Leave it to the Obama administration to choose today to celebrate the life of Cesar Chavez. Like the former Venezuelan strongman whose last name he shares, this Chavez has a love of abusing government power and embracing Third World dictators - something both Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama are notorious for doing.
No wonder Obama felt his birthday was worthy of commemoration.
Chavez led the United Farm Workers (UFW), an agricultural labor union with a record of intimidation and violence. Their record was so blatant that even the left-wing NYC Village Voice reported about their "campaign of random terror against anyone hapless enough to fall into its net." This record of violence motivated Joe Hicks, a Jesse Jackson associate, to testify against funding for a Chavez memorial effort, concerned about how "Chavez dealt with violence as his UFW organizers often made use of strong-arm tactics against field workers in California's Central and Coachella Valleys."
As if that's not bad enough, more evidence supports a less optimistic view of the life and legacy of Chavez.
Writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ruben Navarette, Jr. writes about how the UFW engaged in tactics to shut out illegal immigrants who were coming into California and competing with UFW labor:
Despite the fact that Chávez is these days revered among Mexican-American activists, the labor leader in his day was no more tolerant of illegal immigration than the Arizona Minutemen are now. Worried that the hiring of illegal immigrants drove down wages, Chávez – according to numerous historical accounts – instructed union members to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service to report the presence of illegal immigrants in the fields and demand that the agency deport them. UFW officials were even known to picket INS offices to demand a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
One of these practices was to operate a "wet line" for people to report illegal immigrants.
Phillip Vera Cruz was one of those who helped found the UFW, only to resign after Chavez met with - and endorsed - former Phillipine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose use of violence and terror to suppress the opposition and support his wife's shoe-shopping habits was no secret. It's no small irony that Chavez wrote that he was "convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice."
It's a shame that he couldn't practice what he preached - and equally shameful that the White House feels Chavez' legacy is one worthy of such praise. But in this current era of diminished expectations for Presidential leadership, it's a move that isn't so surprising.