Yesterday we noted that the admiration of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro by his American fans shows no sign of having been dimmed by reports of his apparent descent into madness – and his transformation of his country into what one observer has called “an Orwellian dystopia.” Today we thought it might be appropriate to wonder aloud whether the American aficionados and collaborators of another tyrant, Robert Mugabe, who’s been running Zimbabwe since 1980, have been unsettled at all by his latest moves.
Among Mugabe’s stateside enablers, as we’ve previously seen, is New York hedge-fund king Dan Och, whose shady deals with Mugabe provided the despot (whose profligate government had run out of funds) with enough cash “to buy votes and unleash a campaign of brutal repression in an election in which he [had previously] faced almost certain defeat.” Och, as one account put it, “raised $100M for Mugabe’s weapons and torture-chambers in exchange for a sweetheart deal on the country’s platinum mines.” Och can’t claim he was acting out of ignorance: he knew very well that his payments to Mugabe – which led to investigations by both the Department of Justice and the SEC – would be used to fuel the systematic, savage abuse of Mugabe’s own people.
Then there’s Bill de Blasio, now Mayor of New York, who during his tenure in the City Council took part in a tribute by that body to Mugabe, who gave a speech and was fêted at a cocktail reception. The man who organized that event, as we’ve seen, was former Black Panther Charles Barron, who at the time was a City Council member and is now a state assemblyman.
De Blasio and Barron represent themselves as progressive heroes. What, then, do they have to say about Mugabe’s late September speech to the General Assembly of United Nations, in which he concluded an inane rant condemning international efforts to address his human-rights abuses by insisting: “We are not gays!”
“We are not gays!” The subject of homosexuality has been a longstanding preoccupation of Mugabe’s. Gays in Zimbabwe face fines, prison, beatings by the police, and worse. (“Even Satan wasn’t gay!” Mugabe growled when the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land.)
Of course, Zimbabweans don’t need to be gay to feel deprived of freedom, security, and prosperity: Mugabe’s presidency is, by all reasonable accounts, a “reign of terror,” his government a “murderous kleptocracy,” his nation a land of “bloodthirsty depravity” that is characterized by cartoonish levels of corruption, is patrolled by a thuggish secret police that spreads “dread in the cities,” is guilty of “torture on an industrial scale,” and has undergone a precipitous economic decline that The Economist has described as “the most dramatic peacetime collapse of any country since Weimar Germany.”
The very fact that Mugabe was allowed to speak at the UN was a disgrace. But it’s hardly a first. Officials of international organizations, in the face of demands by human-rights activists and other right-thinking people that Mugabe be banned from international conclaves, have routinely given in to demands by Zimbabwe and its African neighbors that it be included. As Marian Tupy wrote in the Wall Street Journal Europe in 2007, European Union officials – who’d recently fallen for Zimbabwean propaganda depicting Mugabe as a victim of Western propaganda and/or succumbed to African leaders’ boycott threats – were responsible for the ethically challenged decision to welcome Mugabe to an EU summit in Lisbon.
But African leaders, noted Tupy, were also deeply culpable: under Mugabe, Zimbabwe had become a terror state, but many leaders of neighboring countries had responded to the nightmare he was creating for his people by “clos[ing] ranks” around him. The most guilty party of all, in Tupy’s view, was South African President Thabo Mbeki, who, given Zimbabwe’s economic dependence on his nation, was “in a position to force change or end Mr. Mugabe’s reign overnight,” but who’d in fact “done more than any other African leader to help Mr. Mugabe hang onto power.”
Alas, Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma, has proven to be even more supportive of Mugabe, saying earlier this year that economic cooperation between the two countries “has never been stronger.” Peter Godwin, a white Zimbabwean who now lives abroad, explained this seemingly inexplicable state of affairs a couple of years ago: these various African regimes came to power in anti-colonial revolutions, and they’re all still in power, and “it’s not in the interest of any of them to let any of the other ones lose power.” Susan Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand, commenting in 2008 on Mbeki’s refusal to criticize Mugabe, made essentially the same point: “People expected statesmanship. But at the end of the day, he didn’t have the guts to stand up to a fellow liberation movement leader.”
But why is any Westerner eager to be an apologist for Mugabe? One word: imperialism. Or, if you prefer, colonialism. In the eyes of certain Western leftists, who subscribe to a political philosophy that sees the West (especially America) as invariably evil and racist, and the rest of the world (especially Africa) as its helpless victims, Mugabe, no matter what horrors he may be guilty of, is still a good guy, a casualty, a hero, an innocent.
Such is the case, apparently, with Toronto newspaper columnist Rick Salutin, who, as Jonathan Kay of the National Post noted a few years back, had slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for, in Salutin’s words,
piling onto Zimbabwe…for its “fraudulent election” and “illegitimacy.” He showed no sense of perspective: that the U.S. held a fraudulent election in 2000, or illegitimately tortures in Guantanamo, and that his own government continues to permit the Americans to practise on Canadian Omar Khadr.
We’ll close with Kay’s highly apropos comment:
Ah yes – “perspective.” Who among us does not remember those pitiful scenes from the 2000 U. S. election, when Republican storm troopers went door-to-door in Florida’s left-leaning counties, burning alive the children and wives of Democratic activists? Or Al Gore’s pitiful concession speech in which he pled (unsuccessfully) for Dick Cheney to spare the lives of DNC election observers being held at South Beach concentration camps?