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Deciphering Chávez’s psyche

CARACAS –Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is clearly colorful — breaking out in song in the middle of speeches, firing government officials in public, repeatedly alleging plots to kill him and, most recently, pushing his country’s clocks a half hour ahead.And as Chávez has made friends with Iran, supported the Palestinians’ Hamas government and threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States, questions about his mental health have been growing.

But the answers remain elusive and often more politically charged than medically sound.

”The paranoid propensities of Chávez do suggest the possibility that Venezuela could conclude that Venezuela must develop a nuclear weapons capability,” wrote Jerrold Post, a Harvard and Yale-trained psychiatrist who once worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and now heads the political psychology program at George Washington University.

AIR FORCE REQUEST

Post’s psychological profile was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force in March as part of the U.S. government’s ”Counterproliferation Papers” — unclassified studies on potential national security threats.

Post would not say what prompted the Air Force’s interest, but Iran is suspected by Washington and many of its allies of seeking nuclear weapons. Chávez also broke military ties with Washington and no longer cooperates with U.S. anti-drug or counterterrorism officials.

In his report, Post says that the Venezuelan leader is capable of seeking nuclear weapons and adds, “It is strongly recommended that attention be continuously focused on Chávez and Venezuela as a possible source of terrorist organizational support.”

Post is one of many who have tried to decipher Chávez, a former army lieutenant colonel who led a failed coup in 1992 and was elected president in 1998. He has made Washington his No. 1 enemy and threatened to cut off the estimated 1.1 million barrels of oil a day exported to the United States.

But he remains popular in Venezuela, spreading his ”petrodollars” through social and educational programs. Chávez has won three elections and a recall referendum, and fought off a national strike and a military coup, while moving his country toward ”21st century socialism” by retaking control of oil fields, telecommunications and energy companies, and ”idle” lands and factories.

BAFFLING EXPERTS

Yet many of his public antics and policies have stymied analysts, academics and armchair psychologists, who seem split when it comes to understanding how his mind works.

There are Chávez-watchers who say he suffers a severe personality disorder and bouts with depression. Argentine journalist Olga Wornat wrote in her recently published book, Crónicas Malditas, that Chávez is bipolar and takes Prozac.

She claims her sources included Edmundo Chirinos, Chávez’s former psychiatrist, and a former girlfriend, Herma Marksman.

Chirinos, who did not respond to repeated Miami Herald requests for comment, has never made this claim in public, or anything even close to it. And Marksman told The Miami Herald that she never told Wornat that Chávez is bipolar.

”It was a lie,” she said of Wornat’s account.

Others believe that Chávez carefully plans his every move but engages in public antics as a distraction to make his enemies underestimate him. The leader of this school of thought is political scientist Alberto Garrido, author of a half-dozen books on Chávez.

”We have 30 years of information on him,” Garrido told The Miami Herald. “From his first meeting he’s shown a political coherence that is simply not compatible with any psychological disorder.”

Even Post’s report, entitled The Chávez Phenomenon, does not totally write off the president: “The often eccentric Chávez is not without prudence.”

In a telephone interview with The Miami Herald, Post seemed even more cautious, saying “He has significant personality issues that can be problematic . . . But he’s certainly not a madman.”

Within Venezuela, the most complete look at Chávez mental state may have been compiled by Marianela Palacios while studying for her masters’ in political science at the Simón Bolívar University in Caracas. She surveyed 16 psychiatrists and psychologists on what they saw in Chávez “from a distance.”

All but three said the president exhibited varying degrees of narcissism, antisocial and psychopathic behavior. But the vast majority discarded the bipolar thesis as well as other grave personality disorders such as schizophrenia.

They cited long-circulating rumors about Chávez for their diagnoses: that he was abandoned and mistreated as a child, perhaps even abused by his parents; that he doesn’t sleep, and that he can talk endlessly about himself.

POLITICAL TENDENCIES

Palacios’ study also concluded that her sources’ views on Chávez mental state depended more on their own political tendencies than their specialty, professional profile, academic level or years of experience.

‘All those who identified themselves as anti-Chávez, `opposition to the government,’ ‘neither-nor of the opposition’ [i.e., those with no party affiliation but against the government] or those willing to vote against the president . . . to revoke his presidential term, observe some sort of personality disorder,” she wrote.

‘The three that don’t come to the same conclusion presented themselves as Chavistas, `neither-nor for the government’ or sympathizing with the changes that the president is trying to institute,” she added.

Source: Miami Herald

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