Robert Malley: “no tyrant too awful to shun”

We’ve seen how President Obama’s new point man on ISIS, Robert Malley, is the son of a viciously anti-Semitic, anti-American friend of Yasir Arafat and is himself a guy who, early in his career, made his name defaming Israel in print while ardently defending Arafat and other terrorists.

Robert Malley

But Malley was just warming up. After Hamas took power in Gaza, he wrote an op-ed in which he defended the terrorist organization and encouraged Western governments to provide it with financial aid. In other articles, he defended Hezbollah and defended Syria’s ties to Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda in Iraq. In still other opinion pieces, he called for the U.S. to engage with Syria, to engage with Hamas, and to engage with the radical Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army in Iraq. All in all, it was a remarkable body of work – adding up to one long, mendacious justification for Islamic terror and tyranny.

Martin Peretz

And it culminated, in 2007, in a job as foreign-policy advisor to a presidential hopeful – Barack Obama. In January 2008, one Obama supporter, New Republic publisher Martin Peretz, felt obliged to address what he described as “spooky rumors that a man named Robert Malley is one of Obama’s advisers, specifically his Middle East adviser.” Peretz noted that “Malley, who has written several deceitful articles in The New York Review of Books, is a rabid hater of Israel. No question about it.” But Peretz insisted that “Malley is not and has never been a Middle East adviser to Barack Obama. Obama’s Middle East adviser is Dan Shapiro.” (We suspect that Peretz was not being duplicitous here, but was, rather, misinformed – presumably by someone in the Obama campaign.)

arafatIn any event, Malley’s job on the Obama team didn’t last long. In May 2008, when Malley admitted to a reporter that he’d had regular contact with Hamas, the Obama campaign, fearful of the wrath of Jewish and other pro-Israel voters, fired him. That the dismissal was pragmatic and not principled was made clear on the day after the 2008 elections, when it was reported that Obama had sent Malley weeks earlier to Egypt and Syria to tell leaders of those countries about the candidate’s Mideast views.

Working on the Iran nuke agreement in Lausanne, Switzerland, March 2015: US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Malley, EU Political Director Helga Schmid

Malley was back on the team. But pro-Israel folks in the U.S. still distrusted him enough that when he was named senior advisor in 2012, Obama felt obliged to promise that Malley wouldn’t be involved in Israeli-Palestinian issues. But that promise faded soon enough: two years later, Malley was promoted to a top job at the NSC; in March 2015, he was put in charge of the NSC’s entire Middle East policy – Israel, of course, included.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

And now he’s Senior Advisor to the President for the Counter-ISIL Campaign in Iraq and Syria. An Israeli blogger reported the news under the headline: “This is not the Onion: Obama appoints Hamas-loving Rob Malley his adviser on ISIS.” Lori Lowenthal Marcus, writing in the Jewish Press, didn’t mince words: “Malley is the kind of new-age negotiator who thinks there is no tyrant too awful to shun – unless, of course, you are talking about Israel – and is always eager to play up the ‘positive’ aspects of genocidal terrorist regimes as the justification for allowing them right there in the tent, seated next to you.” If U.S. policy on ISIS wasn’t already in the hands of useful stooges, it’s certainly in the hands of one now.

A putrid pedigree: Robert Malley

While in Paris with President Obama for the recent climate summit, White House press secretary Josh Earnest slipped a small detail into a briefing: the President, he said, had promoted Robert Malley, the National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, to the position of Senior Advisor to the President for the Counter-ISIL Campaign in Iraq and Syria.

Robert Malley
Robert Malley

Who is Robert Malley? Born in 1963, he’s the son of two fiercely anti-Western, anti-democratic radicals. His mother, American-born Barbara Silverstein Malley, worked for the Algerian FLN’s delegation to the UN. His father, Simon Malley, was an Egyptian Jew, a leader of the Egyptian Communist Party, a friend and confidante of Yasir Arafat, a supporter of various terrorist groups (Algeria’s FLN) and dictators (Nasser, Nkrumah, Touré, Castro), and a rabid enemy of Israel. The family lived in France from 1969 to 1980, at which time Malley’s dad, who was suspected of engaging in clandestine pro-Soviet activities, was ordered to leave the country by then President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

Simon Malley

French Interior Minister Christian Bonnet described some of the elder Malley’s articles as “genuine appeals to murder foreign chiefs of state.” Simon Malley published a magazine, Afrique-Asie, that “supported the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, the Cuban intervention in Angola and Ethiopia, the seizure of American hostages in Iran, the Algerian-backed guerrilla war in southern Morocco, and the Arab opposition to Israel and the Camp David agreements.” The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has offered the following summing-up: “The world in which Robert Malley grew up was one in which Yasir Arafat, Fidel Castro, Leonid Brezhnev and Todor Zhivkov were heroes, any American leader – even Jimmy Carter! – was villainous, and Israeli leaders were veritable demons.”

