In late January, vandals struck a Caracas synagogue. They defaced the building with anti-Semitic slurs and destroyed several Torah scrolls. Additionally, they stole a roster of synagogue members along with several computers and the tapes from the building's security cameras. President Chavez issued a one-sentence condemnation of the attack but then immediately insinuated that it was actually the work of his enemies: "Some sectors of the oligarchy want to overshadow the advances of the revolution with acts of violence." His supporters in the press took up this theme with gusto: "The synagogue case seems to us like a media show assembled by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad," opined Hindu Anderi, a pro-Chavez journalist, in a government newspaper.
But when, a couple of days later, Chavez reversed himself and announced arrests in the case (though dubious arrests -- one "suspect" is the former bodyguard of the rabbi), his press lackeys switched gears as well. Mario Silva, the host of a government television program, scorned the synagogue's rabbi for failing to express sufficient gratitude to the regime for making arrests. "I still have not seen the first declaration from the rabbi of the synagogue saying, 'Sirs, I am thankful to the government,'" Silva sneered.
A decade ago Venezuela was a thriving and free (if somewhat corrupt) ally of the United States. Today, it is a bitter enemy, and its domestic corruption is infinitely worse. The results of the referendum and the consolidation of power by Chavez suggest that Venezuela will plunge even deeper into despotism and poverty.
The global recession holds many terrors, but none so urgent as the danger that more nations, wracked by unemployment and declining living standards, will fall into the hands of political extremists and despots. Absent the Great Depression, could we imagine Germany falling under the spell of Hitler or Italy under the sway of Mussolini? There is so much at stake in stopping our momentum toward depression. Global depressions lead to political disasters. But our leaders seem more intent on satisfying their pent-up demand for government goodies and punishing their favorite whipping boys (bankers, businessmen) than in focusing on the real danger. Their dereliction may turn out to be a great crime.