Supporters of Chavez often argue indignantly that the man is no dictator, that he was democratically elected. But look around the world and it’s easy to see: being democratically elected does not mean governing democratically. According to Human Rights Watch, “[T]he [Chavez] government has systematically undermined free expression, workers’ freedom of association, and the ability of human rights groups to function.” HRW’s full 2012 report on Venezuela is here, and it’s grim.
Chavez is also a proud ally of the virulently antisemitic Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s given vocal and even material support to the Assad regime throughout its ongoing slaughter of Syrian civilians.
If any of this disturbs Harry Belafonte, or fellow Chavez dupes such as Sean Penn and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, they’ve yet to indicate it. And yet now, in 2012, we have Belafonte declaring that U.S. capitalism “is taking us to the doorstep of [a] Fourth Reich, I think.” A Fourth Reich.
Chavez runs Venezuela into the ground and backs some of the most heinous regimes in the world, and Belafonte gives him a free pass, even a big thumbs-up. “Viva la revolucion!” But oh, that Obama – better hold that man’s feet to the fire. Better call him out. No criticism is too harsh. Compare the U.S. to Nazi Germany? Why not.
Sorry, but when it comes to democratic advocacy, Belafonte’s credentials are in tatters. Not Obama’s.
Via Jack Shafer’s Twitter feed, this AP story on Fidel Castro’s decision to fill three of the eight scant pages in the party-controlled newspaper Granma with nonsense from 9/11 Truther and Bilderberg conspiracy theorist Daniel Estulin. AP writer Will Weissert does a nice job detailing how Estulin’s work actually draws on the thinking (rather, “thinking”) of the extremist right.
I’m glad to see that the Obama administration is moving to ease travel restrictions to Cuba. And yet I’m still amazed that there are those on the left who continue to admire Castro, this pitiful crackpot, who has long outlawed the very existence of a journalistic culture on the island, preferring to force-feed the Cuban people his own ravings, along with the ravings of fellow loons.
I know, journalism in the U.S. is anything but perfect, but the quick dissemination of news and debate fostered by the Net — and the enormous flux in media and information cultures detailed in this very interesting pair of pieces in Wired (hat tip John Murph) — couldn’t stand in starker contrast to the utterly shriveled, hideous excuse for a media outlet that is Granma. And every other official organ like it elsewhere on the planet.
Read Chris Anderson’s thoughts on iPads and RSS feeds and Pandora and the like. And then recall that the Cuban government took the enormous step of legalizing cell phones in 2008. We thought it was right-wing anticommunists, per William F. Buckley, who “stood astride history, yelling ‘Stop!’” Turns out it’s actually the communists. (Of course, America’s Castro apologists benefit from cutting-edge online communication to get their organizing done.)
By the way, Castro’s not the only one spouting laughable conspiracist rot. Hugo Chávez, we learn in this valuable piece by Christopher Hitchens, believes the moon landing may not have actually happened. But the most amusing part of Hitchens’s account is how deeply, how desperately, Sean Penn wants to believe in Chávez’s political sanity, all evidence to the contrary.
Oliver Stone has made a documentary called “South of the Border,” about the new left-wing populist wave in South America, and in particular about Hugo Chávez, a man Stone much admires.
On “Real Time with Bill Maher” the other week, Stone praised Sean Penn’s earlier appearance on the same program. Penn, Stone said, had done “a great job” defending Hugo Chávez on HBO. Interestingly, what Stone is referring to is the discussion in which Penn declared that American journalists should be jailed for reporting inaccurately on the Chávez regime. What this shows is that Penn is not deluded about the autocratic nature of Chávez’s reign (or Castro’s for that matter). It turns out he in fact supports its autocratic nature. I’m someone who believes firmly in straight talk, and this, finally, was Penn talking straight, laying bare his anti-democratic convictions. Good for him, I suppose.
In case you haven’t been paying attention:
Chávez recently announced, ”The Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done.” (If an American politician said this, needless to say, there’d be endless howls of protest and mockery from the left, and rightly so.) In 2008, Chávez ejected two leading Human Rights Watch officials from Venezuela. He recently voiced qualified admiration for Idi Amin. He congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for stealing the 2009 Iranian election. He has proclaimed solidarity with torturer and kleptocrat Robert Mugabe and called Belarus under dictator Alexander Lukashenko “a model social state.”
