OPIYO OLOYA PERSPECTIVE OF A UGANDAN IN CANADA Sometimes people say things that even they know cannot be true, but they say it anyway because it allows them to get a few minutes of airtime. The latest such verbal diarrhoea comes from Venezuelan socialist president Hugo Chavez. Speaking at a socialist conference in Caracas last Friday evening, the controversial leader told the applauding delegates that he considers convicted terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez best known as The Jackal, a revolutionary. For the record, Sánchez teamed up with radical members of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and West Germanys Red Army Faction in setting off bombs that killed numerous people. Justice caught up with him in Sudan where he was apprehended by French intelligence in 1994 and spirited to France where he stood trial for the murder of two French secret agents in 1975, and was convicted for life. However, Chavez went further to call as his brothers Irans president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Zimbabwes Robert Mugabe and former Uganda president-for-life, the late Idi Amin Dada. Chavez praised the latter by suggesting that all those terrible things said about Amin were not true. We thought he was a cannibal. I have doubts. I dont know, maybe he was a great nationalist, a patriot, the Guardian newspaper quoted him. Now Chavez is a news hog who will go to great length to do anything to get onto the international news. He knew that invoking the names of pariah leaders like Ahmadinejad, Mugabe and Amin would get some reaction from the world media. He indeed succeeded in provoking media coverage including this column. But what Chavez cannot change or wish away is that there are certain historical evils that will never be erased by the passage of time. The killings of millions of innocent Jews by Adolf Hitler not for anything other than that they were Jews cannot be washed away by the passage of time. The half million that perished in Rwanda in 1994 will forever be a part of the legacy of ethnic cleansing by Hutu militias. Furthermore, even Chavez could never make the case that the socialist regime of Pol Pot was being patriotic when it deliberately starved as many as 2.5 million Cambodians after instituting the ill-fated agrarian reform in 1975. Patriotism does not murder millions of people; it elevates and enriches the lives of millions of people. The reign of Idi Amin cannot be made to look good when it was not. The problem with trying to burnish the image of Idi Amin is that his reign of terror between 1971 and 1979 created untold suffering that cannot be covered up by the passage of time. For instance, Amins so-called economic war in which he applied a racist logic to exile thousands of Ugandans of Asian descent was hailed by some as patriotic. However, the reality is that Ugandans were herded off like cattle to alien lands where many still live to this day. Moreover, the economic war ended up biting ordinary Ugandans, many of whom never recovered their standard of living. Then there were the hundreds of thousands of killings by Amins security police and army. These Ugandans were slaughtered not because Amin had some patriotic vision of a better Ugandaif that were the case, at least one could attempt a lame argument that the killings were offset by the greater good that came as a resultbut because Amin wanted to stay in power just for his personal ends. Of course Uganda experienced many other killings in the 1980s and in the 1990s. These killings were carried out in the post-Amin era, and the perpetrators have never been brought to justice. This, however, does not detract from the argument that Amin was not a patriot, but an illiterate megalomaniac whose only preoccupation was looking out for his own survival rather than the welfare of the people of Uganda. Whatever gains accrued to the people of Uganda during Amins eight years of bloody reign was mostly due to resilience of the people of Uganda who never gave up. President Hugo Chavez is keen to make himself the champion of the anti-Western crusaders, those who oppose the West and especially America because it is good politics at home. His political grandstanding allows him to come across as this benevolent revolutionary whose only motivation is to stand up for the downtrodden around the world. And to be sure, there are a number of promising signs of improvement in Venezuela such as housing and healthcare for the poor, but these are still lagging behind the money pouring into Venezuelas national coffers from oil export. In the end, Chavezs cynical manipulation of media aims to divert ordinary Venezuelans into forgetting that his promised reforms have not really trickled down to the poor Venezuelan eking a living out of the soil. Meanwhile, Chavez continues to acquire power in order to prolong his stay in office. On February 15, he won the referendum scrapping presidential term limits, setting him run for president for as long he desires. On that score, his brothers Ahmadinejad, Mugabe and the late Amin Dada, would be proud of him.