Malley (in glasses) at Camp David with Clinton, Arafat, and a Palestinian negotiator

Having been marinated in his parents’ extremist views, Robert Malley went to Yale, then Oxford. He attended Harvard Law at the same time as Obama. He then worked in the Clinton administration. Later – often in collaboration with former Arafat lackey Hussein Agha – he wrote a long series of flagrantly dishonest articles about the Middle East. In two 2001 op-eds, he blamed the failure of the previous year’s Camp David summit, in which he had played a key role, on Israel, not the Palestinians. This was a total lie – thoroughly rejected by other summit participants, including Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak – but his privileged position gave that lie legitimacy, and pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli activists were quick to parrot it, giving it a currency that it still enjoys. In later articles Malley heaped praise on Arafat while arguing that Israel was ultimately responsible for Palestinian terror.

But all that was mere prelude. We’ll get around to the really dark stuff tomorrow. 

Whitewashing Venezuela’s communes

We were so stunned by the moral inanity of Nick Miroff‘s recent Washington Post piece on Cuba, which we’ve been dicing and slicing the last couple of days, that we decided to look back through his oeuvre to see if we’d missed anything else that was equally despicable. We hit pay dirt quickly enough, in the form of an article from November 25, 2014, that was headlined – we kid you not – “On Venezuela’s communes, idyllic future is just over the rainbow.”

Happy Venezuelan commune worker. His t-shirt reads: “Chavez, I swear I’ll vote for Maduro.”

The story behind Miroff’s piece is this: the socialists in charge of Venezuela have expropriated private farmlands and used them to form collective farms. Many of the people working on these farms don’t have any background in farming.

Sound familiar? Not, apparently, to Miroff, who managed to hunt down (or was directed by the authorities to?) Ivan Lora, a true believer in the chavista revolution and “lifelong city dweller with no farming experience” who told Miroff he was “turning his weedy hillside into a building block of Venezuelan socialism.”

Nick Miroff

Describing Lora’s commune as part of “a far-reaching government effort to remake Venezuela into a socialist society,” Miroff wrote that the Maduro regime “aims to use communes as the central organizing feature of Venezuelan life, complete with new forms of government, public services, and socialist-minded farms and businesses that spurn the profit motive.” Commune advocates, reported Miroff, seek to make Venezuela “more wholesome and authentically democratic.” Miroff himself had this to say about the policy: “At its best, it inspires poor and once marginalized Venezuelans to work closely with their neighbors and take control of the planning, execution and fiscal oversight of community projects that improve their lives.”

There’s one thing the communes have plenty of: propaganda.

Lots of chavista PR there, of course. As an apparent gesture toward objectivity, Miroff also presented the views of critics who charge “that the communes are evolving into a parallel state that has no basis in Venezuela’s constitution.” He briefly cited complaints about graft and quoted a sociologist who described the communes as “a mechanism for distributing government funds in exchange for political loyalty.” He also acknowledged that this new social structure was marginalizing non-socialists and people uninterested in working at communes.

venezuela_asambleacomunal7But there was no sign in Miroff’s article that he recognized just how thoroughly disturbing a development he was writing about. He didn’t interview anybody whose farm had been seized by the government to be used in this project. He passed without pause or comment right over the word expropriated, as if it were totally kosher for a government to gobble up countless acres of private farmland without due process. He didn’t so much as mention the catastrophic consequences of collective farming under Stalin, which was obviously a model for the chavistas. Why this omission? Could it be possible that Miroff was ignorant of the nightmarish history of collectivism in the Soviet Union? Or did he decide that it would be impolitic to point to the obvious link between this Venezuelan project and Stalin’s?

community.jpg_1718483346Then there was the following very curious statement. One Venezuelan commune, Miroff wrote, was designed to be “a planned central cluster of schools, clinics, workshops and stores whose main currency would be communal solidarity, not greedy profits.” Now, presumably we’re meant to understand that Miroff is just being a stenographer here, conveying the Cuban authorities’ view of their project and not his own. Still, it’s a strange way to write a sentence in what is supposed to be a news article. In any event, whether Miroff is presenting the chavitas’ view or his own, “greedy profits” is just plain terrible writing. 

