The Avakian cult invades UCLA

UCLA

As if America’s colleges – especially those in the University of California system – weren’t already in the grip of far-left political ideas, members of the Revolutionary Communist Party of America targeted UCLA earlier this month with an aggressive recruiting campaign. As Arik Schneider reported at Campus Reform, they descended upon the campus dorms, where they “set up signs, handed out flyers, and wrote out chalk markings.” They ignored orders to cease and desist, staying at the dorms for hours spreading their call for “an actual overthrow of the system” through an armed “proletarian revolution” and replacement of the current government a “New Socialist Republic of North America.”

Bob Avakian

Of course if you’re a regular reader of this site you know who would be in charge of that “socialist republic”: Bob Avakian, who, as we’ve seen, started his career as a Stalin- and Mao-loving community organizer in northern California, where he tried to win workers over to Communism. In 1968, he and some pals founded the Revolutionary Union, which a few years later, under his sole leadership, became the RCP. Avakian is the real deal: visiting China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, when millions were being executed by the state for the crime of ideological impurity, he pronounced it “wondrous”; in the decades since Mao’s death, Avakian and his party have persistently proclaimed Mao’s – and Stalin’s – greatness and, bemoaning the collapse of the Soviet Union and the watering-down of Chinese Communism, have declared that they, the RCP, are Communism’s true torch-bearers, and that Bob himself is Stalin’s and Mao’s natural heir.

Ed Asner

If it sounds like a creepy personality cult, that’s because it is. RCP members are typically worshipers at Bob’s throne, proclaiming the urgency of armed insurrection one minute and the greatness of Avakian the next. Yet Bob isn’t just some marginal clown who has given a bunch of losers somebody to look up to and persuaded them to spend their time barging onto college campuses and handing out his flyers. He has friends and admirers whose names you know. A couple of years ago, when he placed an ad in major newspapers protesting Trump’s “Fascist America,” the signatories included actors Ed Asner and Debra Messing, comic Margaret Cho, playwright Eve Ensler, director John Landis, and novelist Alice Walker. Cornel West is a buddy of Bob’s, and Michael Eric Dyson is a fan.

Avakian with Cornel West

How did the recruiting effort at UCLA go? The good news is that even many left-leaning students at UCLA, including some for whom Marxism is an attractive concept, recognize RCP for what it is and want nothing to do with it. “I’m a Democrat and I absolutely cannot stand the Trump/Pence administration but these people are out of their minds!” a sophomore biochem major, Jenai Blazina, told Schneider. But she added, rather unsettlingly: “I want to think they’re harmless fools but they keep recruiting more and more people.” One wonders how many new members the RCP found at UCLA. Never underestimate the degree to which ideas that seem to you insane and extreme can gain the allegiance of people whom you think of as intelligent and sensible. Today’s laughable crackpot can be tomorrow’s dictator.

Applauding Brunei

Sultan of Brunei

Now that the government of Brunei has fully implemented sharia law in regard to gays and adulterers – meaning that those found guilty of these violations of Islam will henceforth be stoned to death – politicians, celebrities, and commentators around the world have been unhesitant in their expressions of outrage. People like Ellen Degeneres, George Clooney, and Elton John have called for boycotts of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Dorchester in London, the Plaza Athenee in Paris, and other the posh hostelries that the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, owns in the U.S. and Europe; Deutsche Bank has banned its employees from staying at the hotels, and the Financial Times and other firms have cancelled events scheduled to take place in them. Ads for holidays in Brunei have been pulled from London buses; Virgin Australia terminated a deal with Royal Brunei Airlines, the state-owned carrier, as has at least one major travel agency; Western universities that have awarded honorary degrees to the Sultan (who also serves as his nation’s prime minister, defense minister, finance minister, and foreign minister) have said that they are reviewing those honors.

