Those kinds of censorship will only inflame opposition even further, creating a vicious circle of despotism that will undo Chavez in the long run.

The Consistency Of Cuba

With NBC broadcasting the Today show live from Havana this week, we can expect to see plenty of media hyperbole on the Cuban health-care system and general ignorance of all the circumstances surrounding the relationship between Cuba and the US. However, the UK’s Prospect Magazine gives a much more intimate look at the Cuba beyond the camera lenses in Castro’s controlled access to the island. Bella Thomas actually lived there, and knows the Cuba that Western romanticists refuse to see:

What observers at this time most underestimated was the power of the regime’s nationalist rhetoric and Castro’s strategic skill. Unlike in eastern Europe, where nationalism helped to erode communism, Cuban nationalism has shored up the regime. Castro was always a nationalist in communist clothing, and, throughout the 1990s, the communist references in his speeches were gradually replaced by nationalist ones.
The continuing hostilities with the US have played into Castro’s hands. It was as an embattled nationalist leader of a small island, standing up to an aggressive, neighbouring superpower, that Castro preserved his revolutionary credentials most effectively. The shortcomings of life under his regime were, he argued, attributable mainly to the US embargo. Many swallowed the argument. He knew, too, how to capitalise on the latent anti-Americanism in Latin America, Europe and Canada to give his struggle more universal appeal.
In fact, the regime seems to act with zeal to ensure that the embargo continues. When it looks as if the US government might consider ending it, some heavy-handed Cuban act ensues that the status quo prevails. In 1996, when Clinton was keen to initiate rapprochement, the regime shot down two US planes manned by members of a Cuban exile group rescuing those escaping the island on rafts. When, in 2003, an influential cross-party lobby in the US seemed set to dismantle the embargo, the Cuban government promptly incarcerated 75 prisoners of conscience and executed three men who hijacked a tugboat with a view to getting to Miami. …
In their call for the US to keep its “hands off Cuba,” western supporters of the Cuban regime seem to miss the irony that this, unfortunately, is precisely what the US is doing. Were the US to relax its embargo, the result would be a tidal wave of US capital, which the regime would be unlikely to survive. Many Cubans would grow richer and more demanding, and would no longer accept playing second fiddle to the tourists.

When speaking with a Cuban dissident, Thomas told him of London mayor Ken Livingstone and his planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of Catro’s revolution (in 2009). The dissident expressed surprise that people in the West — with instant access to the truth — instead turned a blind eye to the suffering and the oppression in Cuba. He then shrugged and said, “Well, you’re a democracy,” and changed the subject.
How galling it must be to ordinary Cubans to see Western media organizations like NBC enable Castro to magnify his propaganda. The Michael Moores of the West — and we can’t deny that there are many like him, and some just as bad — extol the oppression of a dictator who imprisons and executes journalists who dare to tell the truth about life under the dictator. They act as repeater stations about how the only thing holding back the Cuban people is the American embargo, even though they import more food and medicine from us than anywhere else.
Every time these journalists betray their fellow reporters and build up Castro as some sort of rational alternative to private property and free enterprise, they see their chances of overcoming the oppression dim. Be sure to read the entire article, paying particularly close attention to Thomas’ reporting on the decrepitude of Havana’s hospitals (the ones for the locals) and the bribery it takes to get treatment even there.
I’ll be talking with Val Prieto and Fausta today on CQ Radio about this topic. Be sure to tune in.

Slowly The World Turns

The move by Hugo Chavez to shutter a television broadcaster that has criticized him and his dictatorial rule over Venezuela has apparently alerted more than just the Venezuelans to his megalomania. Nations that didn’t get the clues from his bizarre behavior at the UN or when he demanded and received dictatorial powers have suddenly awoken to the fact that Chavez is an imbalanced dictator who means to quash all opposition to his aspirations of Castro-like rule:

While condemnation from the Bush administration, an ideological foe of Venezuela, was expected, criticism has come from many quarters around the world, some of them surprising.
Spain’s Socialist government, in a joint declaration with the United States, called Friday for Chávez to renew RCTV’s license. The European Parliament voiced concern, and Brazil’s Senate passed a resolution calling on Chávez to reconsider, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Venezuelan leader.
“A head of state who doesn’t know how to live with democratic manifestation, such as that of the Brazilian Senate, is probably against democracy,” the president of that body, Renan Calheiros, said in response.

