New York City isn't the only place in the world where preventing the consumption of sugary sodas has become a political imperative. In his televised broadcast yesterday, Venezuela's Comandante, Hugo Chavez, urged his viewers to safeguard their waistlines by ditching Coca-Cola and Pepsi in favor of a locally-produced fruit juice.
Reports the Associated Press:
Chavez says consumers should buy "Uvita," a grape juice made by state-run Corpozulia as a means of increasing the consumption of Venezuelan-made products instead of buying sugary sodas made by foreign companies.
Venezuela's socialist leader often dispenses advice to supporters during his marathon televised speeches, calling on them to eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, and avoid drugs and alcohol.
In common with other forms of dictatorship, Chavismo is based on the idea that there is nothing more important than the relationship between the leader and his people — hence, Chavez believes it is his duty as well as his right to tell Venezuelans what to consume. No matter, then, that Chavez has yet to prove that the contents of "Uvita," whose manufacturer's mission is to "promote the socialist development of western Venezuela," are in fact healthier than the imperialist soft drinks he bemoans. Such detail is doubtless a bourgeois trifle.
Still, many Venezuelans will be wondering why their leader is lecturing them about their own health when he hasn't exactly been forthcoming about his own. When campaigning for October's presidential election began in earnest last month, Chavez was dogged by speculation about his imminent death from cancer, further fueled by his continuous absences in Cuba for medical treatment. For his main opponent, the 40-year-old Henrique Capriles, the opportunity to contrast his own sculpted physique with that of the ailing, portly Chavez has been too good to pass up.
The strong impression that Capriles, a moderate social democrat, is eminently electable explains, at least in part, the air of desperation around the Chavez camp. In what may well be a sneak peek of the October election's aftermath, everything is being rather hastily rigged or fixed to boost Chavez's fortunes. The story of Chavez's cancer has been fixed; he now claims to have banished the disease, although the infrequent and carefully-planned nature of his public appearances, along with his reluctance to divulge any actual details about his cancer, suggests otherwise.
Access to the airwaves has been rigged; despite a ruling from the toothless National Electoral Commission prohibiting TV and radio messages longer than three minutes, Chavez has contemptuously refused to stop his cadenas, the marathon broadcasts that last for hours, insisting at the same time that "The major part of the radios, television channels and newspapers are in the hands of the bourgeoisie." The campaign messaging has been fixed; Chavez has compared Capriles with Mitt Romney — and also offered Barack Obama the dubious gift of an endorsement — by asserting that the lavish social spending programs he instituted will be wiped out in the event of a defeat. Because Venezuelans are already living with spiraling inflation, rising unemployment, and a crime epidemic that threatens to turn their country into a Latin American equivalent of Zimbabwe, they can be forgiven for thinking that outcome had already been reached.
The polls, too, are being fixed. While one poll shows that Chavez and Capriles are neck and neck, the others all predict a landslide for the Comandante. In a poll conducted in the northern state of Anzoátegui by IVAD, the Venezuelan Institute for Data Analysis, Chavez comes out an astonishing 30 points ahead. Writes Venezuela's most perceptive dissident blogger, Daniel Duquenal:
Few states have been has battered as Anzoategui has been under Chavez. It holds the dubious distinction to be the state with the most blackouts, the worst roads, etc…. The fact of the matter is that in 2010 legislative election, the opposition made a grand slam in Anzoategui, surprising most pundits, some even did not expect the opposition to win there. And yet the latest IVAD gives Chavez ahead — which I can still buy, why not — but ahead by 30 points!!!!!!
Capriles should start making plans for a rigged election. As Duquenal points out, foreign election monitors from the European Union and the Organization of American States — denounced by Chavez as a tool of the U.S. — have already decided not to risk their reputations by being asked to endorse a crooked vote. Only former President Jimmy Carter's Carter Center remains in the frame, and on this one Duquenal doesn't pull any punches:
We know very well that the Carter Center et al. are basically useless, and quite often make things worse, because paradoxically in Venezuela veiled criticism has become indirect approval, such is the state of immorality and cynicism that the regime has reached.
Let's hope someone in Atlanta is paying attention.