Congratulations, Venezuela! Your inflation rate is down to 135,000%!

Havana

Over the years, we’ve written a good deal here about the western hemisphere’s cozy Commie tag team. We’re referring, of course, to the so-called Republic of Cuba and the so-called Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, each of which, through various actions, helps keep the other’s totalitarian system in place. Now, however, both of these tyrannies are undergoing dramatic changes. On September 13, Reuters reported that Cuba was experiencing a fuel shortage. “Cubans,” wrote Nelson Acosta, “queued for hours for public transport on Friday at peak times in Havana, sweating in the heavy heat, while queues at gas stations snaked several blocks long.”

PDVSA headquarters

The Cuban government blamed this crisis on the Trump Administration’s enhancement of U.S. efforts to block imports into Cuba – including oil shipments from Venezuela – and Trump’s new sanctions on Venezuela’s famously corrupt national oil company, PDVSA. Acosta noted, however, that it can’t all be blamed on Trump: Venezuelan oil imports into Cuba have been on the decline for years, obliging the Havana government to ration energy. Which means, among other things, shutting off streetlights and reducing “the use of electricity in state-run institutions,” whatever that entails.

Nicolas Maduro

Meanwhile, what’s up in Venezuela? According to a September 17 article in the Wall Street Journal, the Maduro government has responded to that country’s economic death spiral – a consequence of socialist policies introduced by the late Hugo Chavez – by “quietly and cautiously begun implementing free-market policies” in order to “correct an economic contraction worse than America’s Great Depression.” That’s putting it mildly: the situation in Venezuela makes The Grapes of Wrath look like Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

What exactly has the Maduro regime done? It’s “scaled back its once frenzied printing of money, nearly ended frequent salary hikes, and largely stopped enforcing the price controls that had led to dire food shortages and a thriving black market.” As the Journal ‘s Kejal Vyas observes, these are significant actions “for a government that has publicly championed its state-led, socialist economic model as the country’s only salvation from greedy capitalists.”

Venezuelans in a supermarket queue

In any event, the new policies are having an impact – kind of. The hyperinflation rate, wrote Vyas, has dropped “from seven to six figures.” To be specific, “Inflation has fallen from a peak 12-month rate of 2.6 million percent in January to 135,000% in August.” Now, that kind of inflation rate is still terrifying, but, okay, it’s better than seven figures. Just like it’s presumably better to be hit by a car going 60 miles an hour than by a train going 200.

To be sure, it’s news that the Maduro gang is finally seeing the light – sort of. It remains to be seen whether this implicit acknowledgment of the power of the free market will lead to changes in the regime’s rhetoric. Somehow we doubt it. Maduro has been rhapsodizing over chavista ideology so ardently for so many years that it’s hard to imagine him actually admitting that he’s been wrong all along.

Sergi Lanau

In any event, Vyas quotes Sergi Lanau of the Institute of International Finance in Washington to the effect that Maduro’s new measures aren’t exactly leading Venezuela out of the woods. “Is this a turning point? I would say no, definitely not,” said Lanau. “Who knows in a few months if the decision will be ‘Well, we need money again. Let’s print some more.’” In any event, despite the significant drop, Venezuela’s inflation rate remains the world’s highest. Even as America’s economy goes from strength to strength, the economies of the two totalitarian enemies on its doorstep continue to be basket cases.

The Cuba-chavista connection

Hugo Chavez

For those fans of the so-called Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela who have denied that chavismo is basically a Spanish word for Communism, the intimate ties between the revolutionary government of Hugo Chavez – and, subsequently, of his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro – with the frankly totalitarian Castro regime in Cuba has always been something of a stumbling block. In a recent article for Reuters, Angus Berwick provided a fascinating new trove of information that substantiated that nefarious link. “The Cuban government has relied on Venezuela for economic and political support for two decades,” Berwick wrote. “In return, Cuba has provided Venezuela with training and support that has allowed Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro to keep a tight grip on the military — and on power.”

Fidel Castro

Berwick revealed that in 2007, when Chavez lost a referendum that would have allowed him to keep running for re-election, he turned for advice to “a close confidant” – namely, Fidel Castro, who told him that if he wanted to stay in power indefinitely, whatever the results of elections, he should assume “absolute control of the military.” Chavez listened, and as a result ordered that Venezuelan troops be spied on. With the help of advisors supplied by Castro, Chavez oversaw the refashioning of a government agency that now goes by the name Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), and that had previously been tasked to spy abroad, into an organization whose primary mission was to conduct espionage within Venezuela’s own armed forces.

Nicolas Maduro

To this end, members of Cuba’s armed forces were brought into Venezuela to restructure the military and train spies. Under the instruction of its Cuban tutors, the DGCIM “embedded agents…within barracks,” tapped the phones of senior officers, put together “dossiers on perceived troublemakers,” and reported “any signs of disloyalty.” Non-chavista officers and enlisted men were duly arrested, imprisoned, tortured; one organization says that the number of former military personnel now in detention as a result of DGCIM investigations is over 300. Since its transformation, the DGCIM has been “accused by soldiers, opposition lawmakers, human rights groups and many foreign governments of abuses including torture and the recent death of a detained navy captain.”

