The death of Hugo Chavez, which took place on March 5th, has not only left a vacuum in Venezuelan politics, but deprived the world of one of its most prolific trolls. In his many years dominating South American politics, Chavez distinguished himself as more of a nuisance than a threat to US and western interests. But what a nuisance! And his tool of choice in this onslaught? Social media!
While he once thought Twitter was a tool of terrorism, Chavez became convinced it was an asymmetric tool to combat what he called a “conspiracy” of pro-American opponents. As a lover of hyperbole and over-the-top statements, how could he not take to a forum that rewarded such behavior? And like all good trolls, Chavez was evangelical in his vitriol, comparing his enemies to fascists and barbarians, making grandiose boasts, and dispensing exclamation points from a virtual pez dispenser!
And of course, his tweets kept pace with political intrigue, both domestic and foreign. In May 2011, when the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions against the Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA for selling gasoline reformate to Iran, Chavez’s cash-cow was blocked from receiving U.S. export licenses. In response, Chavez tweeted:
Sanctions against the homeland of [Simon] Bolivar? Imposed by the gringo imperialist government? Well: Welcome Mr Obama! Do not forget we are the children of Bolivar!
When Tripoli fell, the result of rebellions against Gadhafi and Coalition support, the long-time supporter of the Libyan dictator responded in the following way:
We must stop the unleashed imperial madness! World, good world, humane world, do not be overwhelmed by the barbarism!
And when Syria’s Alawite regime began to show signs of going the same way, also the result of uprisings from pro-democracy groups, Chavez moved quickly to declare his support for the Bashar Assad. In the midst of the regime using live fire to murder civilians, Chavez declared openly:
I talked a few minutes with the Syrian President, our brother Bashar. Syria is the victim of a fascist attack. God help Syria!!
And of course, he used Twitter plenty to disseminate plenty of self-serving propaganda at home. He dispensed advice on dealing with “traitors”, which amounted to a “raging socialist revolutionary offensive!” On accusations about poverty in Venezuela, he replied: “There is no poverty in Venezuela! Factory capitalism is poverty!” He also trolled an opposition primary debate: “The opposition is once again a fool!”
The US did not engage in flame wars with the former presidente, but the White House did release a statement offering condolences over his death. However a statement from President Obama on Tuesday evening was admittedly curt and seemed to hint that they were happy to be rid of his influence:
At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.
Without a doubt, Chavez’ successor will have his hands full with regards to Venezuela’s economy and its internal political divisions. And I have to say, regardless of Chavez’s ongoing and annoying bombastic personality, he did pull much of Venezuela’s working class out of poverty. And even if you hated him, you had to admit, the man was interesting! RIP Hugo Chavez, you annoying bastard! Can’t imagine how quiet it’s going to be without you…