After years of criticizing the church, kicking out Christian missionaries, assisting terrorists and praising atheists, Venezuela’s mercurial strongman, Hugo Chavez, came home from a botched cancer treatment in Cuba, then took to Venezuela’s airwaves to call out to Christ for help.
“Give me Your crown, Jesus,” the ailing autocrat proclaimed. “Give me Your cross, Your thorns so that I may bleed. But give me life, because I have more to do for this country and these people. Do not take me yet.”
“Chavez cried,” reported David Gerges for the British newspaper the Daily Mail, “and his voice broke in the televised speech made in his home of Barinas, in front of his parents and other relatives. The 57-year-old praised Jesus andcalled on God to spare his life, in an emotional speech. Chavez made his plea standing below an image of Jesus with the Crucifix. He was anchored by his mother and father who both held his hand as a priest led a prayer for his health.”
Chavez then flew to capitalist Brazil for emergency medical treatment after communist Cuban doctors inflicted intestinal radiation burns on him during mishandled treatments for his cancer. Officially Chavez has never admitted he has cancer – and has provided no details of his illness.
However, the broadcast marked a double repudiation for Chavez, who delights in wearing Fidel Castro’s Communist mantle – and revels in his inherited role as America’s greatest antagonist in the Western Hemisphere.
The Brazilian media reported that the ailing Chavez checked into the Sirio e Libanes hospital in Sao Paulo. Earlier, he had rejected Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s offer for medical assistance, preferring treatment in Cuba.
But now, Chavez came home from officially atheist and communist Cuba to embrace both Christianity and capitalist medicine. It’s quite a turnabout.
In 2010, he denounced Catholic leaders, accusing priests of siding with the country’s wealthy rather than the poor and suggesting that Christ would whip some church leaders for lying after Cardinal Jorge Urosa warned that Chavez was a threat to democracy and freedom.
During his decades in power, Chavez has silenced critics, grabbed unprecedented power with decrees allowing him to draft and sanction laws without the participation of the National Assembly — and has run roughshod over human rights. He repudiated the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after it accused him of massive human rights violations. In 2009, Freedom Watch accused Chavez of terrorism, including conspiring with Colombian guerrillas, al-Qaida and the Taliban. Exiled Venezuelan journalist Antonio Guzman-Blanco says Chavez maintains close ties to FARC and ELN Marxist, two drug-trafficking guerrilla terrorist groups dedicated to destabilizing neighboring Colombia.
“Chavez has been sympathetic to the regimes in Libya, Iran and Iraq and has been recently tied to the ETA Basque terrorist organization,” writes Guzman-Blanco. “It is widely believed that he also has ties to Arab terrorist organizations, and that he provided safe passage to Colombia for several IRA operatives.” In 2008, the Miami Herald identified Chavez’s minister of defense as an international narcotics kingpin. Prominent Venezuelan journalist Ricardo Guanipa fled the country under death threats after he exposed widespread Chavez appointees’ corruption.
“Chavez has proven himself to be no friend of Christians” – or Jews either for that matter, reported Timothy C. Morgan for Christianity Today magazine in 2009, noting Chavez’s expulsion of missionaries from Venezuela and a number of anti-Jewish incidents blamed on Chavez.
“Recently, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom put a spotlight on government-sponsored anti-Semitism,” wrote Morgan. “The Commission sent letters earlier this month to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon Jr. and to U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief Asma Jahangir expressing concern about increasing incidents.”
In particular, the report cited an attack on the Tiferet Israel Synagogue in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas and quoted Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer saying, “Over the past several years, the Jewish community has suffered as President Chavez and government-affiliated media publicly made anti-Semitic remarks and published anti-Semitic cartoons and opinions.”
Morgan also recounted Chavez’ expulsion of hundreds of Christian missionaries, accusing them of contaminating the cultures of indigenous populations. His Ministry of Interior revoked their permission to serve in the Venezuelan jungles or run schools, clinics and nutrition centers that had been in operation for decades. Chavez called the missionaries “imperialists” and proclaimed he felt “ashamed” at their presence.