The previous cluelessness didn’t just apply to nations, either. Some NGOs have suddenly found themselves on the Damascus road, albeit reluctantly:

Reporters Without Borders, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the Chilean Senate and the Atlanta-based Carter Center have said freedom of expression could be in peril in Venezuela. “I think this weakens the Chávez government’s argument that it furthers free expression,” said Carlos Lauria, who has studied the case for the Committee to Protect Journalists. “It debilitates that argument.”

Note the weasel words Lauria uses in this statement. He thinks that using government force to shut down critics in the media weakens the argument that Chavez supports free speech. It debilitates that argument. Well, what would it take for Lauria to say that it negates it entirely? Does Chavez have to line journalists up against the wall and shoot them before Lauria will admit that Chavez is a tyrant?
It’s not as if Chavez has any subtlety to his position at all. The last independent broadcaster, Globovision, got the word from Hugo yesterday in this warning: “I recommend that you take a tranquilizer, that you take it easy, because if not, I’m going to make you take it easy.” And yet, all that Reporters Without Borders, the CPJ, and the Carter Center can do is issue mealy-mouthed statements about how this course of action could possiblymaybeperhapsundercertaincircumstances be construed as an attack on free speech.
Meanwhile, thousands of university students bravely take to the streets to fight for their freedom. They show courage and defiance. The nations of the West have finally noticed the danger in Venezuela, no thanks to Hugo’s pals in the media and the NGO community.

Why Aren’t We Arguing For Liberty?

Fred Thompson continues his virtual campaign today by asking an important question about our efforts to spread democracy and liberty. Why have we neglected the most powerful weapon in our arsenal — the truth? Thompson argues that our Radio Free broadcasts helped bring down the Soviet empire, and their neglect has allowed socialism to surge again in Latin America:

Well, he’s done it. Hugo Chavez was already systematically silencing criticism of his autocratic rule through threats and intimidation. Journalists have been threatened, beaten and even killed. Now he’s shut down the last opposition television networks in Venezuela and arrested nearly 200 protesters – mostly students. It’s a monumental tragedy and the Venezuelan people will pay the price for decades to come. Americans are also at risk as he funds anti-American candidates and radicals all over Latin America.
It’s equally tragic that the U.S. is in no position to provide the victims of this emerging dictator with the truth. There was a time, though, when Americans were on the front lines of pro-freedom movements all over the world. I’m talking about the “surrogate” broadcast network that included Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, often called “the Radios.” …
The Radios were not some bland public relations effort, attracting audiences only with American pop music. They engaged the intellectual and influential populations behind the Iron Curtain with accurate news and smart programming about freedom and democracy. They had sources and networks within those countries that sometimes outperformed the CIA. When Soviet hardliners and reformers were facing off, and crowds and tanks were on the streets of Moscow and Bucharest, the radios were sending real-time information to the people, including the military, and reminding them of what was at stake.
Then we won the Cold War. The USSR collapsed in 1991, and America relaxed. Military downsizing began and the Radios began to reduce broadcast air time to target countries.

How badly do Venezuelans need an independent source of news? They’re marching in the streets in defiance of newly-minted dictator Hugo Chavez after he shut down the last major independent broadcaster for its criticisms of his leadership. Not that Venezuelans can know this through Chavez’ state-controlled media:

While almost 40 percent of voters in last year’s election opted for Mr. Chávez’s opponent, the president’s support topped 60 percent and he still enjoys wide popular backing. This level of support is expected to be on display Saturday, when Mr. Chávez has called for large demonstrations in support of the RCTV decision.
Until then, however, the message from students is still being heard, if not widely broadcast, in Venezuela. “They are taking our free speech away,” said Sandra Bellizzia, a marketing student at Alejandro Humboldt University who had “RCTV” painted in black on her face at a protest here on Thursday. “If they closed any channel, it would mean the same thing.”