Carlos Garcia Rawlins

But the most striking thing of all about Miroff’s article was that it appeared three months after Reuters issued a terrific, detailed exposé of the whole racket. Venezuelan stringer Carlos Garcia Rawlins’s article described the commune system as having “lax financial controls” and concluded that “exactly how much money passes through this system, who gets it and how it’s used are largely a mystery.” Citing charges that Venezuelan authorities are “using the system to finance its base while bypassing opposition mayors,” he noted that during the previous three years the federal government had given more money to the communes than to the country’s municipal governments. He did real reporting, crunched numbers, provided ample, vivid evidence of official malfeasance. And what did Miroff do, when he came along three months later and wrote about the same time? He didn’t so much as mention Garcia Rawlins’ findings – because he was too busy transcribing chavista PR.

The Washington Post, folks! The Washington Post!

Nick Miroff and the charms of totalitarianism

A Cuban national flag is seen painted on a shack in Alamar, a large public housing complex in the Eastern Havana, Cuba, 5 February 2009.
Alamar, Havana

There are run-of-the-mill fools in American journalism, and then there are major-league idiots like Nick Miroff. Yesterday we quoted him fretting in the Washington Post about the new phenomenon of “yawning income gaps” in Cuba – meaning that some people there are actually starting to rise out of poverty.

Alamar: another view

But there was a lot more fatuity on offer in Miroff’s 2,000-word tribute to the shabby Havana neighborhood of Alamar. Here he is giving us a glimpse of local color:

“Men Die, But the Party Is Immortal,” says a billboard in Alamar, trying to reassure residents who may wonder what will happen after Fidel, 89, and current President Raúl Castro, 84, are no longer around.

Reassure residents? How does a man get to be a Washington Post reporter without being able to recognize propaganda and call it by its real name? We’re talking about a country where people still can’t watch TV from abroad, can’t read the Washington Post or any other Western newspapers, can’t go online without going to a special Internet cafe and paying a hefty fee. But everywhere they turn, there’s a giant hoarding telling them how wonderful the Communist Party is.

Nick Miroff

Miroff went on to hail Cuba’s “social and economic parity” as “unusual” for Latin America, “a region beset by deep class divisions.” He offered the usual starry-eyed left-wing praise for the island prison’s welfare system. Not until three-quarters of the way through his nauseating paean to poverty and despotism did he finally acknowledge – kind of – that what he was writing about here was a community, and a country, living in sadness and squalor: “a collective exhaustion has set in, the toll of steady emigration, corruption large and small, and the knowledge, from the impossible-to-filter influences of globalization, that Cubans live better in almost any other country than their own.”

More of Alamar…

But, hey, don’t get Miroff wrong here: for him, the problem isn’t that Cuba’s political and economic system has failed the Cuban people; the problem is that a younger generation of Cubans have failed their country’s system. Meaning what? Meaning that they lack the revolutionary fervor, the selfless love for and confidence in their leaders, the bottomless devotion to the cause that (Miroff would have us believe) gave meaning to their grandparents’ lives. After telling us about Aldo, an octogenarian resident of Alamar who, back in the early Castro days, was a photographer for the Communist Party newspaper Granma, and who still “keeps thick manila envelopes of old photos that tell the story of a life in the service of Cuba’s socialist dream,” Miroff lamented that the

…and more…

egalitarian ideals of that era are lost today on Aldo’s grandson, Alejandro, 28. He has an American flag in his bedroom but little else. Trained as a veterinary technician, he was laid off during Raúl Castro’s campaign to downsize the state bureaucracy. Sometimes he drives a taxi. His mother says he is desperate to leave.

“He says to me, “I don’t want to turn 50 in this country with no car and no house of my own,’” Olga Mederos said.

…and more…

Miroff closed with a vignette of Aldo and his photo collection:

“When I show these to my grandson, he says, ‘What good did it do? Look at you now. You’ve got nothing,’ ” Aldo said.

He shuffled the image to the bottom of the pile, looking away. “Maybe it’s true,” he said. “Maybe he’s right.”

And so ended the article. Miroff was clearly going for pathos, for poignancy. He wanted us to feel sad about the fading of the beautiful “socialist dream,” the loss of those magnificent “egalitarian ideals.” For him, one gathers, that American flag in Alejandro’s bedroom is, above all, a symbol of a generation whose members have selfishly turned their backs on the golden revolution for which their grandparents sacrificed so much and given itself over, heart and soul, to the Evil Empire across the Straits of Florida. 

…and more…

Miroff made no mention, naturally, of the many members of Aldo’s generation who, without a trial or lawyer or any hint of due process, were thrown in prison cells, or lined up against walls and shot, for no other crime than being anti-Communists, writers, homosexuals, whatever.

