By Joel Brinkley

Hugo Chavez, the peacock president of Venezuela, called President Obama a "clown" a few days ago, and "an embarrassment." My suggestion, President Chavez: If you want to find an embarrassing clown, look in the mirror.

Did Obama have a model of himself crafted into a wise man, standing next to Joseph in a downtown Caracas nativity scene, peering into the baby Jesus's manger?

Did Obama send a florid note to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin congratulating him on his "great victory" in parliamentary elections -- a vote that even members of Putin's own political party are saying was riddled with fraud?

And I can promise you, no American president has ever considered digging up George Washington because he wanted to be considered a modern-day incarnate -- then with great ceremony re-interring him in a specially built mahogany coffin crusted with gold, diamonds and pearls.

That's exactly what Chavez did with Simon Bolivar, the 19th century military and political leader who liberated Venezuela and several other South American states from Spain. Chavez dug him up in 2010, and then last month he installed the long-dead corpse, housed in its splendiferous new coffin, inside a new mausoleum that cost $27.7 million -- all for Chavez's own glory.

But Chavez's most outrageous insult was his claim that Obama has destroyed the United States and "turned it into a disaster." Certainly the U.S. has many serious problems, some of which predate Obama's election three years ago. But no American president could possibly achieve the destruction Chavez has wrought on Venezuela. And it's hard to say that much if any of it predates his time in office. He's been president for almost 13 years.

Right now, for example, Venezuela has the world's highest inflation rate, almost 28 percent. That means the nation's currency, not coincidentally named the "Bolivar," loses all of its present-day value in just three and a half years.

What's more, under Chavez, Venezuela has achieved the highest crime rate in South America and one of the worst in the world. In 1998, the year before he took office, 4,500 people were murdered nationwide. In 2011 that number was 19,336. Under his care, the state is awash in firearms, enough so that every other Venezuelan could own one, counting even infants and octogenarians.

If anyone believes Chavez himself has not encouraged a culture of violence, consider that a group of university students known as Chavistas for their allegiance to the president last month burned down a concert hall, a World Heritage site designed by Alexander Calder, as protest because they lost a student election. No one was punished.

Chavez runs a self-proclaimed socialist country. That should be easy in his oil-wealthy state. Venezuela produces 3 million barrels of oil a day, now selling for about $100 each. That should earn $300 million each and every day -- $1.095 trillion per year, for a nation of 29 million people.

Nonetheless, at least one-quarter of the people live in poverty, and thousands are forced to live in bomb shelters, community centers and other public facilities because of insufficient housing. For years, the nation has suffered serious shortages of staple foods, including meat, milk and coffee. Schools are pathetically bad; the few well-educated emigrate. Is there any better definition of mismanagement?

Meantime, Chavez is selling cut-rate oil to his friends the Castros in Cuba -- and offering subsidized fuel oil to poor Americans, to poke a finger in Obama's eye. Those are expenses Venezuela can ill afford. A few days ago, Chavez had to borrow $4 billion from China, in theory to build more housing. My advice to those citizens living in bomb shelters: He has had 13 years to deal with this problem. Don't hold your breath.

Chavez is recovering from cancer, though he refuses to release medical records to show the actual state of his health. Then, last week, he publically accused the United States of somehow fostering a cancer epidemic in Latin America, earning a sharp rebuke from the State Department.

The only good news is this: After many years, the state's fractious political opposition has unified. It's holding a primary next month, giving a single candidate chosen by the people the opportunity to tell the nation what a disaster Chavez has been. The polling firm Varianzas just released results of a survey in which half of Venezuelans said they wanted a new president.

Elections are in October.

For the sake of the long-suffering Venezuelan people, duped for more than a decade by a dangerous fraud, we can only wish the opposition well.


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