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Chavez Muy Loco about Golf
Since rising to power in 1998, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has managed to rile pretty much every country in the Western Hemisphere, especially the United States, whose cage he's rattled whenever an opportunity presents itself.
Now, the self-proclaimed left-wing nationalist and "Bolivarianist" is coming down hard on golf, a sport he calls "bourgeois" and unfit for his country's men and women.
Chavez's tirades over golf preceded the recent approval of the sport for inclusion in the 2016 Olympic Games. It doesn't matter to him that the international community, in approving the sport for the Olympics, has recognized that golf is played by 60 million people in more than 120 countries, many of which are not as financially secure as oil-rich Venezuela.
In a recent televised rant, Chavez mocked golfers as lazy and alleged "there is no justification for a golf course in the middle of a city." Chavez, who has nationalized many private businesses during his 11 years in power, has started plans that could lead to a takeover of two of Venezuela's best-known layouts, which local golf enthusiasts said would leave only 20 courses in a country twice the size of California.
Chavez, with cooperation from other government officials, said that the golf courses would be better used as housing for the poor or as public parks. His biggest gripe is that golf is not a game for the masses and is strictly reserved for those with money.
"I respect all the sports, all of them, but there are sports and there are sports," Chavez told supporters on his national TV show, Aló Presidente ("Hello, President!"), this summer. "Can someone tell me, 'Is this a sport of the people?' "
"Noooooo," government officials in the audience replied.
Among the courses being targeted by Chavez is Caracas Country Club, a private facility in the heart of the nation's capital. Washington Post reporter Juan Forero interviewed several members, and they aren't happy about Chavez's grand plans.
"How can you nationalize a sport? That would be the extreme of totalitarian government wouldn't it," complained Jonathan Coles, a businessman who plays 18 holes three times a week at the country club.
"You can get into the golf course in about five minutes," Pascual Cicenia told Forero. "You can get in a round of golf just about every day. It's probably why he wants to take it away."
Chavez's outbursts over golf have reached Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the world. P.J. Crowley, who, according to Forero's report, fashions himself as the U.S. State Department's "self-appointed ambassador-at-large for golf," said that he's protesting Chavez's "unwarranted attack" on the sport.
"Once again," Crowley said, "Mr. Chavez, one of the hemisphere's most divisive figures, finds himself out of bounds."
Julio Torres, director of the Venezuelan Golf Federation and, presumably, a functionary who will vet the players that will represent his country in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, told Forero that in the early days of Cuba's revolution, Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Argentine-born guerilla leader who helped Castro overthrow the Cuban government in 1959, often played golf together in their jungle fatigues.
Castro and Guevara, along with Venezuelan revolutionary Simón Bolívar, former Peruvian President Juan Velasco, socialist and communist leaders Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, are among Chavez's political heroes.
"There's even evidence that Che Guevara was a good golfer from back in his days in Argentina," Torres told Forero.