Any American reporter with half a brain, with even a crumb of a moral sense, would have started his article with that flag in Alejandro’s bedroom, and would have found its presence there deeply stirring. He would’ve recognized that flag as a symbol of young Cubans’ hopes for a free and prosperous future, and would’ve been touched and humbled to realize that his own country’s flag, and his own country’s liberties, could serve as an inspiration to a young man living in one of the world’s last totalitarian nations.

…and more.

But no. Miroff, in Alejandro’s bedroom, was incapable of seeing what was right in front of him for what it was: the spectacle of a young man born into slavery and yearning for freedom. Miroff, alas, would seem to be all but blind to freedom. It’s barely, if at all, on his radar. All he can see is economic equality or inequality.

It’s disturbing to witness this virtual blindness to freedom in anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience it. But it’s especially scary to see it in a man who’s employed as a journalist by the leading newspaper in the capital of what some of us still think of as the free world.    

Hey, Washington Post: your man in Havana is an idiot

In recent months, we’ve seen Time Magazine, or what’s left of it, celebrating the charm and quaintness of poverty in Cuba and worrying that the opening up of relations with the U.S. will bring increasing economic opportunity and with it – gasp! – that dreaded phenomenon known as income inequality. Meaning that at least some people will no longer be dirt poor.

Alamar, 2012

On December 29, the Washington Post joined in the wailing. The focus of Nick Miroff‘s 2000-word piece was on Havana’s Alamar neighborhood, a public-housing project that’s home to some 100,000 people. Miroff made a point of the fact that the buildings are all covered with mildew. To Miroff, the mildew was plainly a feature, not a bug. For the message he wanted to get across was that this slum, this eyesore, is in fact a wonderful place, because it “is arguably Cuba’s most equal place,” where “everyone pretty much has an identical apartment.” And identical mildew. 

Another view of Alamar

Miroff quoted a septuagenarian bus driver who fondly recalled helping to build what the old man called a “model city.” “We had everything then,” the busman maintained. “Everyone looked after each other.” In other words, they were rich – not in money, but in Communist solidarity. They were dreaming the dream.

No more. Today, Miroff lamented, “ideological foundations are cracking, and new uncertainties are coming — perhaps none larger than whether the egalitarian values of Castro’s revolution will be swept away by rising inequalities and the breakdown of Cuba’s socialist welfare state.”

Nick Miroff

Let’s pause for a moment over that last line: “the egalitarian values of Castro’s revolution. Note that Miroff wasn’t quoting or paraphrasing somebody here; he was, in his role as a reporter for the Washington Post (not The Nation or The Daily Worker), presenting as an objective fact the notion that Castro’s revolution was, and is, characterized by “egalitarian values.”

Yet another view of Alamar…

Granted, with the obvious exception of the Castro family and perhaps a few people in their immediate circle, pretty much all Cubans are equal in a number of ways. For one thing, they’re all unfree. They’re all living in a totalitarian state. They’re all prohibited from leaving. They’re all in danger of being imprisoned if they criticize the government. In these ways, yes, they’re all equal. Somehow, in Miroff’s mind, all this oppression adds up to something that deserves to be described with the word “values.” Because, you see, everybody’s oppressed. Well, hurrah. 

…and another…

Of course, the main kind of equality Miroff is concerned with is economic equality. Are Cubans really economically equal? Yes, because most of them are dirt-poor. Zero is equal to zero. Then again, a not inconsiderable number of Cubans – namely, those who have positions of power in the government, those who are preachers and enforcers of all that wonderful equality, if not (as in the case of the Castros themselves) living symbols of it are markedly better off than most of their countrymen. A few are even prosperous by Western standards. And, again, when you get up to the top level, to the Castro clan and a very few others, you’re looking at people who, by any measure, are downright rich.

A young Cuban man rides a bicycle in front of the huge apartment blocks in Alamar, a public housing periphery of Havana, Cuba, 9 February 2011. The Cuban economic transformation (after the revolution in 1959) has changed the housing status in Cuba from a consumer commodity into a social right. In 1970s, to overcome the serious housing shortage, the Cuban state took over the Soviet Union concept of social housing. Using prefabricated panel factories, donated to Cuba by Soviets, huge public housing complexes have risen in the outskirts of Cuban towns. Although these mass housing settlements provided habitation to many families, they often lack infrastructure, culture, shops, services and well-maintained public spaces. Many local residents have no feeling of belonging and inspite of living on a tropical island, they claim to be “living in Siberia”.
…and another…

But fine, let’s forget for the time being about those privileged few and focus instead on the penniless majority. These are, after all, the people whom Miroff was really writing about. And what Miroff was lamenting here, quite plainly, was that, half a century into the revolution, some of these desperately poor people are finally starting to climb up out of poverty – not because Communism has at last proven to work as an economic system, but because, on at least a small scale, the state is introducing free-market reforms.

