Friday 7 December 2007

Chavez or choice

You may have seen on the news recently reports of a temper tantrum experienced by Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, while he attended the Ibero-American summit in Chile.

Sitting near him at the conference table was Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. Chavez had been loudly accusing the former Prime Minister of Spain of being a fascist. When the current Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, tried to point out that this was not entirely fair and that his predecessor had in fact been democratically elected (and also democratically evicted) Chavez started shouting and screaming. At this point Juan Carlos lost his regal cool, raised his royal digit and said "¿Por qué no te callas?" which means "Why don't you shut up?"

Not exactly normal royal language but every now and then I suppose Heads of State are allowed to be irritated and speak plainly.

Since this episode Juan Carlos has become a bit of a hero, not only in Spain but rather wonderfully in Venezuela as well. The phrase has since become one of the most popular downloadable cellphone ring tones in Spain and has been amusing YouTube viewers all over the world.

I think one of the things people like about the incident is that for the first time in a while someone has had the guts to stand up to Chavez the dictator and get the better of him.

Many people around the world have tried to present Chavez as some sort of folk hero because he says bad things about George W Bush (OK, I admit I do that myself) and has promised his people democracy, economic prosperity and an end to corruption. Well, that's all very laudable of course. Nobody can argue against any of those things. The trouble is that you don't achieve these things by trying to change the constitution to allow you to remain president for life, by rigging elections, by stifling your critics, by nationalising profitable companies that employ millions of Venezuelans and by employing your relatives in government positions.

The effects of what Chavez has done are clear. Since he took office murder levels have, according to The Economist, tripled. Transparency International, the organisation that always says such nice things about us in Botswana, says that Venezuela is one of the few countries where corruption is on the rise. Any apparent increase in national wealth has resulted from the dramatic increase in oil prices, not because the economy is actually doing anything more.

I think there is a lesson for us every time we see a country either democratically or by force convert to any philosophy that comes from Marxist, Hegelian, Leninist or Trotskyite origins.

Every time any country has attempted to implement a radically left-wing economy it has failed. There has never been a case where it worked. Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, North Korea, some of our neighbours in Africa and more recently in Latin America, every time it has been tried it has resulted in the opposition being shot and the people being left to eat grass.

Surely by now the lesson is clear?

What about the alternatives? Here's a challenge for you. Name any pair of liberal democracies that have ever waged war against each other. I don't mean in their feudal pasts, I mean while they were liberal democracies.

OK, it's a trick question. It's never been known.

The funny thing is that the last time I challenged someone with that question they suggested the Anglo-Boer War. That's the war between two nations which allowed only men to vote, in South Africa only white men. So that really doesn't qualify, OK?

No two real democracies as we know them have ever gone to war. Every communist nation has ended up with either starvation, oppression or both.

Simple, surely?

So anyway, what has any of this got to do with consumers in Botswana? Because there is one thing above all that separates the extreme left agenda from the liberal democratic one. Choice. I believe that all intelligent people want some level choice in their lives. They want to be able to live where they choose, to shop where they choose, to live with who they choose. They want to be able to decide for themselves how they live their lives and so long as they don't offend their neighbours they want to be left alone.

I don't think it's too much of a leap to say that the same principles that apply to the oppressed peoples of the world, whether under radical left oppression in Venezuela or fascist oppression in Burma, apply to consumers everywhere. We don't want to be told what to do by anyone other than our wallet. We want to be free to do as we please. We want to get a job and to leave a job when we want to.

So next time you're deciding whether to eat at Nandos or Wimpy, or you can't decide whether to go to Apache Spur or Primi Piatti remember that you are exercising your freedom in exactly the same way as when you post your election slip into that box to decide who governs us.

So do it with pride and remember those who wish they could do something that simple.

This week's stars!

  • Kenanae Makula at the Riverwalk Branch of Barclays Bank who apparently is pleasant, professional and lovely.
  • Greg Soutter at the Walmont Ambassador (yes, like you I still think of it as the Grand Palm) for responding very well to a complaint.
  • Boiki Tema from First National Bank for being charming and enthusiastic and for selling FNB products even when you meet him at a party!

We still have Debonairs vouchers to give away. Our friends at Debonairs have donated lots of P50 vouchers for us to give away to our readers. All you have to do is nominate someone who you think delivers excellent service and YOU get a Debonairs voucher. They get celebrated here in Mmegi, we'll write to their Managing Director praising them and they get to come to our next Consumer Watchdog Party to be celebrated by you-know-who.

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