Interior, Dorchester Hotel

Yet this fury over the Sultan’s action is not universal. Residents of Brunei interviewed by the Agence France-Presse gave it a thumbs-up. “I’m proud, because implementing the law feels like it solidifies the Islamic identity of Brunei,” said Muhammad Antoni, a 27-year-old worker. Haziah Zainal, a 36-year-old civil servant, said that famous people calling for boycotts should mind their own business. “These actions seem ignorant,” said Zainal, “as they have not even been here to experience what it’s like.” While everyone is focusing on Brunei, homosexuality is a capital offense in at least ten other Muslim countries, although in Yemen the punishment is applicable only to married men and in Qatar only to married Muslims. One of the countries in question is Saudi Arabia, but this has not prevented companies like Uber, Lyft, Twitter, and Snapchat from accepting Saudi investment or universities like MIT, funded by Saudi money. Polls have shown that close to half of Muslims in Britain would like to see sharia law introduced in that country, but when UKIP head Gerard Batten said on LBC the other day that many British Muslims do indeed hold anti-democratic views, his interviewer called this a grotesque exaggeration and branded Batten a far-right bigot for even suggesting such a thing.

Daniel Haqiqatjou

Among those celebrating Brunei’s tough new laws was Daniel Haqiqatjou, a Harvard-educated American Muslim who, in a March 30 article, praised the Sultan for “implementing hudud [punishments dictated by sharia law] to crack down on sodomites and fornicators!” Haqiqatjou explained his enthusiasm as follows: “Allah created human beings in a certain way. Our bodies and minds are created in a certain way and only certain types of relationships allow human beings to flourish in this world and the next, while other types of behaviors lead to destruction and widespread suffering.” Taking note of the organized effort to persuade people not to stay at Brunei-owned hotels, Haqiqatjou wrote: “I think Muslims need to counteract any boycott by making Brunei their next vacation destination spot. Maybe some of these expensive spiritual tourism tours…can make Brunei the next go-to site, maybe attend a caning or two so Western Muslims can experience first hand what implementing hudud actually means.” If Haqiqatjou were some rara avis, of course, his views wouldn’t be worth heeding. The alarming fact, however, is that his number is legion.

No, Cuba is not getting better

Fidel Castro

One country we haven’t neglected on this site is Cuba. We’ve written about American TV reporter Lisa Howard’s romance with Fidel Castro, about Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s plans to make a movie about their liaison, about the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s affection for Fidel Castro, about a celebration of Che Guevara in Norwegian Air’s inflight magazine, about a big, splashy fashion show held by Karl Lagerfeld in Havana, about a movie about Hemingway that whitewashed Cuban Communism, about a USA Today whitewash of Cuban Communism, about an Agence France Press whitewash of Cuban Communism, about a Time Magazine whitewash of Cuban Communism…and so on.

Obama in Havana

If we’re particularly attentive to Cuba, it’s partly because it’s so close to the U.S. and partly because its Communist regime has long been an object of affection for many stateside useful stooges. Many people on the left who would readily acknowledge that the Soviet Union and Mao’s China were unworthy of admiration nonetheless had a soft spot for Castro and his cronies. These same people warmed to one of the major initiatives of Barack Obama’s presidency, the opening to Cuba, which they presented as evidence that the island nation was transitioning, slowly but surely, to something resembling democracy.

Jose Marti International Airport in Havana

Obama may have reneged on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, but he made a great show of opening the first U.S. Embassy in Havana since the Cuban Revolution. He authorized the resumption of commercial air flights, holiday cruises, and mail service between the U.S. and Cuba. He allowed the Cuban government to open bank accounts in the U.S. and removed it from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism. And in March 2016 he made a high-profile visit to the island.

U.S. Embassy in Havana

At first Obama had said he would make such a visit only if there were real signs that Cubans were being given more freedom. But he ended up going even though such indicators as the number of arrests of political dissidents turned out to be on the rise. A Boston Globe headline in February 2016 read “Obama Breaks Pledge – Will Visit Cuba Despite Worsening Human Rights.” His Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, even went so far as to dispel suggestions that Obama was out to encourage an end to, or softening of, Cuban Communism: if past U.S. policies had sent the message “that the United States was seeking to pursue regime change” on the island, said Rhodes, “Obama will make clear that the United States is not a hostile nation seeking regime change.” Well, full points for honesty, if for nothing else.

