Posts Tagged ‘Sean Penn’

When Harry Met Hugo

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Harry Belafonte — a man who’s given us great music, a man who put himself on the line during the civil rights era — is one of a number of celebrities to have spent the last several years shilling for the ruthless Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez.

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.

Oliver Stone’s Chávez

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

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.