…and another…

Most rational people, most decent people who actually cared about the well-being of others, would view this sort of change as positive. Terrifically positive. Not Miroff. “Communist Party elders,” he wrote, “want to keep a lid on market forces, but with every incremental opening, yawning income gaps emerge.”

Yawning income gaps! The horror! If Miroff didn’t agree with those Party bosses, he would never use such a ridiculous term. And note that term “elders.” Whom was Miroff referring to here? He was referring to a bunch of thugs who never were elected to anything by anybody, but who have run Castro’s island prison for decades, keeping a lid not just on market forces but on freedom in all its forms.

…and, finally, this.

“Younger Cubans do not seem too troubled” by these new developments, Miroff admitted. No kidding! Could it be that many of these younger Cubans not only are not “too troubled” by the yawning income gaps, but that they in fact look upon the new spark of economic development in their grim, shabby, garbage-strewn rusted hulk of a country with something that might actually be described as hope? Is it possible that they don’t love being poor as much as slumming American visitors like Miroff enjoy the spectacle of them being poor? The idea seemed alien to Miroff, who was busy wringing his hands, plainly sharing the “fear” of Cuban “authorities” that “these disparities” – that is, the yawning income gaps – “bear the seeds of social tensions, resentments and crime.”

We’re not done with Miroff. More tomorrow.

Meet Venezuela’s Paris Hilton

María Gabriela Chávez and Nicolás Maduro

We’ve spent this week pondering the possible repercussions of the December 6 parliamentary elections in Venezuela, in which pro-freedom candidates triumphed over the corrupt chavista hacks who’ve spent the last sixteen years picking the people’s pockets, destroying their economy, and maiming their liberties. We’ve also been discussing the reasons why sensible Venezuelans voted down chavismo, after all these years of wall-to-wall socialist propaganda. Those reasons, perhaps, were best summed up best in an August news article in Diario Las Américas, which is published in Miami. Under the headline “María Gabriela Chávez may be the richest woman in Venezuela,” the newspaper reported that Ms. Chávez – the daughter of the country’s late President Hugo Chávez, founder and household god of chavismo, who famously preached to his subjects that “being rich is bad” – has a fortune that amounts to something upwards of four billion dollars and that is held in banks in the U.S. and Andorra.

Lorenzo Mendoza

This makes her even richer than Gustavo Cisneros, who is worth 3.6 billion dollars and whom Forbes counts as the richest person in Venezuela. And it makes her lots, lots richer than Lorenzo Mendoza, CEO of Venezuela’s largest privately owned company, Empresas Polar, whom chavistas were taught to demonize as “the great oligarch.”

Is it necessary to underscore that María Gabriela, unlike Mendoza, hasn’t done anything to earn that kind of money? The Atlantic has described her as a “socialist socialite, bon vivant, Pomeranian enthusiast, and occasional Instagram troll,” none of which occupations are known to pay particularly well. The Venezuelan media have frequently compared her to Paris Hilton. At times during her father’s tenure, he said things that made it seem she might end up being his chosen successor. Perhaps his death – in early 2013 – came too quickly for him to make the necessary arrangements. In any event, after he died, she continued to live in the presidential palace, paying occasional visits to the likes of Fidel Castro and Cristina Kirchner. In 2014, an opposition congressman complained that she, along with the other daughters of Chávez’s and of his successor, Nicolás Maduro, were costing taxpayers $3.6 million a day. Then, in August 2014, Maduro named her alternate ambassador to the United Nations.

Hugo Chávez

The UN appointment, noted The Atlantic, was “roundly condemned by the national opposition—and even some Chavistas—as ludicrous and gallingly nepotistic,” given that María Gabriela had flunked or quit the international-affairs program at Venezuela’s Central University, and, despite later receiving a journalism degree, has never practiced that profession or, apparently, any other. Noting that María Gabriela has been accused of making illegal profits off of overpriced food imports, among other things, the Atlantic suggested that her UN job might be “a way of getting her out of the public eye, while simultaneously justifying state expenditures for her upkeep and possibly granting her either diplomatic or parliamentary immunity should it ever be required.” It might even be a first step toward the presidency.