Ben Rhodes

In point of fact, Obama’s Cuba policy gave a great deal to the Cuban regime and asked virtually nothing of it. U.S. officials admitted that the thinking behind Obama’s one-way generosity was that it would somehow encourage reforms – an assumption that was, at best, remarkably naïve and ill-informed. Among the critics of Obama’s new approach was Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who in a passionate speech on the floor of the Senate said that the sight of the U.S. President “laughing and shaking hands with the only dictatorship in the western Hemisphere” made him think of Cuban dissident “Berta Soler of the Ladies in White and her fellow human rights and democracy advocates.”

Elliott Abrams

Elliott Abrams, who has held major diplomatic posts under several presidents, agreed with Menendez, writing that Obama’s visit to Cuba “weakens the chances for freedom in Cuba because it is organized around encouraging the current regime rather than pressuring it for change.” Abrams added: “There is no evidence that the president will meet with the key–and incredibly courageous–dissidents who struggle at enormous sacrifice for freedom in Cuba. There is no evidence he even comprehends that most of the economic benefits of his opening to Cuba are accruing to the regime and the armed forces.”

Miguel Diaz-Canel

President Trump reversed many of Obama’s Cuba policies – and was criticized severely for it by those who shared Obama’s view that the way to make dictators nice is to make nice with dictators. Unfortunately, many blinkered folks in the U.S. and elsewhere actually believe that Cuba is undergoing serious reforms. As evidence of this proposition, they point to the selection of a new Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, in April of last year. The fact that Díaz-Canel is not a member of the Castro family is cited as a sign of hope – although the fact is that Raul Castro remains head of the Communist Party and thus the nation’s de facto leader.

Diaz-Canel with Maduro

In reality Díaz-Canel’s ascent to the presidency means nothing. The first foreign leader he met with after his inauguration was Nicolás Maduro. On February 4 the Madrid-based Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (COHR) reported that at least 179 arbitrary detentions had taken place in Cuba during the month of January. While the already horrible economic situation in Cuba is deteriorating, oppression is intensifying. A new Constitution – which is presented by the government as some kind of advance over its predecessor but which makes only cosmetic alterations while reaffirming the Communist system of government – has been a focus of protest, and the COHR expressed concern in its report “about the increasing aggressiveness of the police against activists who peacefully demonstrate NO to the Constitution” and about the more general effort to “crush any dissent surrounding the new Constitution.”

More dire news arrived on February 10. Cuban activists announced on social media that Claudio Fuentes Madan, a photographer and campaigner for freedom in Cuba, had been missing for two days. One report stated that he had been arrested. Also missing was Antonio G. Rodiles, founder of a dissident think tank. So much for the callow belief on the part of Obama & co. that their Cuban counterparts were committed to gradual democratization.

Communism’s great, if you’re a Castro

Havana

Earlier this month, the world was reminded that even though Communism is a great way to destroy an economy and to impoverish a nation’s inhabitants, there are always a few people who live luxuriously under the system: namely, the rulers, their cronies, and their families.

Tony Castro, who is a grandson of Fidel Castro, is on Instagram, where he has about 1300 followers. Until recently, ordinary citizens of Cuba weren’t allowed Internet access at all. But those rules don’t apply, of course, to members of the ruling dynasty.

Tony Castro at sea

Recently, the Miami Herald and other south Florida media published some photographs that young Tony (he’s reportedly in his twenties) has posted on his Instagram account. One of them shows Tony sunbathing on a yacht. Of course, ordinary Cubans can’t afford yachts – and if they boarded one, they’d be arrested pronto because the assumption would be that they were about to escape the island prison set up by Tony’s grandfather sixty years ago.

Another of Tony’s Instagram snaps showed him celebrating the birthday of an uncle at what looks like a pretty swanky bistro. He and his uncle raise a toast with champagne glasses. We’re talking here, of course, about the princeling of a country where basic food items are in extremely short supply.

Driving the BMW

In yet another picture we can see Tony at the wheel of a BMW. Need we comment?

Other pictures show him in Panama City, Panama; in Barcelona and Madrid; and at a Mexican beach resort, Ciudad del Carmen, which is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is known as “the pearl of the Gulf.” Needless to say, ordinary Cubans aren’t allowed to exit their own country under any circumstances, and certainly could never afford to visit places like these.

