Oil Makes Chavez's Rhetoric Scarier Than Castro's

Commentator Ana Flaster's family left Cuba years ago. She describes how all of her relatives are obsessed with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. They've observed that Chavez follows Fidel Castro's playbook for creating distractions, which makes sense because Castro is Chavez's mentor. But there's one big difference between the two socialist leaders — Chavez has oil, and that makes his rhetoric more powerful and scary.

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MICHELLE NORRIS, host:

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, is known for picking fights with other world leaders, like the fight he had last month with the president of Spain and his criticism of President Bush.

Commentator Ana Hebra Flaster is a Cuban-American. Her family left Cuba years ago. And she says her relatives are obsessed with Chavez. He reminds them of Cuba's Fidel Castro. But she says there's one big difference, Venezuela's oil wealth makes the Chavez rhetoric more powerful.

Ms. ANA HEBRA FLASTER (Commentator): I found my father pacing around his little house in New Hampshire recently, sleep-deprived and muttering something about Hugo Chavez and revolutionary cows. My father's been like this for a while. He keeps the TV in the living room tuned to CNN, the one in the bedroom, Omnivision, and the cordless phone nearby so he can talk to his friend Carlito(ph) in Miami about (Spanish spoken).

Every move Chavez makes reminds my father of something Fidel did in Cuba years ago. He is, as we say in spanglish, (Spanish spoken). But Papi, I asked, revolutionary cows?

Chica, my father says. Didn't you know that Chavez brags about how he's trading Venezuelan oil for Argentinean super cows? They're supposed to produce tons of milk. Just like Fidel in the '60s when he went through his animal husbandry phase. He started breeding revolutionary cows. They were going to have gigantic udders. Regular udders just aren't good enough after a revolution. Trust me.

My father, like all my Cuban-American relatives, was an apolitical, working stiff in Havana before the revolution. He labored at an American-owned cannery outside of the capital, earned enough to keep us then clothe, but not much more. He never even got to high school. My parents, along with their friends and neighbors, supported Fidel's revolution. Like most Cubans, they wanted nothing more of Batista, his brutality and corruption. They got their wish.

But after a few years of revolutionary life, of force political marches, food lines and fearing they'd be denounced if they criticize the government, they applied to leave the country and managed to get out. They never saw most of their family and friends again. These days, my 70-year-old aunts and uncles in Jayalia and Hoboken, marvel at how well Chavez has learned from Castro, a mentor whom he visits often. Not for nothing, my aunt Sylvia(ph) says, but Chavez is almost as good at creating distractions as Fidel.

Chavez's recent scuffle with Colombian President Uribe and the mess with King Carlos of Spain remind a lot of Cuban-Americans of how well Castro used international smokescreens when things in Havana got a little too hot. Chavez (Spanish spoken), he'll get what he wants, my aunt Sylvia says. Fidel only had good rhetoric, Cuban sugar and the Soviet block. Hugo has more than that. He has (Spanish spoken).

I ponder this as I flip the channels in search of Mexican boxing, an old John Wayne western, anything to get my father's mind off (Spanish spoken) Venezuela.

NORRIS: Ana Hebra Flaster left Cuba in 1967. She now lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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