By Peter Brookes
Feb 20, 2006
Here's one for you: Early this month, in front of 200,000 screaming
supporters in Havana's Revolutionary Square, Cuban dictator Fidel
Castro bestowed Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez with UNESCO's 2005
International Jose Marti Prize for promoting Latin American heritage,
liberty and values.
Huh? Chavez? Liberty?
I'm not sure what the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural
Organization folks are "partaking" of, in their cushy Paris
headquarters, but the notion that Venezuela's caudillo is deserving of
an award espousing these ideals (not to mention presented by Castro in
Havana) simply boggles the mind.
It might be time for Washington to reconsider its membership in - and
its $80-plus million annual contribution to - this misguided U.N.
But hold on - it gets worse. Not only was giving the award to Chavez a
searing insult to the real Jose Marti, a 19th century Cuban liberal
thinker who opposed all forms of tyranny; the event also turned into a
raucous anti-American hate-fest pumped-up by blistering Chavez and
The aged Castro, who by some accounts slurred his way through his
speech, praised his island-prison Cuba, his protégé
Chavez and Jose Marti and spewed predictable volumes of anti-American
bile, calling the U.S. a world menace.
As Papa Castro presented the certificate (and $5,000 in loot) to
Venezuela's Fidelito, the crowd cheered wildly, and waved Cuban and
Venezuelan flags, chanting: Cuba y Venezuela, una sola bandera (i.e.,
"Cuba and Venezuela, only one flag").
Hardly unpredictable at a Cuban government-orchestrated rally...
In a mind-numbing 2½ hour speech that only a despot (or, maybe,
Bill Clinton) could give, Chavez called the U.S. a "brutal, cynical,
murderous empire," promising that "we will do everything to shred it."
He also praised his newest anti-U.S. compadre, the recently elected
leftist Bolivian president, Evo Morales.
Said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.): "It is astonishing and beyond
the pale that a man such as Chavez, who poses a very real threat to
democracy, not only in Venezuela, but in the entire region, and has
engaged in virulent anti-American attacks, was honored by UNESCO."
That's only the half of it. Chavez has seized private property, closed
radio and TV stations for anti-government content and jailed critics.
He has consolidated single-party rule, stacked the courts with
Chavistas and won a 2005 election by stuffing ballot boxes, according
to Steve Johnson, a Latin America expert.
While Chavismo is a blight on the lives of Venezuela's middle class and
the liberties of one of Latin America's (once) oldest democracies,
Fidel's Mini-Yo (i.e., "Mini-Me") has used Caracas' significant oil
wealth to dole out generous social services to the poor, making Chavez
In the region, Washington believes that Chavez is stoking the flames of
his "Bolivarian Revolution" in places like Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru and
Ecuador. Chavez also supports Colombian FARC narco-guerillas in
addition to providing them sanctuary in Venezuela.
The darling of the new authoritarian Left, Chavez has become chummy
with Iran, negotiating a number of economic and trade deals. Caracas
also defended Iran's right to develop nuclear energy (read: nuclear
weapons) earlier this month by voting "no" when the IAEA agreed to
report Tehran to the U.N. Security Council over its atomic aspirations.
Besides being a big fat finger in the eye of the U.S. and Marti's
legacy, what does giving the award to Chavez say about UNESCO, a highly
controversial organization that Washington boycotted from 1985 to 2003?
UNESCO was founded "to contribute to peace and security by promoting
collaboration among nations through education, science and culture in
order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and
for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for
the peoples of the world."
Exactly how does honoring Chavez support UNESCO's mission?
Without question, elevating Chavez's stature through a U.N. award is an
egregious violation of UNESCO's charter - and the latest setback for
the U.N.'s rapidly declining moral standing on human rights
If anything, UNESCO should be rewarding the tireless efforts of
little-recognized champions of human rights that toil in obscurity for
individual freedom and dignity in places like Cuba and Venezuela, as
Nile Gardiner, a U.N. analyst, puts it.
It's wise for UNESCO to remember that it's the U.S. that is one of its
largest benefactors, forking over 22 percent of UNESCO's budget. It
should also understand that this sort of outrageous anti-American,
anti-freedom Theater of the Absurd won't be tolerated, either.
Peter Brookes is a Senior
Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Brookes focuses on foreign
policy and national security affairs. This column appears in the
New York Post.