In Madrid

It’s been a long time since the Castros took over Cuba, but the rhetoric of revolution has never ceased. The people of Cuba may not get much in the way of good food, but they’re fed a huge daily diet of propaganda about the wonderful benefits of their glorious revolution and about the evils of capitalism. And more than a few suckers in the democratic capitalist world – some of them working for major media organizations – buy into this baloney.

Karl Vick

Take Karl Vick of Time Magazine, whom we wrote about in August 2015. This credulous jackass describes Cuba as a “security state” in order to avoid such unpleasant terms as “dictatorship” or “police state.” He has written: “People enjoy life in Cuba as in few other places.” When he claimed in a radio interview that Cuba could boast of certain achievements, he was asked to name one such achievement. “Social equity,” Vick said, and went on to assert that nobody in Cuba is “much higher than anybody else.”

“The pearl of the Gulf”

Vick isn’t alone in believing that – and in thinking that this supposed equity is enough to justify any disagreeable aspects of the Cuban regime. Of course, over the decades there has been ample testimony to the fact that the Castros live like kings and that the whole equity thing is a sham. But Tony Castro’s pictures – coming to light only days after the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, and at a time when a frightening number of young Americans consider socialism cool – provide a neat reminder of just what a lie Communism is.

AFP whitewashes the Castros

Exotic Havana

From time to time on this site, we’ve examined various public figures who had a soft spot for the Castro regime in Cuba and media organizations whose reports from Cuba routinely focused on its purported charms rather than its totalitarian government. We’ve written about director Bob Yari, who filmed a movie in Cuba; designer Karl Lagerfeld, who used Havana’s crumbling buildings as a backdrop for a glamorous fashion show; and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who, notwithstanding his own wealth, made a point of castigation capitalism while celebrating the Castros. We’ve told the tale of Fidel’s affair with compliant ABC reporter Lisa Howard, noted the chummy relationship between Jesse Jackson and the Castros, and, not least, the shamelessness and fatuity with which Time Magazine, again and again, has glorified the island prison.

Jair Bolsonaro

On January 2, Agence France Press demonstrated that the perverse impulse to whitewash the Cuban regime is not dead in 2019. Under the headline “Cuba celebrates 60 years of revolution amid challenges and change,” AFP described Cuba as a longtime “source of inspiration for leftist Latin American governments,” but added that the nation faces “increasing isolation in a region dominated by a resurgent right,” notably the new Brazilian government led by “far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.”

AFP reported that Bolsonaro had “made a point of not inviting” the new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro to his inauguration, a decision that some of us might consider principled but that AFP seemed to want readers to regard as churlish.

Nicolas Maduro

Typically, AFP labeled Bolsonaro – a pro-American, pro-Israeli conservative who has been dubbed the Latin American Trump – as “far-right,” and characterized Argentina, Chile and Peru as having “all swung to the right in recent years, unseating leftist governments.” A more objective media outlet might have put it a bit differently – might have said, that is, that the voters of those countries have rejected socialism in favor of democratic capitalism.

Evo Morales

Meanwhile, in its references to Cuba’s leaders, AFP was careful to avoid the word “dictator,” obediently referring to Raul Castro as “[e]x-president” and as “first secretary of the Communist Party,” identifying the late Fidel Castro as “Cuba’s revolutionary leader,” and giving the current thug-in-chief, Miguel Diaz-Canel, his official title of “President.” AFP also reported that Maduro had “paid tribute to the ‘heroic Cuban people,’” whom he praised for their “’resistance and dignity’ in the face of ’60 years of sacrifices, struggles and blockade.’” In addition, according to AFP, “[a]nother surviving leftist leader, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, said Cuba’s revolution gave birth to ‘the light of hope and invincible will for the liberation of the people.’” This effusive rhetoric by Maduro and Morales was presented by AFP without context, so that an ill-informed reader would never know that the Cuban people have spent the last six decades not as stalwart patriots who have bravely resisted a U.S. blockade but as downtrodden subjects of a totalitarian tyranny.