This is not subtle, and it’s not up for argument — it’s all a matter of record, and it establishes Chávez as a deeply reactionary figure, a figure beloved not by the democratic left (in any country), but by the reactionary left. There is, and has always been, a difference. Yes, Chávez was democratically elected, as Stone and Penn tell us over and again. But being democratically elected is not the same as governing democratically. Ask the people of Gaza.
What do Stone’s film, and Penn’s advocacy, and the mewlings of other pro-Chávez celebrities really represent? They represent the growing success of the reactionary left in drowning out the discourse of the democratic left, a phenomenon that is aided by the silence of people like Rachel Maddow, who sat and listened to Oliver Stone on Bill Maher’s panel and uttered not a word back. I love Maddow, I watch her, I’m thrilled that she’s on the air, precisely because she’s a person of democratic convictions. But those convictions failed her here. And I’m a hundred percent certain she knows better.
Google Stone’s film and the only strong critiques you’ll find are on right-wing sites. This is not because only a rightist would attack a great guy like Chávez. It’s because left political culture in the U.S. is badly distorted and in need of an overhaul.
I didn’t vote for him on November 3, but Mike Bloomberg has done the country a service and I wanted to acknowledge it. In stark contrast to his predecessor, the insufferable demagogue Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg has voiced support for Eric Holder’s decision to try KSM and other 9/11 defendants in a civilian court here in New York. One now sees why President Obama endorsed Bill Thompson only halfheartedly and campaigned for him not at all: because on the national stage, Bloomberg is not an Obama foe. (In some respects, Bloomberg is more liberal. In a yes-or-no lightning round during the first mayoral debate, he was asked whether Obama has done enough on gay rights. “No,” Bloomberg said.)
I can think of few things more nauseating than Giuliani, Dick Cheney and others lecturing the country on the proper way to deal with terrorists. One chief argument is that we shouldn’t grant these suspects the full constitutional protections enjoyed by U.S. citizens. But these same people support the denial of such protections even to defendants who are citizens, such as Jose Padilla. They also believe the Geneva Conventions are “quaint” and don’t apply to anyone detained in the war on terror, citizen or not. So Giuliani, Cheney, the especially ludicrous Sarah Palin — they’ve all made plain their contempt for due process and the rule of law across the board. Thankfully, they have no authority on these matters at present and we must work to keep it that way.
Furthermore, the Obama haters — these supposed authorities on national security — are the same people who plunged the U.S. into an occupation of Iraq with no planning whatsoever; who awarded key posts in Iraq to the inept sons and daughters of GOP cronies; who frittered away billions upon billions of dollars not just on the cost of the war itself, but on outrageous boondoggles, hopelessly mired in corruption. (And now we’re warned in apocalyptic terms about health care reform adding to the deficit.)
I can scarcely keep up with the avalanche of stupidity surrounding the impending trial, the Sarah Palin “book” tour, the ongoing campaign to derail health care reform and etc. But just as Palin is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the right, I have to point once again to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as a symbol of everything wrong with the left.
Chavez has now taken the step of praising the hostage-taker and murderer Carlos the Jackal. He once again cites Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as “brothers” and even has positive words to say about Idi Amin.
I wouldn’t blink at this point if Chavez hailed Jeffrey Dahmer as a great anti-imperialist. It’s far more insidious that morons and frauds on the extreme left, people who have the nerve to call themselves “peace” advocates, continue to paint Chavez as a hero.
“Do successful artists get a pass for their moral failings or crimes?” asks the NYT Room for Debate blog in regard to the Roman Polanski affair. Gee, ya think?
Not only do they get a pass for their moral failings — they’re often celebrated for their moral failings, which are too easily mistaken for virtues. At the most recent Oscars, Robert De Niro hailed Sean Penn for his supposed human rights advocacy, and yet Penn is a stenographer for two of Latin America’s most antidemocratic leaders. Other examples are plentiful (although I do admire other Hollywood figures like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie for some of the stances they take).
In regard to Polanski, shame on Debra Winger for denouncing his arrest as “philistine collusion,” as if the refusal to forgive a clear instance of rape shows a lack of proper aesthetic appreciation. “We stand by him and await his release and his next masterpiece,” says Winger. See above: He gets not just a pass, but a rhetorical wet kiss.
