Monday, March 18, 2013

People In Glass Houses

It appears that recently departed Venezuelan demagogue Hugo Chavez is destined to join the ranks of dead leaders whose embalmed corpses will forever be on display under glass.

If past inductees are any indication, it's certainly not a fraternity that anyone should be dying to join. While the oxygen-free environment might prevent the flesh from decaying, the same cannot be said about average mummy-club member's intended legacy.

Vladimir Lenin: Russians wept in the street upon learning of the death of the Soviet Union's founder. He was eulogized as the "greatest genius of mankind" who would "live on in the memories of oppressed people for centuries." While still somewhat revered in post-communist Russia, his "worker's paradise" experiment ended badly, most of his statues have been torn down, and gawking tourists and curiosity seekers are the only visitors to his glass tomb in Red Square.

Ho Chi Minh: The Vietnamese communist revolutionary's embalmed corpse is permanently displayed in Hanoi and symbols of his saintly status are ubiquitous in the nation. The truth is Uncle Ho created a climate of permanent fear in his country. He was a philandering authoritarian who built a regime on lies, oppression, and corruption.

Mao Zedong: The man who once called personality cults "poisonous ideological survivals of the old society" seemed to have little problem with fomenting his own. On display in Tiananmen Square in Beijing is the greatest tyrant of the 20th century responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. His policies did little more than delay China's economic development and what we see today is in spite of Chairman Mao's philosophy, not a result of it.

Kim Jong-Il: No nation pulls off the cult of personality quite like the hermit kingdom of North Korea whose Dear Leader is now Dead Leader and stiffly displayed in Pyongyang. While the masses in North Korea believed that Kim invented the hamburger, could control the weather with his moods, never took a crap, and has a birthday celebrated worldwide, the truth was a little less mythological. Forced labour, torture, and starvation are the only enduring aspects of Kim Jong-Il's legacy.

Ferdinand Marcos: While history tends to remember his wife Imelda's excesses with much greater disdain, Mr. Marcos heads the class of corrupt leaders.  He looted so much wealth from the Filipino treasury that an army of investigators charged with the task of discovering it all after his death gave up in frustration. The true amount likely lies north of $10 billion. Marcos's glass-entombed corpse is on display in his own museum in Batac, Philippines.

Hugo Chavez: And that brings us to the man of the hour. While it's easy to comprehend the veneration paid to Chavez by Venezuelans so soon after his death, I doubt future generations will look back with the same admiration.  For now, the nation romanticizes about Chavismo with plans to embalm their departed leader and display him for all eternity. But a nation with the world's largest oil reserves should have done better than food and water shortages, electrical blackouts, crippling inflation, and staggering crime rates all consequences of a government determined to control every aspect of the economy.

People in glass houses - too bad the stone throwing didn't take place long before their deaths.