Andres Oppenheimer

June 28, 2014

Andres Oppenheimer: A blow to Latin America’s personality cult

Bravo! At a time when several Latin American presidents are promoting a shameless personality cult, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis last week issued a decree prohibiting the display of his picture in public offices and ordering to leave his name out of inaugural plaques of public works.

Bravo! At a time when several Latin American presidents are promoting a shameless personality cult, Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis last week issued a decree prohibiting the display of his picture in public offices and ordering to leave his name out of inaugural plaques of public works.

According to the presidential decree, plaques of all new roads, bridges, hospitals and other public buildings inaugurated during his four-year term ending in 2018 will only mention the year in which they were completed.

“Public works belong to the country, and not to a specific government, or to a specific public servant,” Solis said after signing the decree. “There will no longer be a cult of the president's image, at least during my government.”

Costa Rica's Minister of the Presidency Melvin Jimenez, who helped the president draft the decree, told me in a telephone interview that the decision was part of Solis’ campaign platform.

“There is no reason for putting the president's name on any public work. These public works are paid for by the Costa Rican people, with their taxes, and are only executed by the president,” Jimenez told me. “And there is no reason to hang his picture in public offices, because government decisions are made by the president with the help of ministers, vice ministers and many other officials.”

What a difference with what we're seeing in other Latin American nations! In several countries, presidents are using much of their time and state resources for self-glorification campaigns.

In Venezuela, where the late President Hugo Chávez started the latest cycle of personality cult in the region, President Nicolás Maduro is distributing millions of school textbooks glorifying Chávez and himself.

The Maduro government is supplying schools with an Illustrated Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which carries among others illustrations a smiling, handsome-looking Chávez playing with children under the headline “Supreme Happiness.”

Another illustration shows a God-like Chávez watching from the sky, while an imposing Maduro, wearing a presidential sash with the country's national colors, raises his hand in triumph. The headline of the illustration reads “Democracy.”

In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa, whose party is now seeking to change the constitution to allow for his indefinite reelection, is not only censoring press criticism but demanding that newspapers say nice things about him.

Earlier this month, Ecuador's government Information and Communication Office started legal procedures against the dailies El Universo, El Comercio and Hoy for failing to report about Correa's recent trip to receive an honorary degree in Chile. Correa himself had denounced in a May 17 speech the lack of press coverage of his trip to Chile and asked his supporters to take legal actions against the newspapers, according to Ecuador's Fundamedios press freedom advocacy group.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales recently presented a children's book entitled Little Evo's Adventures, glorifying his childhood.

The book, written by former top presidential aide Alejandra Claros Borda, includes five short stories — including Little Evo Goes to School, Little Evo Plays Soccer and Little Evo and the Three-Color Donkey — and has been partially distributed to schoolchildren by Bolivia's Ministry of Communications.

In Argentina, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has named so many streets, bridges and buildings after her late husband, former President Néstor Kirchner, that daily Clarin journalist Leonardo Mindez has created a blog named “Put Néstor's name to everything.”

The blog includes nearly 100 public works that carry the late president's name, including the country's Atucha II nuclear plant, which has just been renamed — you guessed it — “President Néstor Kirchner.” In addition, the government has spent more on pro-Kirchner propaganda during soccer games on TV than on health or education, critics say.

My opinion: It's time to put an end to this nonsense. As Costa Rica's president Solis well said, these public works are done with the contributions of all taxpayers, who entrust their public officials to manage their resources and carry out their construction.

The growing personality cult encouraged by the presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, among others, is not a harmless peccadillo by narcissist-Leninist tropical leaders who have allowed their country's oil riches to go to their heads. It is a drain on government resources and an ideological intoxication of people's minds.

One day, these presidents should be held accountable for every government penny they spent to publish self-aggrandizing children's books or to change the names of public works. In the meantime, Costa Rica deserves our applause and our admiration.

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