Yesterday, the world lost a coup-plotter-turned-president-for-life. The Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, having been receiving treament for cancer for over a year, finally croacked.
The story of Chavez coming to power was summarized in an August 1999 piece by literature Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa: the Suicide of a Nation. Vargas Llosa chronicles what is a common pattern in Latin America (and dare I say, much of the world): disillusioned with democracy, people turn to a “powerful man” figure. Chavez, who staged a failed coup in 1992, was imprisoned, but later pardoned, ran for president and was elected. He then changed the laws allowing himself to stay in office with no term limits.
And as president, Mr Chavez showed an uncanny love for some very nasty characters.
Carlos, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, gained international notoriety in the 1970s as a mastermind of deadly bombings, assassinations and hostage-takings.
He was captured in Sudan in 1994 and handed over to France, where he was jailed for killing two French intelligence officers and an alleged informer in 1975.
In his speech late on Friday in Caracas, Mr Chavez said: “I defend him. It doesn’t matter to me what they say tomorrow in Europe.”
He said he believed Carlos had been unfairly convicted, and called him “one of the great fighters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation”.
The Venezuelan leader has previously called Carlos a friend, and is reported to have exchanged letters with him in the past.
(“Carlos the Jacakal” brings a less than pleasant memory to the minds of those old enought remember the 1970s and 1980s.)
In his speech, Mr Chavez also described Presidents Mugabe and Ahmadinejad – who like Mr Chavez are strong critics of the US – as brothers.
About former Ugandan President Idi Amin, Mr Chavez said: “We thought he was a cannibal… I don’t know, maybe he was a great nationalist, a patriot.”
Idi Amin seized power in 1971. About 300,000 people were killed during his eight-year rule.
Vargas Llosa had a point when called the the election of Chavez “the suicide of a nation”.