A selfie shared by María Gabriela Chávez on social media

Whatever. The important fact here is that María Gabriela – daughter of an international hero of socialism who impoverished his people while vilifying men and women who got rich (and created wealth) through honest hard work – is herself a multibillionaire, thanks obviously to massive plundering of her nation’s treasury. Is there any hope that this revelation will temper the enthusiasm of countless stooges around the world for the so-called accomplishments of Hugo Chávez? Almost surely not. Such fandom, alas, has nothing whatsoever to do with reality and everything to do with utopian ideology and the empty slogans that go with it.

Mr. Wrist Watch, and other chavista absurdities

Yesterday we became reacquainted with longtime chavista Rafael Ramírez, currently Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations and the subject of a multifaceted corruption probe by U.S. authorities who are looking into his activities as ten-year head of the PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil entity. 

Rafael Ramírez

The Wall Street Journal, in an extensive October article, served up some of the goods on him. Back when he was in charge of PDVSA, according to one insider, Ramírez “ran the company like a family business.” The Journal served up an anecdote: the directors of a Spanish construction company arrived at the presidential suite of a Caracas hotel to talk with Ramírez, with whom they’d agreed to discuss their possible involvement in a $1.5 billion government project. Instead of meeting Ramírez, however, they were received by Ramírez’s cousin, Diego Salazar, who told them that they’d “have to pay at least $150 million in kickbacks to be in the running” for the contract. If they weren’t prepared to pony up that sum pronto, said Salazar, they were welcome to return immediately to the airport and fly back to Spain.

(They said no, by the way.)

Salazar, too, as it happens, is now under U.S. investigation. We’ve met him before on this site, and have noted that – thanks to his well-placed cousin – he “went in a trice from being a lowly insurance salesman to being one of the richest men in the country, owning a private plane, a private orchestra of some 100 musicians, ‘almost all the apartments’ in a Caracas luxury complex, and much else.” The Wall Street Journal‘s October report added some more colorful details:

Diego Salazar

People close to Mr. Salazar say he enjoyed a life of private jets and sumptuous meals in the company of beauty pageant contestants. He was known to lead his own private orchestra, singing romantic ballads in concerts attended by friends and employees, these people say.

He loves to flaunt his money in people’s faces,” says the former top Venezuelan government official who knows Messrs. Salazar and Ramírez.

In the car-clogged streets of Caracas where traffic often slows to a crawl, Mr. Salazar drives a Ferrari—followed by an SUV full of bodyguards. He is so obsessed with expensive watches, friends say, that he sometimes hands out new Rolexes to people who attend his parties after first ceremonially grinding their old watches into scrap in a mortar and pestle he keeps handy.

In transcripts of conversations taped by Spanish police, Mr. Salazar’s acquaintances refer to him as “el Señor de los Relojes,” or “Mr. Wrist Watch.”

bancaAbout that U.S. probe: among the institutions that figure in it is Banca Privada d’ Andorra (BPA), a bank in the tiny principality of Andorra, which was used by Ramírez, Salazar, and other corrupt chavistas to launder over $4 billion in dirty money, about half of it from PDVSA. The findings of the U.S. investigators led to the bank’s seizure by Spanish and Andorran authorities; Spain, too, is now looking into the hijinks of Messrs. Ramírez and Salazar. Documents reportedly show that “Salazar received hundreds of millions of dollars in his accounts in Andorra from firms, many of them shell companies in Panama, Belize and the British Virgin Islands,” and that he “gave Venezuelan police an $80,000 bribe to ignore suspicious transactions.”

It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out now that the Venezuelan parliament is finally in the hands of the democratic opposition.

Faces of chavista corruption

Leopoldo López in his prison cell

In late December, answering questions sent to him by the newspaper El Nacional, the popular, articulate Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López – who’s been in prison since February 2014 for the crime of being, well, a popular, articulate opposition leader – said that the next priority, after the seating of the pro-market, anti-chavista parliament that was elected on November 6, has to be the ousting of the country’s dictatorial honcho Nicolás Maduro.

López at an anti-government protest before his imprisonment

Maduro’s term doesn’t end until 2019, but López, who was sentenced to a 14-year term and who’s expected to be released by the new parliament (which went into session yesterday) over a promised presidential veto, insisted that some legal way must be found to remove Maduro from office, so that Venezuelan citizens could regain control of their national institutions. “Today,” said López, “the unconstitutionally appointed Supreme Court continues to be hijacked.The Attorney General protects the powerful and in Venezuela the victims who dare to complain are the ones who end up imprisoned.”

