I doubt that anyone would challenge Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez' capacity for chutzpah, but the luck of the draw never seems to have favored him with a Chutzpah of the Week award … until this week. Just in time for the recognition of that religious holiday that does more to honor consumerism than any other, President Chávez has seen fit to launch an attack against the imminent nativity of a shopping mall. Here is the Associated Press account as it appeared in The Guardian:
Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, has halted the construction of a shopping mall in the capital and announced that the prime block of urban real estate should be expropriated after being shocked at the "monster" development.
In his Sunday address Chávez said he was heading through downtown Caracas when he was shocked by the sight of a huge, nearly-finished mall amid the high-rise offices and apartments. "They had already built a monster there," Chávez said. "I passed by there just recently and said, 'What is this? My God!'"
He ordered the local mayor to halt construction, and suggested the sprawling six-storey building might be put to better use as a hospital or university. The new Sambil mall was scheduled to open in the La Candelaria district early next year, packed with 273 shops, cinemas and offices. Chávez complained that it would add more traffic to an area that was already so crowded "not a soul fits".
Whether or not this "attack" on the almost-completed mall will be as effective as Don Quixote's windmill siege, there is something gloriously outrageous about this latest Chávez antic that just cries to be recognized as chutzpah. While I would hardly call myself one of Chávez' staunch supporters, I strongly sympathize with his attitude towards consumerism and am willing to grant that desperate times (when consumerism has reached addictive levels) call for desperate measures. Besides, we know from the Tao Teh Ching that the thousand-mile journey begins with a single step (and that precept was good enough for Mao Zedong to appropriate for his Little Red Book). If no one else is willing to take the first step towards consumerism rehabilitation, then President Chávez deserves credit for trying; and a Chutzpah of the Week award seems like a suitable way to grant that credit.