Had we presented a continual and sustained effort to supply the people of Venezuela and the rest of Latin America with unbiased, truthful reporting, they could be relying on that information now. As Thompson notes, democracy activists knew they could rely on our communications channels during the Cold War. We helped people free themselves, not with weapons or surgical bombing strikes, but with reliable information that allowed them to see around the propaganda of their governments.
What happened? Too many people bought into the “peace dividend” mentality. Mitt Romney acknowledged this in my interview with him on Wednesday specifically regarding Chavez and Latin America. After the Soviet collapse, we stopped worrying about Latin America, not understanding that tinpolt dictators will still arise, even without Russian financing. We let our guard down, and more importantly, we let the agents of freedom down in the region.
Dictatorships and oppression will afflict mankind for ages to come, and we have to be prepared to fight against it, using the most effective weapons in our arsenal. Fred reminds us that simple communication of truth, and the establishment of our credibility from that effort, is perhaps the most powerful and effective weapon against tyranny that we possess. It’s high time that we start using it again.

Democrats Snub Latin American Ally

Robert Novak reports that the Democrats, who have squealed loudly over the supposedly unilateral foreign policy of George Bush, snubbed one of the few allies we have left in Latin America. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe returned to Bogota in shock as Democrats blocked trade agreements over old human-rights issues, while Hugo Chavez rallies the other nations to opposition against the US:

Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, returned to Bogota this week in a state of shock. His three-day visit to Capitol Hill to win over Democrats in Congress was described by one American supporter as “catastrophic.” Colombian sources said Uribe was stunned by the ferocity of his Democratic opponents, and Vice President Francisco Santos publicly talked about cutting U.S.-Colombian ties.
Uribe got nothing from his meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders. Military aid remains stalled, overall assistance is reduced, and the vital U.S.-Colombian trade bill looks dead. Uribe is the first Colombian president to crack down on his country’s corrupt army officer hierarchy and to assault both right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas, but last week he confronted Democrats wedded to outdated claims of civil rights abuses and rigidly protectionist dogma.
This is remarkable U.S. treatment for a rare friend in South America, where Venezuela’s leftist dictator, Hugo Chavez, can only exult in Uribe’s embarrassment as he builds an anti-American bloc of nations. A former congressional staffer, who in 1999 helped write Plan Colombia to combat narco-guerrillas, told me: “President Uribe may be the odd man out, and that’s no way to treat our best ally in South America.”

This recalls the foreign policy of Jimmy Carter, who famously threw the Shah under the bus and enabled the radical Islamist takeover of Iran. We have a real problem with Chavez in South America, and we should look for allies there to promote our interests. Colombia also has strategic importance in America’s efforts to stamp out narco-trafficking, and Uribe has risked much in assisting in that fight. One might believe that American politicians would at least treat such an ally with respect, but according to Novak, he received contempt.
How so? Al Gore had been scheduled to meet with Uribe at an environmental event in Miami on April 20th. Apparently, this was an event tied to Earthfest, a conference that Gore would normally run over his grandmother in a Prius to attend. Instead, Gore cancelled, claiming that Uribe had involvement with paramilitary forces over a decade ago, which Uribe denied. That apparently signalled the rest of the Democrats to dismiss Uribe and the strategic importance of Colombia to US policy in Latin America.
How bad was the damage? On Uribe’s return, his Vice President remarked that the failure to extend trade agreements showed Latin America how the US treats its allies, and that Colombia would probably have to re-evaluate its relationship to the US. Given that the US has enough pressure from a rising tide of Castro-style socialism in this hemisphere already, that would be a dangerous disaffection at a time we can least afford it.
Besides, everyone knows why the Democrats don’t want to extend trade agreements with the Colombians. The unions oppose free trade in this hemisphere and want to roll back NAFTA and CAFTA. For that matter, so does Duncan Hunter, but the Republican Congressman would know better than to deliberately antagonize a significant ally in a region where we have few enough as it is. If this demonstrates the kind of diplomacy we can expect in a Democratic administration, then Republicans have more reason than ever to look optimistically towards 2008.