Alejandro Andrade

It will be interesting to see whether the opposition actually does try to unseat Maduro when it gains control of the legislature. In any case, the president’s opponents already have announced a lengthy agenda, which addresses many of the issues – and useful stooges – we’ve discussed previously on this site. Among their proposals: improvements in legislation that would make possible the repatriation of taxpayer funds stolen by corrupt politicians and their cronies. The corrupt politicians include three pre-Chávez presidents, Luis Herrera Campins, Carlos Andrés Pérez, and Jaime Ramón Lusinchi. Among the chavista crooks they hope to target is Alejandro Andrade, aptly described as “the most emblematic figure of corruption” because of his “accumulation and ostentatious display of a five-billion-dollar fortune.” As we explained last May, Andrade got rich the old-fashioned way: back when he and Chavez were kids, Chávez inadvertently blinded him in one eye during a game of “chapitas”; later, when Chávez became the great caudillo, he installed Andrade in a series of jobs – ultimately head of the national treasury – that enabled him to steal epic amounts of cash by means of a variety of ingenious schemes.

Rafael Ramírez

And let’s not forget Rafael Ramírez, the Chávez crony (and, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “soft-spoken son of a Marxist guerrilla”) who last year served briefly as Venezuela’s Foreign Minister. Before that he spent ten years (2004-2014) running the government-owned oil firm, PDVSA, where he commanded his underlings “to vote for Chávez or else” and tweaked the nation’s already corrupt oil racket in such a way as to make it, in the words of one obsever, “rotten to the core.” As we’ve noted, he “ultimately achieved the impossible: bankrupting the state oil firm of one of the world’s leading oil powers.”

Ramírez at the UN

Where is he now? Since December 2014 he’s been Venezuela’s man at the UN. In October he reacted with outraged to news of “a series of wide-ranging investigations” by American authorities into his tenure at PDVSA, the idea being to try to find out whether he and various amigos “used PDVSA to loot billions of dollars through kickbacks and other schemes” and “whether PDVSA and its foreign accounts were used for other illegal purposes, including black-market currency schemes and laundering drug money.” It’s an open secret that corruption is hardly a strong enough word to describe what Ramírez was up to at PDVSA, but Ramírez dutifully pulled off the outraged-innocent act, calling the U.S. probe “slander…a mass of lies and manipulation” and (of course) “part of a campaign…against our country, our government and our revolution.”

Friend of the Revolution

Yesterday we began revisiting some of the useful stooges of Venezuela in the wake of that country’s promising November 6 parliamentary elections – as a result of which a national legislature with a pro-freedom, anti-chavista majority will begin serving today. 

Eric Draitser

In December, American political commentator Eric Draitser – the logo of whose website,, juxtaposes the flags of Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union with those of the U.S. and U.K. – reassured his fellow fans of chavismo, who had naturally been unsettled by the Venezuelan vote, that the Bolivarian Revolution “is not a revolution that can be undone with one election, nor can it be simply legislated out of existence.”

Putin on RT

On the contrary, wrote Draitser (a frequent contributor to Putin’s English-language TV channel, Russia Today), “the Revolution will survive. It will be resurgent. It will be reborn thanks to the commitment of millions of dedicated Chavistas.” This conviction on his part, Draitser explained, was “born of experience in Venezuela, one that is informed by dozens of conversations with activists and organizers whose words of love and dedication to the revolution are matched only by their actions to build it.”

Hugo Chávez and friend

Like any good chavista, foreign or domestic, Draitser was quick to shift the focus away from the country’s incompetent, crooked Marxist managers to the Evil Empire to the north – representing the U.S. as a threat to Venezuelan independence, prosperity, and stability and depicting the Bolivarian Revolution as a gutsy thumb in the eye to Uncle Sam on behalf of all Latin Americans, all oppressed peoples, and all victims of the evils of capitalism. If Venezuelan voters rejected Maduro’s party, maintained Draitser, it wasn’t because they were fed up with the sour fruits of its knavish, criminal stewardship, but because of anti-government propaganda that could be traced directly to U.S. support for Venezuela’s “right-wing media.” He might more aptly have said “independent media” or “free media,” thereby to draw a proper distinction between real journalists and the hacks who work for Maduro’s propaganda outlets.

Hugo with Fidel

“The right-wing media in the country ,” charged Draitser, “has done everything in its power to undermine the government.” In other words, they’ve reported honestly on the ruling party’s activities and provided a forum to members of the political opposition. In the mind of a dyed-in-the-wool chavista ideologue, such fidelity to the tenets of objective journalism is tantamount to betrayal of the Revolution. (There’s a reason why the chavistas look up to Castro’s Cuba, where there are no independent media, and where Internet access by ordinary subjects continues to be profoundly restricted.)