While I’m on the subject of Sean Penn and Hugo Chavez…
I’ve been getting lots of emails from The Nation imploring me to “oppose militant ignorance,” which I admit is an excellent description of the current rightist campaign to derail health care reform (with help from pliable “moderate” Democrats, but that’s another story). Sadly, The Nation continues to serve as a platform for ignorance of the hard-left variety — not only with the publication of Sean Penn’s “interview,” but now also NYU professor Greg Grandin’s “interview” of the Venezuelan strongman as well.
Marc Cooper gets it right: This is beyond nauseating from a publication that claims to champion democracy. A couple of semi-critical questions from Grandin toward the end, but it’s all couched in obsequious, robotic language: “What you have achieved inspires many.” This is indistinguishable from FOX’s Neil Cavuto interviewing George W. Bush.
Not a word about Chavez’s overt alliances with Putin, Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, Lukashenko and other irredeemable thugs. Not a word about his summary expulsion of two Human Rights Watch representatives in September 2008, after which he declared: “Any foreigner who comes to criticize our country will be immediately expelled.” Nation editors: Are these the political values you wish to support?
If any one American has truly benefited from the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the right to criticize the government openly and without retribution, it is Noam Chomsky, who continues to draw admiring crowds of listeners despite being a vastly overrated crank and shameless liar.
But during his latest trip south to kiss the ring and the behind of Hugo Chavez, Chomsky remarked that here in the U.S. we have “so-called freedom of expression.” In contrast, apparently, to the marvel of fair play and open discussion that is Chavez’s Venezuela. Marc Cooper dissects.
Yes, poor marginalized Prof. Chomsky, who once exercised his “so-called” freedom of speech to address cadets at West Point on the theory of just war. So cruelly shut out from the elite centers of power! So viciously hounded by the American military he bravely takes on! Chomsky was warmly presented with a framed photograph at the end of his lecture.
[Update: Thanks to Gene for the link and further comment.]
In case it’s still not clear to Sean Penn and his fellow far-left cultists that Hugo Chavez is a foe of democracy and an ally of police-state thugs the world over: The man has now offered his congratulations to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and railed against those who would “besmirch” his “great victory.”
President Obama is taking heat from Newt Gingrich and others for shaking hands with Hugo Chavez and “making nice” with Cuba, etc. Since I’m a dogged liberal opponent of those two particular regimes, let me say I support Obama’s moves and think the Republicans are full of it. It was Chavez who approached Obama at the Trinidad summit, not the other way around. Had Obama shunned him in that context, it would have been an international incident and an embarrassment. On Cuba, Obama is not “making nice” — on the contrary, it is Raul Castro who is making nice, and who has little choice but to do so. In setting a new tone from Washington, Obama has the upper hand.
On Eduardo Galeano, the author of the book Chavez presented to Obama: Eamonn recently translated and fisked a Galeano column which trotted out the canard that Palestinians can’t be antisemites because they are Semites. Intellectual honesty is not the man’s strong suit.
There’s little I can say about Sean Penn’s fluff “interview” with Hugo Chávez and Raúl Castro that Marc Cooper hasn’t said.
Some have suggested that I tend to overstate the influence of actor-activists like Penn. If anything, I’ve understated it. Penn’s “journalism” is now being published on the cover of The Nation, right at the moment when audiences are swooning over his film portrayal of the late Harvey Milk. The damage he’s doing to the very idea of the left as a principled force for human rights is considerable.
One would never know from Penn’s article that Chávez has summarily ejected Human Rights Watch officials from his country; has proclaimed Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko “a model social state”; has pledged solidarity with Robert Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin. Do not even get me started about Castro, whose decades-long erasure of civil liberties is treated by Penn only in the most evasive, relativizing way. All societies are “imperfect,” he counsels. I can’t imagine a moral stand more limp and spineless.
Because Chávez and Castro are demonized by Fox News and other right-wing forces, Penn has concluded they must in fact be stand-up guys. What an infantile and dishonest view of world politics. What a catastrophe for the left, which has been down this road before.
Odd that Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Brinkley accompanied Penn on this trip; I eagerly await their sides of the story.
A minor point: I would expect Penn to have no idea what the Monroe Doctrine is; perhaps he’s misremembering Brinkley’s remarks, which are clearly about the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine was not imperialist, but rather anti-imperialist, stating that Europe should have limited influence in the New World. It was Theodore Roosevelt who tweaked the doctrine to justify U.S. intervention in Latin America.