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It is somehow fitting that Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez left the realm of the living on this day, the 60th anniversary of the death of one of the world’s most murderous dictators, Josef Stalin. While the crimes of Chavez fail to compete with the atrocities inflicted by Stalin, he was guilty of the same crimes of enslaving millions through a failed ideology. Under the guise of helping the poor, Chavez sought to enrich himself and his cronies by seizing property, destroying civil society, destroying a free press, eliminating the independence of the judiciary, and countless other crimes against humanity.
We have heard today from friends of Chavez. People who extoll his virtues, while living under the protections of our Constitution, that Chavez would never extend to the people he claimed to lead. They speak of his empowerment of the poor, and his punishment of “greedy capitalists.” Many of these statements are uttered as they step off of their private jets that they have earned by being part of a free market economy. They fail to recognize that the ideology of people like Chavez, Castro, Stalin, and Guevara is nothing more than a slavery of the human spirit. A belief that man is nothing more than an instrument of production for the state. Chavez denied people the enjoyment of the fruits of their labor, and sought to punish those that opposed his flawed view.
I have been privileged to have met many people that have lived under such conditions. These are people that inspire me, and I am constantly in awe of their spirit. These people have seen the worst of humanity, but have maintained a spirit that many of us should envy. People that have seen family members imprisoned for their faith, people that have seen property confiscated for the sole reason that the government said they didn’t deserve it, people that risked their lives to travel to a country halfway around the world because they saw no hope in the land in which they were born. These are the people that should be praised, not murderers and tyrants.
I will not rejoice in the death of a person that made the world a more dangerous and awful place. He shall be judged by his Creator. Today I will say a special prayer for the people of Venezuela, and those around the world that seek to live in a society that respects the natural rights of man. I will pray that leaders in our own country will seek to support civil society throughout the world, and stand beside those that fight for those rights. I’ll pray for the safety of those that seek to advance these causes. I’d like to close with a passage from a poem by Anna Akhmatova “Requiem,” an ode to those that did not survive Stalin’s GULAGs.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,
‘I arrive here as if I’ve come home!’
I’d like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble
I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing. Even in new
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That’s how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition – do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar’s Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,