When I predicted two months ago that Hugo Chavez would get a pharaoh's funeral, believe me, I was being sarcastic. Nowhere in my wildest imagination did I conceive that the Socialist Venezuelan president would actually be mummified.
When I foretold a pharaoh's funeral, I was referring to the pompous ceremonies that indeed we saw in Caracas last week. It was a convention of the most cynical and shameless people on earth, led by Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who proclaimed that Chavez would be resurrected along with Jesus Christ.
Yet two months ago, had I predicted that Chavez would literally be turned into a mummy and put on display in a museum, I would have probably lost some credibility for taking my sarcasm a little too far.
Nevertheless, here we are: facing the potential that now we will have Chavez for eternity — just like King Tut, Vladimir Lenin and Chiang Kai-sheik.
At first my initial reaction was: "How ridiculous! Mummified? In the 21st Century?"
But it actually makes sense. It's been done before by revolutionary regimes in fear of disintegrating after losing their leaders.
Chavez's handpicked successor and fellow socialist, Vice President and former bus driver Nicolas Maduro (clearly lacking Chavez's wits, charm or charisma), obviously needed a very sentimental prop to keep control of the Chavista Empire. He needed to cash in on the wave of empathy trigged by Chavez's death. And what could be better than a mummy?
If they can put the Chavez mummy on exhibit right away, surely it would help Maduro win the special election for president that already has been scheduled for April 14.
Since Maduro already has been sworn in as acting president, the opposition fears
he will be able to use government resources to buy the election — just like
Chavez did. Most Latin American observers already are predicting that Maduro
will probably defeat opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost Chavez in
the last presidential election.
Venezuela has out-of-control inflation, crippling unemployment, routine power outages, shortage of basic consumer goods and crime rates that make Caracas more dangerous than Bagdad. Yet many observers believe the Chavista vote-buying machine, combined with the new sympathy vote for the mummy, will give Maduro a chance to prolong Chavez's so-called Bolivarian Revolution — at least for a while.
But while Maduro may be able to fill Chavez's shoes in Venezuela, no one expects him to automatically assume Chavez's role as the leader of the left in Latin America. That role has been left vacant. It had belonged to Cuba's Fidel Castro until Chavez became the anti-American flamethrower who blamed "U.S. Imperialism" for all of Latin America's problems.
So who will step up to the plate to hit against the United States now? Bolivia's Evo Morales? Ecuador's Rafael Correa? Cuba's Raul Castro? Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega? Who speaks for the Latin American left now? And will he be as antagonistic and arrogant as Castro and Chavez? Will he be willing to make ridiculous accusations and totally insane remarks just to get attention?
Well, before anyone else had a chance to step up to claim the role of socialist clown and chief U.S. antagonist, even before Chavez's death was announced, Maduro was showing the world that he can be as cynically anti-American as Castro and Chavez, and that he too can make a career out of bashing Yankee imperialism.
Amazingly, in an act only expected from a clown like Chavez, Maduro tried to blame the United States for the cancer that took Chavez's life. The Chavistas are willing to say anything, even when everyone knows they are lying, to try to turn Chavez into a martyr.
"There's no doubt that Comandante Chavez's health came under attack by the enemy," Maduro said in a speech to the nation from the presidential palace, hours before he actually announce Chavez's death. "The old enemies of our fatherland looked for a way to harm his health."
Inferring that Chavez could have been "attacked" in the same way that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was allegedly poisoned by Israeli agents in 2004, Maduro said that a special commission would investigate the root of Chavez's illness. He also expelled two U.S. military attaches for allegedly plotting to destabilize the Venezuelan armed forces.
For suggesting that the U.S. government was somehow responsible for Chavez's illness, Maduro got the same reaction that Chavez's outrageous comments often received from the U.S. State Department: "Absurd."
Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale rejected the "conspiracy to destabilize" allegations, insisted on the importance of seeking "a functional and more productive relationship with Venezuela based on issues of mutual interest," and yet noted that, "this fallacious assertion of inappropriate U.S. action leads us to conclude that, unfortunately, the current Venezuelan government is not interested in an improved relationship."
No kidding! From day one, Maduro has made it clear that he intends to keep playing Chavez's radical playbook — increasing government control of the economy, nationalizing private property, using Venezuela's oil revenues to subsidize socialist regimes while the Venezuelan people keep struggling and, of course, blaming all problems on the Yankees.
But let's face it: Even if Maduro wanted to be our friend, now he has a mummy who wouldn't let them.
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.