Fidel Castro

To be sure, the word “dictator” did eventually appear in the AFP article – but only as a means of describing Castro’s predessor, Fulgencio Batista. To its credit, moreover, AFP also mentioned, toward the end of its article, that Cuba is a communist state. It also quoted a dissident, but that dissident, as it happened, was not an anti-Communist who opposed the Cuban Revolution from the start but a diehard Communist named Vladimiro Roca, whose father was a sidekick of Fidel Castro, who himself had run afoul of authorities and spent several years in prison, and whose complaint was therefore that the Cuban Revolution “died a long time ago.”

Donald Trump

Moreover, while AFP acknowledged that Cuba “has faced heavy criticism” abroad, it presented the Cuban people not as decades-long victims of a brutal autocracy but as having “had to contend with an increasingly hostile administration under Trump these last two years.” There’s no hint that the Trump administration is hostile not to the Cuban people but to their unelected masters. In 2019, alas, such full-scale misrepresentation continues to be par for the course for all too many Western media.

Catching up with full-time defendant Cristina Kirchner

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Here at Useful Stooges we’ve spent a lot of time covering the misadventures of former Argentinian president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

We’ve examined economist Joseph Stiglitz’s intimate (and profitable) relationship with the Kirchner clan. We’ve pondered hedge funder Kyle Bass’s foolish championing of Cristina’s disastrous economic polities. Then there’s Wall Street hotshot Georges Ugeux, who blamed Argentina’s fiscal problems not on Kirchner corruption but on the country’s sovereign-debt creditors. And economist Mark Weisbrot, who looked at an Argentina headed for financial disaster and proclaimed that it was doing “remarkably well.”

Jose Fernando Lopez
Jose Fernando Lopez

We met Kirchner crony José Francisco López, who was turned in to the cops by a bunch of nuns who caught him trying to throw plastic bags stuffed with crookedly acquired cash over their convent wall.

On December 17, 2015, we congratulated Argentina on electing as its new president the candidate who was not Cristina’s chosen successor. And on December 31, 2016, we celebrated New Year’s Eve by noting that a federal judge, Julian Ercolini, had ordered Cristina put on trial for corruption, along with her former Planning Minister, Julio de Vido, and her former state secretary for public buildings, the above-named José Francisco López.

Judge Claudio Bonadino

That was the last time we checked in with Cristina. Since then, the former President has been a full-time professional defendant. On March 23 of this year, another judge, Claudio Bonadino, also ordered her to stand trial, this time for instructing her country’s central bank “to sell dollar futures at artificially low prices, causing Argentina to lose hundreds of millions. Also indicted was her former Economy Minister, Axel Kicillof. In April she racked up her fourth criminal charge, this one for engaging in real-estate transactions for the purpose of money laundering. On that occasion her passport was confiscated, and her two children, Florencia and Maximo, were also indicted.

Amado Boudou

In June, in a desperate effort to acquire immunity from prosecution, she filed to run for Senate as the candidate of a new party she had founded just for that purpose. In the August elections, despite her massive corruption record, she actually won. At an October inquiry, Cristina “defended a secret pact negotiated by her government with the Iranian regime in 2011. And in November, her former VP, Amado Boudou, was arrested on charges of embezzlement and illicit association.

Now, despite her senatorial immunity, it may soon be Cristina’s turn to sample prison food. On December 7, Judge Bonadino asked the Senate to waive her immunity and allow her to be arrested and tried on charges of treason. The specific crime: covering up Iran’s role in the fatal 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires. We’ll see what happens. Non-fans of the Kirchner clan may again have reason to celebrate on New Year’s Eve.

A gilded Cage

There are few people more gifted at the art of phony moral preening than your average Hollywood movie star. Most of them know next to nothing about anything, but a remarkable number of them are quick to weigh in on political issues and say whatever they think will make them look like pillars of virtue.

And yet one after another of these stars, who are already extremely well paid, are also quick to sell their services, for the right price, to any brutal dictator who comes down the pike.

Will Smith

We’ve seen, for example, that Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, have gone all-out to promote Dubai, which, of course, is one of the United Arab Emirates, where gays are executed and where straight tourists who engage in even the tamest public displays of affection are subject to long prison terms. We’ve discovered how Sting took a million or two dollars to perform for the daughter of murderous Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov and how Nicki Minaj cashed a $2 million check from the Angolan dictator José Eduardo dos Santos for a similar gig.

