Today's Hugo Chavez's tenth anniverary in power. He's messed with everybody's brains since taking the oath of office -- and he has brought a voice to a lotta poor Venezuelans, many of whom have come to Miami. But this caudillo ain't slick. He's lucky. Oil revenues have soared to the point where he's been able to bring big Bolivarian bucks to the little guys of his country.
And he's a blow hard.
To see what Hugo coulda been, look not far away at Ecuador, where President Rafael Correa, who has a U.S. PhD in economics, has provided a far more gentle -- yet equally populist tone to a country with a troubled past.
Sure, Ecuador's smaller -- and will never play the role in OPEC or world politics that Venezuela has -- but Correa has hewn a middle ground -- he got discrimination against gays prohibited, increased pensions to oldsters, and enhanced his own power ths past September.
He's 11 years younger than fat boy Chavez, and is a kinda Obama character, who stopped during a recent visit to the United States to play soccer with some locals.
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Ecuador has oil, just like Venezuela, and has been even more unstable. There was not long ago a president named "El Loco" (Abdala Bucaram), and the country had ten presidents in ten years. And the economy went to hell. As much as 15 percent of Ecuadoreans were living abroad just a year ago.
But Correa has helped to bring things back -- and building upon stabilization of the economy thanks to the dolarizacion -- that means they use dollars there, dummy -- he's made the country more comfortable for almost everyone. A lot of Ecuadoreans are returning home.
Of course, the world receession ain't pretty in Ecuador. But if Hugo Chavez had brains, looks and class, he just might look like Rafael Correa.