Chavez To Gobble Up More Industries

Hugo Chavez, apparently not content to nationalize the oil industry alone, has now threatened to take over the banking and steel industries in Venezuela as well. Unhappy with the investment policies and outsourcing, the dictator sent envoys to the leaders in both industries to demand lower prices and total cooperation with his economic plans:

President Hugo Chavez on Thursday threatened to nationalize the country’s banks and largest steel producer, accusing them of unscrupulous practices.
“Private banks have to give priority to financing the industrial sectors of Venezuela at low cost,” Chavez said. “If banks don’t agree with this, it’s better that they go, that they turn over the banks to me, that we nationalize them and get all the banks to work for the development of the country and not to speculate and produce huge profits.” …
Chavez also warned that the government could take over steel producer Sidor, which is controlled by Luxembourg-based Ternium. Shares of Ternium fell 3.9 percent to $26.15 in U.S. trading after Chavez’s comments.
Sidor “has created a monopoly” and sold most of its production overseas, forcing local producers to import tubes and other products from China and elsewhere, Ch?vez said.
If Sidor “does not immediately agree to change this process, they will obligate me to nationalize it,” Chavez said. “I prefer not to.”

It seems obvious that Chavez wants to nationalize all industry in Venezuela. He has demanded and received dictatorial powers from the Venezuelan rubber-stamp parliament in order to bring the country out of its economic “crisis”, which gave Chavez the authority he needed to nationalize the oil industry. Despite doubts that Chavez can produce under those conditions, now he wants to get total control of investment capital and the steel necessary for an industrial nation.
Earlier this year, Chavez took over the phone system. He also nationalized the electrical providers, and has threatened to eliminate the last of the independent television broadcasters at the end of this month. He wants total control of Venezuela in order to ensure that no one else can wrest him from power. He wants to create a new Cuba on the South American continent.
How long will it be before we start hearing about the superior Venezuelan health-care system from American Leftists?

Chavez Bails Out Of The World Banking System

Hugo Chavez announced last night that Venezuela would withdraw from both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Claiming that Western financial assistance prolongs poverty rather than relieve it, he demanded that the two organizations return Venezuelan assets. At the same time, Chavez has proceeded to seize oil-production facilities from Western corporations, primarily those based in the US:

President Hugo Chavez announced Monday he would formally pull Venezuela out of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a largely symbolic move because the nation has already paid off its debts to the lending institutions.
“We will no longer have to go to Washington nor to the IMF nor to the World Bank, not to anyone,” said the leftist leader, who has long railed against the Washington-based lending institutions.
Chavez said he wanted to formalize Venezuela’s exit from the two bodies “tonight and ask them to return what they owe us.”

Chavez aims to pressure the US out of Latin America — and he has a partner in mind for that project. His seizure of oil-production assets is part of his plan to isolate the US economically, and Chavez wants China to take our place. The Wall Street Journal reports that the self-proclaimed Venezuelan “Maoist” plans to use the seized projects to create a partnership with China to exploit the Orinoco River region (subscription required):