Sharon Stone with Putin and unidentified girl

We’ve listed the names of several celebrities – among them Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Paul Anka, Gérard Depardieu, Mickey Rourke, and Sharon Stone – who’ve taken money from Vladimir Putin to turn up at official events in Russia, and other luminaries – including Seal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Hilary Swank – who’ve accepted payments to entertain Putin’s puppet leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

Now it’s time to add another Tinseltown name to this roster of shame: Nicolas Cage. Born Nicolas Coppola, a nephew of filmland’s master of nepotism, Francis Ford Coppola, Cage, now 53, has been one of the luckiest men in the business, reaping great rewards in exchange for a very modest talent. He gets millions of dollars per picture and is reportedly worth about $25 million.

Nicolas Cage in Kazakhstan with an official of the Eurasia Film Festival

In short, he is not a man in drastic financial need. Nonetheless, in exchange for an unknown but presumably hefty sum, he recently attended the Eurasia Film Festival in Kazakhstan, a country that has been ruled for over a quarter of a century by the tyrannical Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Some people will do anything for a buck. Cage, who invariably comes off on talk shows as something of a self-important jerk and all-around dimbulb, was willing to don a native Kazakh outfit that earned him widespread mockery online. “I would be pleased to participate in some film project on the territory of Kazakhstan,” Cage told local journalists during his lucrative visit. “I enjoyed the architecture of your capital. What I saw reminded me of an old black-and-white film that depicted the future.” These stars often make such dopey, ingratiating statements in these situations. It’s hard not to believe they are reading from a script. In any event, one thing is clear: Nicolas Cage didn’t go to Kazakhstan for his health.

Prison report: Lula in, Leopoldo out

While all kinds of terrible things are happening in South America and around the globe, that continent recently supplied us with a couple of pieces of very good news.

Lula

In Brazil, almost a year after socialist President Dilma Rousseff’s removal from office, her mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison. Both were brought down by their roles in the Petrobras scandal, a.k.a. Operation Car Wash, the largest scandal ever in the history of that nation. Lula, a Worker’s Party politician who served two terms in Brazil’s highest office and who anointed Rousseff to succeed him, was found guilty of corruption and money-laundering. Lula plans to appeal the verdict; meanwhile, four – count them, four – other corruption trials lie ahead of him.

Dilma Rousseff

The specifics of Lula’s corruption are tawdry and rather dull: he was found guilty of taking a massive bribe – in the form of a luxury beachfront apartment – from a construction company, OAS. In addition to presenting Lula with the apartment, OAS also gave Lula’s party about $27 million in bribes in return for a suspiciously lucrative contracts with Petrobras. At the trial, Lula denied having anything to do with the apartment in question.

Protégé and mentor in happier times

It’s hard to explain just how staggering the conviction of Lula is in his home country. He’s not just a former president but a national icon. His admirers believe that his socialist policies helped boost the Brazilian economy, lifting millions out of poverty. As a result, he’s widely revered as a folk hero, the ultimate man of the people, the very personification of socialist largesse – so that the idea of him raiding the treasury on behalf of OAS in exchange for an apartment seems a particularly cheesy sort of betrayal.

Lula is actually eligible to run again for president, and, prior to his conviction, was leading the polls in the run-up to next year’s elections. But if his appeal fails, he won’t be allowed to be a candidate. In any case, his conviction has surely diminished him in the eyes of at least some of his fans.

Leopoldo López

So that’s the good news from Brazil. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Venezuela, which is basically a tool of President Nicolás Maduro, took an action that surprised the world: it ordered that Leopoldo López be removed from prison, where he has languished for more than three years, and placed instead under house arrest.

Nicolás Maduro

López, of course, is someone whose fortunes we’ve been following pretty closely on this site: as we wrote in March of last year, he is “the chavista regime’s most eloquent critic [and] the opposition’s most charismatic leader” and was plainly locked up “for no other reason than that he is …by far the most potent threat to the power of…Maduro.”

