Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

4-4 From Billy's Bones to Bolivar's Bones

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wants to dig up the bones of South American hero Simon Bolivar. Does that sound familiar, or what?
Chavez isn't trying to prove he is related to Bolivar. He wants to prove his theory that Bolivar did not die of tuberculosis in 1830 but was murdered by corrupt oligarchs, possibly aided by the United States.
The president's popularity in Venezuela is fading so he is wrapping himself in the mantle of the ancient hero. He has convened a high commission charged with exhuming Bolivar's remains which lie in a tomb in downtown Caracas.
Chavez considers it to be of great historical and cultural value to run scientific tests to clarify important doubts about the death of the liberator of six countries in northern South America.
His big problem is very similar to that of the people who wanted to dig the bones of New Mexico outlaw Billy the Kid. He's at odds with historians who agree that Bolivar died in bed, fevered, sick and broken.
He was attended by a qualified doctor who wrote bulletins and performed an autopsy. Diaries of those who were with him in his final days say he died of natural causes.
The effort to exhume Bolivar not only is reminiscent of the recent effort to dig up Billy the Kid but also to the 1991 exhumation of former President Zachary Taylor.
Some historians were sure Taylor died of acute arsenic poisoning rather than gastroenteritis. Descendants agreed to an exhumation. Findings revealed he hadn't died of arsenic poisoning.
But the non-believers weren't convinced and charged that the autopsy was botched. Thus, nothing was solved by the exhumation.
Chavez, however, is intent on the exhumation effort being front and center in his campaign to convince Venezuelans, and those in neighboring countries, that he is the embodiment of the great liberator.
He already has renamed the country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and calls his transformation of Venezuela a Bolivarian Revolution. And Chavez is trying to shoehorn Bolivar to fit his own socialist ideology.
But that's where it all breaks down. Bolivar was a revolutionary but he wasn't a socialist and he didn't want to build a classless society. He was a member of the privileged upper class and wanted to keep it that way.
He admired the Americans for gaining their independence and doing so well with their country afterward but he knew South American countries couldn't be as democratic because of the large uneducated lower class.
Bolivar's idea was to have a permanent president and keep most of the control of government with the oligarchy that Chavez says conspired to murder him.
The only part of Bolivar's principles that Chavez likes is the permanent president idea. He tried late last year to extend his term but was badly rebuffed, sending his popularity on a downhill slope.
Venezuela faces many problems which Chavez should be addressing. Inflation is the highest in Latin America. There are tremendous food and commodity shortages and crime is rampant.
But instead, he has distracted himself fighting with the United States and his neighbor, Columbian President Alvaro Uribe, while juggling insignificant bits and pieces of policy. And now he's venturing into Antarctica, sending a scientific exploration team.
So Bolivar's bones are going to be Chavez's savior. If he can somehow show that Bolivar was murdered, he hopes he can convince his people that he is fighting Bolivar's fight and is worthy of the same veneration as El Libertador.
When a politician is in trouble, his or her first option is distraction, usually by invoking patriotism. Chavez is doing it and we're seeing it in our current presidential race.
I've only mentioned Billy's bones in passing but there is new information to pass on to you on that subject.
WED, 4-04-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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