Since becoming president in 1999, Mr. Chávez has tried to use oil as a political weapon against the U.S. In recent years, he has doled out cut-rate supplies to dozens of Latin American countries to buy support. Increasingly, he is using oil to support the U.S.’s economic rivals like China and political rivals like Iran.
In late March, Mr. Chávez unveiled a raft of proposed oil-related deals with China valued at about $13 billion. Under terms of the prospective deals, China National Petroleum Corp. would develop, together with state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the biggest chunk yet of Venezuela’s Orinoco River region — the same area where Mr. Chávez is nationalizing the Western companies’ projects. Oil produced there would then be ferried to China in a new, joint “super fleet” of tankers, and processed there at three new refineries built to handle Orinoco heavy crude.
The Venezuelan leader’s goal is to supply China with one million barrels a day by 2012, up from 150,000 barrels a day. While many analysts doubt Mr. Chávez’s ability to deliver on his promises, Venezuela’s exports to China have grown quickly, from 12,000 barrels a day in 2003. Meanwhile, with oil production falling and China’s share rising, exports to the U.S. fell 8.2% in 2006 from 2005, and Nigeria has replaced Venezuela as the U.S.’s fourth biggest source of crude oil after Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Some analysts believe that Chavez may have reserves in Orinoco that rival Saudi Arabia’s fields. If so, the Chinese have made a valuable partner, and not just strategically. They need a heavy and immediate infusion of oil in order to keep their economic growth, and the capital that the Chinese create with it will benefit Chavez. It could make him the most powerful man in the southern hemisphere and realize his dream of providing an opposite pole from the US in Latin America.
If so, Chavez will have to become more adept at actual production, and these recent moves will not help. With his seizures, he has effectively removed Exxon, Conoco-Phillips, Mobil, Britain’s BP, France’s Total, and Norway’s Statoil — a bit of a surprise, as Norway seems socialist enough to satify Chavez. In their place will come partnerships between Venezuela’s PVDSA and Vietnam, Iran, Brazil, and China as mentioned earlier. He will need the help. Since 1999, production has dropped almost 25% in Venezuela, and unless Chavez can restore production, the Orinoco fields won’t do him or China much good.
PVDSA, in the words of the WSJ, functions more as a poverty-alleviating bureaucracy than an oil-production company. Chavez keeps promising new refineries at home and abroad, but they have yet to materialize. Now that he has chased the proven production capabilities of Western companies out of Venezuela, he may be hard pressed to even meet his current level of production. Chavez also faces another kind of problem in production costs; his oil is more expensive to pump and to refine than Saudi and African oil. If oil prices remain high, Chavez will have money to burn — but if they fall, he will lose his shirt to the Saudis.
Perhaps the US should consider more domestic development simply as a financial cushion against the mercurial Chavez. The more oil we leave on the market, the lower the prices will go — and the quicker Chavez will have to account for his new socialist policies and inadequate talents.
UPDATE: Has even Hollywood given up on Chavez?

Alternative Energy Hurts The Poor?

Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro have joined in criticizing the United States for its efforts to find alternative fuel sources. They claim that ethanol and other biofuel technologies take food out of the mouths of the poor:

Cuba and Venezuela have launched an offensive against biofuels, warning that the US-backed rush towards ethanol will worsen global hunger and poverty.
Fidel Castro has written two newspaper articles in a week voicing alarm at the prospect of countries boosting sugar and corn crops to make ethanol, a fuel that can be used an additive or a substitute for petrol.
By diverting crops to feed cars rather than people, the price of food would rise and the world’s poor would go hungry, Mr Castro wrote in the Communist party’s official newspaper, Granma. …
Mr Castro’s ally, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, also attacked biofuels in a sharp U-turn that put the two leaders shoulder to shoulder against Brazil and the US, the two big ethanol champions.

The two socialists had at one time favored ethanol and biofuels. They had even planned joint production plants with Brazil, whom they condemn in their latest statement. That changed when Bush started endorsing biofuels last month, especially as a method of reducing American dependency on foreign energy sources. That apparently changed the mind of Chavez, who sells the US a large chunk of its oil production each year.
The two aren’t alone in their criticism, however. Many environmentalists fear the impact of biofuels on agrarian landscapes as more land gets devoted to a narrower number of crops. Since the same crops feed livestock and create ethanol, the increased demand for the produce will probably raise the price of meat. Increaded need for irrigation could also stress clean-water supplies. However, when The Economist partially endorsed Catro’s criticism, they bought into his scare tactics as well — like claiming that 3 billion people would die of thirst from ethanol production.
It’s odd how their enthusiasm for making money off of biofuels never considered its effect on the poor until George Bush found the potential as lucrative as Venezuela and Cuba. Three billion dead people never entered into their calculations then. The reversal demonstrates the depthless, knee-jerk anti-Americanism of Latin America’s two old-school socialists.
UPDATE: Maybe Castro and Chavez should focus more on khat production as a threat to drinking water supplies:

Sitting high up in the rocky mountains of northern Yemen, the country’s capital Sanaa is finding that its dwindling water supply may not be able to sustain the ancient settlement. …
The country imports most of its food, largely because it has too little water to feed itself. Yemenis have about one-fiftieth as much water per head as the world average.
And, to confound confusion, insupportably large amounts of water go on a non-essential crop – khat. …
Moralising apart, khat is having a baleful effect on Yemen. Of the country’s scarce water, 40% goes on irrigating khat – and khat cultivation is increasing by 10% to 15% a year.

I can hardly contain my anticipation while waiting for the socialists of Latin America to scold Yemen for its khat production.