Hugo Chávez

This is a man who, as mayor of one of the five municipalities that make up Caracas, was recognized for his erudition and eloquence and showered with international awards for excellence and transparency in public service – making him the very antithesis of the crude caudillo Hugo Chávez and his lunkhead successor, Maduro. As we have put it previously:

López is so manifestly everything that Maduro is not, so completely the Gallant to his Goofus, that it seems almost too tidy a scenario; if this were a film script, the producer would almost certainly order the writer to make the villain at least somewhat less buffoonish and corrupt and the hero somewhat less noble and courageous.

Liliana Tintori at the White House in February with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Senator Marco Rubio

Our most recent mention of López here was in March, when we noted that his wife, Liliana Tintori, had met with President Trump at the White House not long after the latter’s inauguration. At the time, Trump issued a call for López’s immediate release. It was more than President Obama had ever done for López, and it may well have made a difference.

In any event, López is out of jail, and that’s good news. But, like the rest of the people in his country, he’s not yet entirely free. We’ll continue to keep an eye on the course of Venezuela’s fortunes, and Leopoldo’s.

Protecting the Chávez legacy

Jack Staples-Butler

Yesterday we discussed a thoughtful piece by Jack Staples-Butler about the Western apologists for Venezuelan chavismo who helped Hugo Chávez gain (and regain) power – but who, as the thug’s misguided socialist project (now in the hands of his hapless successor, Nicolás Maduro) has led his country further and further into ruin, have run for the hills rather than face up to their share of moral responsibility for this colossal failure.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP

At the head of Staples-Butler’s list of unapologetic apologists is Owen Jones, who along with Members of Parliament Grahame Morris and Diane Abbott, Guardian columnist Seumas Milne, and the repulsive anti-Semite George Galloway, among others, served as official, and supposedly “independent,” observers of the 2012 election in which Chávez was re-elected. Of course, as Staples-Butler pointed out, “There was nothing remotely ‘independent’ about the observers – all were from the socialist left, all had expressed support for Chávez and most crucially, all were involved in some capacity with the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.”

Owen Jones

In an article written on the occasion of Chávez’s death in 2013, Jones recalled his fierce chavista partisanship and raised the possibility that some observers might consider him a “useful idiot.” Staples-Butler’s comment: no, he and his fellow British chavistas were not “useful idiots”; they were worse. Because they knew more about the reality of chavismo than a lot of Stalin’s “useful idiots” in Britain during the 1930s knew about the reality of Stalin’s USSR. Reporters like this website’s mascot, Walter Duranty of the New York Times, systematically whitewashed the reality of life in the Soviet Union, denying the reality of everything from the Holdomor to the Gulag. By contrast, observes Staples-Butler,

Hugo Chavez

Human Rights Watch and other organisations provided overwhelming and easily-accessible evidence that Venezuela had during the 2000s become a dictatorship, a home to mass murder and political repression sliding towards economic and social collapse. This was or should have been self-evident to any journalist, politician or educated person who visited Venezuela even if they were under the chaperone of a tightly-managed official tour. Direct contact was not even necessary to know what was happening there. Nothing more than an Internet connection and a library card would provide the mountains of information collected on political and social conditions in the country which had not been produced by Venezuelan state media.

Chavez with longtime buddy Fidel Castro

And yet they lied. Jones lied. “[W]hen it comes to his relationship with his opposition, Chávez has arguably been pretty lenient,” wrote Jones in 2012. Compared to whom? “The status of human rights deterioration and abuse in Venezuela,” maintains Staples-Butler, “was apparent and visible for the entirety of Chávez’s rule.” He cites reports by Human Rights Watch, which documented this reality year by year throughout the Chávez presidency. Also in 2012, Jones claimed that Venezuela’s “private media enjoys a 90 per cent audience share and routinely pump out vitriolic anti-Chávez propaganda.” Very early in Chávez’s presidency, there was some truth in this; before long, however, journalists were being harassed, newspaper offices attacked, and censorship imposed, with serious penalties put in place for those who dared defame the caudillo. Apropos of Chávez’s alliance with such regimes as that of the Castros in Cuba, Jones pointed to the fact that the U.S. and U.K., too, had cooperative relationships with autocratic governments; the difference Jones failed to acknowledge, however, was that Chávez’s ties to Cuba weren’t just strategic, but founded in his desire “to remake Venezuela in the image” of Cuba and other dictatorships.

