The most recent initiative of the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is to change Venezuela's time zone by one half-hour. Why? There is only one reasonable answer: to annoy the United States.
Why should the U.S. be annoyed by such a time change? Answer: It shouldn't be, really. We tamper with the clock every year when daylight-saving time comes around. There is argumentation still on that question. Arizona, for instance, declines to reset its clocks to conform with the rest of the country. What are the consequences of this fratricidal initiative? An out-of-stater phoning someone in Arizona needs to make adjustments, also any traveler who changing planes in Arizona.
Hugo Chavez is not entirely to be compared with the zany satraps in history who amused themselves by making sumptuary pronouncements just for the sake of it. There are certain limitations imposed by Providence. Hugo Chavez, for all his magnificence, does not have the power to postpone the arrival of the sun over Venezuela. It will continue to rise at approximately 1000 Greenwich Mean Time, but this is only because Chavez has not discovered an almanac he can redesign.
Since he finds it useful to give reasons for some of what he does, he rattled on to the effect that workingmen will, under the Chavez system, find themselves with a half-hour's extra time in the evening. To do what? On this, President Chavez was not illuminating. American farmers are accustomed to changing their clocks when the nation goes on daylight time. But they then alter their schedule to accommodate the needs of their animals and their crops.
The thing about Hugo Chavez is that he is not crazy. He just acts crazy. On the foreign-policy front, he endears himself, or seeks to do so, to every tyrant on Earth. He went to Iran and intended to visit North Korea, but there, Venezuela's National Assembly drew the line. He is abject in his praise of Fidel Castro, and unequivocal in his hatred of American institutions.
It is a pity; but we need to remind ourselves that every now and then democracy simply spits in one's face. The people who voted in 1933 for Adolf Hitler were driven by that dangerous temptation. In Latin America, the demagogue has a great natural advantage. The reason for this is that the United States represents, to the angry Latin American voter, the hothouse of hateful institutions. Hugo Chavez is head of a country of 27 million people. They are mostly poor. And with poverty there often comes pain from observing those who do not share in it.
Venezuela profits from one overwhelming endowment, which is its crude oil -- more oil than all the rest of South America provides. But the sheer existence of the oil generates in turn a resentment of those who have ownership of it. In Venezuela, over a period of several generations, the government gradually increased its taxation on profits from the sale of the oil, and then finally in the 1970s simply nationalized the oil industry.
Theoretically, this would give the Venezuelan people one less thing to be inflamed about. Except that democracy, provoked, can act outside the bounds of reason. It was an old saw 70 years ago that the impoverished farmer in the Soviet Union next door to the successful farmer worked not to replicate the practices of his neighbor, but to urge the state to confiscate his neighbor's harvest. Venezuela's hatred of the United States generates the equivalent of calls to confiscate the successful harvest.
In certain quarters in Venezuela the hatred of the superpower to the north can be all-consuming. When Hugo Chavez, a demagogue of surrealistic extremes, came along, many saw a racy attractiveness in the totality of his iconoclasm. In 2002, the United States, we have been given to believe, had a hand in an attempt to dethrone Chavez. But it didn't work, and the result of it was a democratic re-election in which Hugo Chavez got a higher percentage of the vote than Abraham Lincoln did when he ran for a second term.
What will happen now?
What always happens when policies are set in flat collision with reality. Venezuelans will become poorer, the political scene will close its door on freedom of the press, and someday down the line, the people will be rescued from the exorbitant lengths to which, acting on democratic license, they took themselves.