Singled out by Chavez was New Tribes Ministries, “which preaches to non-Christian indigenous peoples,” reported the BBC, “one of Latin America’s biggest missionary organizations” which “has 3,200 workers and operates in 17 countries, with operations in West Africa and Southeast Asia, too.”
Christian workers were forced to leave remote tribal areas and other pulled out after Chavez officials warned that they, too, would be expelled and banned from working with indigenous tribes if they did not leave voluntarily.
Chavez called the Christian missionaries “part of a broader conspiracy in Washington to topple a president whose regional influence is growing thanks to massive oil revenues,” reported BBC’s Simon Watts. “U.S. officials clearly do not like Chavez much, but they strongly deny any plot and it is also hard to tell how genuinely the Venezuelan president believes what he says.
“Like his friend Fidel Castro, Chavez thrives on conflict and finds it politically useful to portray himself as a victim of U.S. aggression.”
“The Associated Press’ Christopher Toothaker has a long and fascinating look at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez,” reported Molly Hemingway a few days ago for GetReligion.org. “Let’s get right into it. Here’s the top of the piece:
“CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spent much of his career praising the socialist ideas of famed atheists such as Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. Now in the thick of a prolonged battle against cancer, however, the leftist leader is drawing inspiration more than ever from a spiritual leader: Jesus Christ.
“Chavez has been praying for divine intervention during increasingly infrequent appearances on television, holding up a crucifix while vowing to overcome his illness. He says living with cancer has made him ‘more Christian.’”
His voice cracking with emotion, “‘I’m sure our Christ will do it again, continuing making the miracle,’ Chavez said as he raised his cross to his lips and kissed it, prompting applause from an audience of aides.
“If Chavez survives cancer, political analysts say his increasing religiosity could pay election-year dividends in a country where Catholicism remains influential.”
“And,” observes Hemingway, “it goes on like that for a while. The report is detailed and includes quite a bit of perspective from analysts (including of the skeptical variety). He’s apparently become quite outspoken about his faith, even crying during a televised Mass with relatives. The article is illustrated with a picture of Chavez holding up a crucifix and kissing it.”
“The story of Hugo Chávez’s presidency in Venezuela since he first arrived in office in 1999 has been a bit like the dance of the seven veils,” noted the Economist magazine a few years ago.
His pilgrimage to Iran’s sacred Islamic shrine to the Imam Rida, caused an uproar in the Iranian press, reported Australia’s News Limited. Outraged Muslims criticized him “of being a communist and an atheist. They further criticized the Islamic Republic for allowing him to enter the shrine.”
The Fars News Agency defended officials’ allowing Chavez to visit the shrine, saying in part that the Venezuelan leader “believes that Jesus Christ will come along with Imam Mahdi to fill the world with justice.” The Mahdi is the Shi’ite Messiah, whose pending return is anticipated by Chavez’s friend, the Iranian President. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has lectured the U.N. General Assembly on numerous occasions about the Mahdi. Ahmadinejad believes the Mahdi will usher in an era in which all nations will convert to Islam, resulting in world peace.
Recently, native Venezuelans shamans wearing parrot feathers and beads also held a healing ritual for Chavez at a Caracas plaza in May, performing traditional dances and chants, and kneeling on the ground in prayer. “The objective is to inject the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution with positive energy,” said Jesus Antonio Juagivioy, a chieftain from the president’s home state of Barinas who participated in the ceremony. “We pray for his total recuperation and we know the spirits of our ancestors will help.”
Chavez is certainly not the first Latin American Marxist to proclaim his Christian faith. In 2011, Nicaragua’s longtime Communist leader Daniel Ortega suddenly proclaimed his Christian faith during his re-election bid. His campaign rallies often included religious processions, chants and his campaign slogan “Christian, Socialist and In Solidarity.”
“Ortega’s campaign strategy dismayed Catholic Church leaders,” reported the Associated Press, “who called his use of spirituality part of a ploy to deceive voters.”