At this point, Staples-Butler is an obscure law student. We can only hope that he’ll soon be as widely published, read, and cited as his mendacious, tyranny-loving co-patriot Owen Jones.

Those chavista Brits

Jack Staples-Butler

Jack Staples-Butler, a British law student, wrote an interesting article recently about Venezuela – not about the social and economic crisis itself but about the government’s response to it, namely “systemic and organised psychological denial,” which largely takes the form of “externalis[ing] blame through conspiracy theories.” Nicolás Maduro’s regime has spread “[f]antasies of ‘economic warfare’ waged by ‘hoarders’ led by the United States,” and has used these fantasies as an excuse to seize food from grocery stores and impose price controls on food products. “The most disturbing recent development,” wrote Staples-Butler, “is the prospect of Venezuelans becoming a population of forced labourers in government-run agricultural projects, a solution that would take Venezuela from Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty to Cambodian levels of state-led starvation.”

Nicolas Maduro

It is madness – dangerous madness. Yet, as we have noted frequently on this website, Maduro has, until very recently, had more than his share of eager Western supporters. “As recently as June 2015, when this starvation crisis was already in full-swing,” wrote Staples-Butler, “an event organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in London” to cheer chavismo as a heroic challenge to “neoliberalism and privatisation” drew such prominent figures as Jeremy Corbyn (now head of the British Labour Party) and two other members of Parliament, Grahame Morris and Richard Burgon.

Jeremy Corbyn

But more interesting to Staples-Butler than the lingering enthusiasm of British politicians – as well as British intellectuals and journalists – for the Bolivarian Republic is the role they played years earlier in the creation of this crisis. Among the names he mentions, in addition to Corbyn, Morris, and Burgon, are several other prominent MPs and former MPs, including Diane Abbott, John McDowell, and Colin Burgon, journlist Owen Jones (whom we’ve profiled at length on this site). After the 2012 elections, influential British figures organized a propaganda tour of the UK for chavismo politicians and union bosses. Left-wing British groups held events all over the UK to celebrate Venezuelan socialism; among the speakers were Seumas Milne (whom we’ve also profiled here), London mayor Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Jones (again), and chavismo enthusiasts from Cuba and Argentina.

The rewards of socialism: a Venezuelan supermarket

All of these figures, charged Staples-Butler, bear a “moral responsibility” for “the continued suffering of the Venezuelan people at the hands of a regime which they passionately supported.” Yet these Western chavistas, who are accustomed to viewing themselves as moral exemplars, are incapable of admitting to themselves their moral responsibility for the current outrage. “What is most striking in the Western socialist left’s response to Venezuela’s agony,” therefore, “is the absence of response.” They can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge that there’s anything wrong. Venezuela, writes Staples-Butler, “has become a collective unperson to those who formerly proclaimed it an example for humanity’s emulation.” (There are exceptions. The Morning Star, a Communist newspaper to which Corbyn contributes, “continues repeating Venezuelan state propaganda,” describing anti-Maduro protests, for instance, “as a right-wing ‘coup plot.’”)

Hugo Chavez

Staples-Butler predicted that when the international left finally works out a “history” of contemporary Venezuela with which it can live, it will take the line that Hugo Chávez was, indeed, a great man whose brilliant socialist program brought Venezuela prosperity, but that Maduro (who took over after Chávez died in 2013) was a criminal whose corruption ruined everything. Such a fantasy, suggested Staples-Butler, would rescue not only Chávez and socialism but, more important, themselves from responsibility. If this lie were to take hold, it would not be the first ever historical example of such revisionism: after the USSR fell, many ardent Western Communists dealt with the reality of Soviet evils by blaming them entirely on Stalin and depicting him as having betrayed the supposedly benevolent – and beneficial – ideology of Lenin.

Of all the Western apologists for chavismo, Staples-Butler singled out one for special censure. It’s somebody whom we’ve discussed at length on this site – Owen Jones. But Staples-Butler’s comments on Jones in connection with the downfall of Venezuela are reason enough to return to Jones yet again. We’ll do that tomorrow.