Nicolás Maduro

As for the economic devastation that has been Venezuela’s fate under Chávez‘s and Maduro’s destructive socialist policies, Draitser doesn’t try to deny the problems; instead, again following standard practice, he attributes them largely to “economic sabotage” by the regime’s opponents and their “patrons in Miami and Washington.” He sums up his ridiculous position as follows: “This is certainly not to absolve the government of all blame, but rather to point out that Venezuela and its Revolution have been directly targeted by the forces of the Empire…the U.S. and its proxies have done everything in their power to destroy the Bolivarian process.”

If only! The good news is that, with any luck, “the Bolivarian process” is on the way out. And when it dies, the diagnosis won’t be murder but suicide. Tomorrow, more on those chavistas who, whle feathering their own beds, have helped hasten their own system’s end.  

Chavismo in winter

Nicolas Maduro wife Cilia Flores
Nicolás Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores

As we’ve discussed recently, the people of Venezuela, after years of disastrous chavista socialism – which sent the country’s democracy, economy, and public order into a tailspin – finally said “¡Basta!” on November 6 and, by a resounding margin, voted in an opposition-majority parliament. (“This time,” noted one observer, Harper’s writer Henry Miller, popular discontent was so great, that no amount of ballot box stuffing was going to give [the ruling party] a victory.”) The new parliament will be seated tomorrow.

Hugo Chávez

The reprehensible Maduro, who inherited the mantle of chavismo from its founder, the late Hugo Chávez, has none of his predecessor’s personal magnetism but is every bit as much a corrupt gangster, an enemy of freedom, and an economic illiterate. Facing the election of an unfriendly parliament, he was anything but subtle: “I swear,” he declared publicly, “that while I am alive, and under no circumstances would I surrender our revolution. Let’s be prepared for blood and massacre, and to defend our homeland and to win no matter how, and no matter at what cost.”

Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López

Prior to the election, Maduro vowed that in case of a loss by his party, he would “govern with the people in a civilian-military alliance – in other words, set aside the election results and use the armed forces to maintain his grip on power. Later, he made the same promise in somewhat different words, saying that if the vote didn’t go his way, “We would defend the revolution. We wouldn’t surrender and the revolution would move into a new phase.”

Note the remarkable Orwellian language, which is fully worthy of Stalin: Maduro would “govern with the people” by ignoring the results of a vote by the people. The revolution would enter “a new phase” – in the same way that Poland entered “a new phase” in September 1939 when the Wehrmacht and Red Army brutally divvied it up, and in the same way that Czechoslovakia entered “a new phase” in August 1968 when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. Fortunately, Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López and his fellow military leaders proved to be more devoted to democracy than Maduro is, refusing to back up his threat and promising to ensure that the will of the electorate would be respected.

Diosdado Cabello

Not that Maduro has given up. One of his schemes for hanging on to power has been implemented by his steadfast flunky Diosdado (“The Godfather”) Cabello, president of the National Assembly (where, as we’ve seen, he ordered the beating of opposition leaders), drug-trafficking kingpin, and honcho of the paramilitary “Bolivarian Circles.” Cabello, on Maduro’s orders, put together a new, extra-constitutional government body – a so-called “communal parliament” to which Maduro plans to try to transfer power from the real parliament. The “communal parliament” has already been installed in the building where the National Assembly has traditionally met.

Juan García Toussaint

Cabello has a long track record as a exceedingly loyal henchman for Chávez and, now, Maduro. When Padrino made it clear that he wouldn’t back up Maduro’s efforts to give the voters the finger, Cabello threatened to remove him from his cabinet post and launch an investigation of his conduct in office – which, in chavista country, amounts to a less than subtle threat to throw Padrino in the clink –and to replace him with Juan García Toussaint, a pal of his who’s also apparently involved in the narcotics biz. Fortunately, the military stood solidly behind Padrino, obliging Maduro and his lackey to back off.

On December 23, the lame-duck chavista majority in the National Assembly pushed through 13 new appointments to Venezuela’s highest court, ensuring, in the words of the Washington Post, “that no other justices are seated for years to come.” Some Maduro-ites are hoping to get this newly packed court to rule the opposition’s election victory invalid. In a December 23 editorial, the Washington Post warned that Maduro’s and Cabello’s underhanded shenanigans could lead to further violence in Venezuela.

But Cabello’s only the first of several useful Venezuelan stooges we need to catch up on in the wake of the November 6 elections. Tune in tomorrow for another serving of pond scum, chavista style.