Desperate dictators will do anything to distract their captive populations from their flailing regimes.
Famously, Argentine dictator and drunk Leopoldo Galtieri sought to bolster his collapsing popularity by launching a half-baked attack on the Falkland Islands, an outcrop of rocks in the south Atlantic claimed by Argentina but controlled and populated by a few thousand British citizens and their considerably more numerous sheep.
Margaret Thatcher, no dictator but in the midst of her own plunge in popularity, responded by sending the Royal Navy in its last hurrah, defending an Empire then largely dissolved. The brave but severely outgunned Argentine soldiers were overwhelmed by the cream of Britain's armed forces and surrendered after two months of bloody battle.
Galtieri was shooed off to house arrest, later sentenced to a firing squad for his incompetence and eventually spared by the new democratic government that his senseless war helped create.
So now the equally incompetent Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has driven his country into a severe economic crisis, which in turn has fueled the worst crime wave in Caracas' history, is feeling his popularity ebb.
There is a serious possibility that his formerly divided opposition is finally uniting to save their country from a slide into a catoonish dictatorship.
Months before the September election that could strip him of control of Venezuela's rubber-stamp parliament, Chavez, like Galtieri, is putting on a big show.
In preparation for this election, Chavez has closed or cowed most of the country's independent broadcast outlets. The owner of the opposition-oriented Globovision television network, Guillermo Zuloaga, has fled to the U.S. and is considering seeking political asylum.
Chavez has stripped the broadcast licenses of scores of radio stations and distributed them to his network of cronies. Print journalism has been intimidated into self-censorship. And the formerly independent judiciary has also been brutalized into compliance with the regime.
In February, Venezuela was the subject of scalding rebuke from the Organization of American States. The Washington Post reported:
The human rights branch of the Organization of American States issued a blistering 300-page report Wednesday against Venezuela, saying that the oil-rich country run by President Hugo Chávez constrains free expression, the rights of its citizens to protest and the ability of opposition politicians to function.
The report, compiled and written by the OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, reflects growing concern in the region over how one of the organization's member states is governed. The document holds legitimacy for human rights investigators and diplomats because it has the imprimatur of the commission, which is run independently from the OAS and largely free of its political machinations.
Beyond the suppression of free media, Chavez' squads of red-shirted goons patrol the city on motorcycles, inspired by his buddy and Holocaust-denier Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Basij militias, delivering instant "justice" to the regime's enemies, real or perceived.
But with inflation rampant, basic foodstuffs rationed, and even the slum dwellers who were the backbone of his supporters beginning to turn against him, Chavez has now created a horrible circus that he hopes will distract Venezuelans from the grim reality of his regime.
Once he consolidated state power in his hands, Chavez launched what he called the "Bolivarian Revolution," ostensibly to recapture the values of Latin America's liberation hero, Simon Bolivar. In his weekly, hours-long broadcast tirades to the nation, Chavez often sits, king-like, behind an ornate desk at the palace, a prominent painting of Bolivar as his background.
In one of these broadcast, which I watched in my Caracas hotel room into the wee hours of a Friday night, mesmerized by the spectacle, Chavez waved Bolivar's sword over his head as he droned on about everything from the Evil Empire to the widow of an obscure poet, pausing every once in a while for an espresso. It was cheap theater at best.
But now, Chavez has reached a new low. Simon Bolivar, unlike Chavez, was a true champion of republican democracy. Although he could have easily enthroned himself in a new Pan-Latin Kingdom as he swept away the Spanish Empire at the beginning of the 19th century, Bolivar, like George Washington, declined a crown.
To most Latin Americans, Bolivar, with his dream of a united Latin America, is a towering figure that inspires pride, respect and admiration. Bolivar was the man that history called at the right moment - and he triumphed, improbably, over one of the most powerful and determined military empires.
Bolivar is a hero to all Latin Americans.
So the latest news from Caracas is almost unbelievable, but true nonetheless. Chavez has ordered the tomb of the great Bolivar opened and his bones exhumed - claiming that he was murdered in Colombia in 1830 and looking to prove it.
Conveniently, Colombia is Chavez's go-to country when he wants to deflect attention from his failed regime. Tensions with Colombia are deeply rooted in history, but Chavez has exploited them and deepened them by his support of the bloody FARC terrorists that have waged a narco-financed war against the Colombian people for decades.
The desecration of Bolivar's tomb is as shocking as anything Chavez has ever done.
This macabre appropriation of the Great Liberator's remains for political advantage is one more sign of the isolation and desperation of a regime that has lost its legitimacy - and a man so obsessed with holding on to power that he will do anything, say anything to perpetuate his hold on the presidency.
Follow Fernando Espuelas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fespuelas