Just when you begin to feel sorry for Hugo Chavez, when his bouts with cancer make you feel compassion for a man who doesn't deserve any, when you begin to tell yourself that you don't wish anyone's death, the president of Venezuela reminds us he deserves no sympathy.
As the world watches in dismay how the Syrian government is massacring its own people, Chavez came out of a Cuban hospital, where his second cancerous tumor was removed, and pledged solidarity with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Obviously, he wants to remain as obnoxious as possible — all the way to the end.
While many of us complain that our U.S. government should be doing much more to assist the Syrian people, Chavez already is blasting us for allegedly interfering.
"We continue lamenting the aggressions against Syria," Chavez said, "and the pressure of the United States government and many European countries, failing to recognize the sovereignty of a people such as the Syrian people."
This man is so repulsively cynical that you feel like shouting back at him: "What about your failure to recognize the massacring of the Syrian people?"
On our television, we see innocent Syrians — men, women and children — getting butchered by the Assad regime. And while we feel frustration and impotence for our inability to stop it, Chavez is literally fueling the Syrian government's firepower.
As Assad intensifies his bombardment against urban areas and the world hardens sanctions against him, as the United Nation says more than 7,500 civilians have been killed, the Venezuelan state oil company is sending diesel to Syria. Two shipments have been sent since last fall and a third one reportedly is readying to leave Venezuela.
In a recent exchange with reporters, when he was asked whether Venezuelan oil could be used to fuel the Syrian military, Chavez had the shameless gall to compare the oil he sends to Syria and to the United States.
"Have we by any chance asked the United States what it does with the fuel we sell to the United States?" he asked. "Have we by any chance allowed anyone to impose conditions on our sale of petroleum to the United States?"
Of course, the United States is not using Venezuelan fuel to wage war on the American people, and Chavez is smart enough to know the difference. But as the chief spokesman for his so-called international "anti-imperialist" alliance that includes Iran, Syria and Cuba, Chavez has to keep portraying these tyrannical regimes as the victims of imperialist aggression, just as he did with Moammar Gadhafi when he was killing the Libyan people.
He has replaced Cuba's Fidel Castro, his mentor and idol, as the world's leading critic and antagonist of the United States, taking any position that is anti-American, even if it means supporting genocide.
In spite of his illness and his long stays in Cuban hospitals, Chavez, who has ruled Venezuela for 13 years, is vowing to seek another six-year term in the Oct. 7 presidential election. Many Venezuelans are hoping to replace him with sole opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who is believed to have better chance of defeating Chavez than other opposition challengers in the past.
Given the growing dissatisfaction with his government, perhaps the time has come for Chavez to be removed at the ballot box. But given his track record for circumventing the democratic process and manipulating the congress, the courts and the elections, don't count on it.
Unless cancer takes him, Chavez will find a way — a violent auto coup if necessary — to stay in power. That's why there can be no sympathy for ailing Venezuelan president, even when we suspect he may be months from dying.
Thanks to Chavez, and his control of Venezuela's rich oil reserves, democracy and the rule of law have been undermined throughout Latin America, Venezuelans have lost many rights and civil liberties, Colombian rebels and terrorists still are causing havoc, Cuba's tyrannical regime has been able to stay in power, Venezuela's oil subsidies have propped up socialist demagogues throughout Latin America, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has gained a foothold in our hemisphere, and Venezuela has been unwilling to help lower our gas prices.
Let's face it: Chavez puts us in a difficult position. We may not wish his death, but we know the world will be a better place without him.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.