Juan Guaido

For years, Cuban and Venezuelan officials have denied that the relationship between their militaries was anywhere near this intimate. But they were lying. While Venezuelan oil kept Cuba’s economy going, Cuban involvement in the Venezuelan military has kept the chavista government in power. It’s because of this arrangement, this deal between devils, that Juan Guaido’s bid to replace Maduro – a key factor of which was his expectation that many members of the armed forces would take his side – failed so ignominiously. Military officers and enlisted men who might indeed have been supporters of Guaido have long since been culled from the ranks, with the help of Maduro’s ruthless Cuban allies.

Danny Glover, Communist stooge

Danny Glover

Some of the Hollywood stars whom we’ve written about here – whether because they’ve praised Castro or Maduro or accepted big paychecks to perform for some Third World strongman or another – have done so because they’re underinformed, misguided, or just plain greedy and amoral. But one big showbiz name who has been the subject of our attention is a bona fide admirer of totalitarianism. As we wrote in August 2015, Danny Glover, star of The Color Purple, Witness, and the Lethal Weapon pictures, is an out-and-out enthusiast for Communist dictatorship. He loved Hugo Chávez, whom he met in 2006 and who ended up setting up financing for two politically charged movies Glover planned to produce.

With the late Hugo Chavez

And much as he loved Chávez, he loved Fidel Castro even more. For years Glover has been a frequent visitor to Cuba, where he attends the Havana film festival, attends political-cultural events, accepts awards, and pals around with the tyrants who run the place. He views the Cuban Revolution through a quasi-mystical lens, speaking with religious fervor about its “extraordinary will to find truth and to reveal the new human being, the new man and a new woman.” A few years back he campaigned actively for the release of the “Cuban Five,” a group of spies who were jailed in the U.S. and whom Glover praised as “heroic men.” As we’ve previously noted, Glover became friends with one of the five, Gerardo Hernández, who had been involved in shooting down unarmed planes carrying Cuban exiles, and whom Glover – who had visited Hernández several times in his California prison cell – described as his “spiritual brother.”

With Gerardo Hernandez

During a November 2015 visit to Cuba, Glover was reunited with Hernández, whom President Obama freed in a gesture of friendship toward the Castro regime. While in Cuba, Glover enthused over what he described as the spies’ awareness of “their responsibility to humanity” – and, more broadly, celebrated “the work of the internationalists of this island that brings the light of solidarity to remote places

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

This is the man who, on June 19 of this year, testified before the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in support of a slavery-reparations bill whose main sponsor is Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).

In the middle of the last century, during the Cold War, members of the American Communist Party, which took orders directly from the Kremlin, were summoned by congressional committees to answer for their loyalty to the totalitarian enemy, which was considered an act of treason. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether it was appropriate for the national legislature to interrogate these Communists. But we have to say that it seems bizarre, to say the least, to invite Communists to Capitol Hill as if they were pillars of wisdom and virtue.

Rep. Steve Cohen

Not that anyone in the hearing room that day would have known from the subcommittee chairman’s introduction of Glover that he is a diehard Communist. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) described him, rather, as an “actor, producer, and an activist for various causes,” not to mention “goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, chairman of the board of Transafrica Forum, an African-American lobbying organization for Africa and the Caribbean, and a friend of Harry Belafonte.” That last bit was plainly meant as a cute touch; in fact the reference to Belafonte served as a useful reminder that he is, in the words of historian Ronald Radosh (whom we quoted here in 2015), an “unreconstructed Stalinist.” So we’re talking about two men one of whom was amiably introduced by the leader of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the other affectionately referred to by that same leader, as if they were twin American icons, but whose politics are downright monstrous. If they were open Nazis, no member of either house of Congress would invite them to testify about anything. But they are both Communists, and, in the eyes of Cohen and his colleagues, apparently, that’s just fine – although it’s best, of course, to keep that little fact under wraps for the purpose of the hearing.

There’s hardly any reason to get into the details of Glover’s brief testimony, aside from observing that he spoke of “democracy” and “equality” and “justice” as if he genuinely believed in these things. Naturally he supports reparations. Whatever. The point is not what he said but that he was invited there to say it. The point is that being a champion of totalitarianism, a buddy and admirer of the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, is no longer viewed in certain respectable inside-the-Beltway circles as disqualifying one as an authority on justice. That, quite simply, is a disgrace.

A “nice Jewish girl”…who loves Iran

Medea Benjamin

Code Pink’s occupation of the Venezuela Embassy in Washington, D.C., about which we’ve written a couple of times, naturally drew our attention to the group’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who had somehow managed to fly under our radar until this current escapade. Who, we wondered, is this woman? And did her parents name her for Medea – a Greek mythological figure who, in the play Medea by Euripides, kills her children in revenge – or did she take the name herself?

Medea at the OAS

The answer to the name question was easy enough to find out. Medea Benjamin’s birth name is Susan. She has described herself as a “nice Jewish girl from Long Island.” She took the name Medea while in college, which was also when she joined the radical group Students for a Democratic Society. During the Vietnam War she supported the Viet Cong. Later she lived in Cuba, where she felt, she said, “like I died and went to heaven.” Alas, she was expelled from Eden after she wrote an article criticizing Cuban censorship. As much as she cottoned to Communism, she apparently didn’t fully grasp the concept at the time.

Medea in Iran

In 1983 she moved to San Francisco, where she worked for an leftist group that is believed to have sent aid to the Sandinistas. (Her daughter is named after a Sandinista rebel.) She co-founded the radical group Global Exchange in 1988, co-founded Code Pink, a feminist response to the War in Iraq, in 2002, and co-founded Iraq Occupation Watch in 2004. Over the years, often in cahoots with out-and-out Communist groups such as the Workers World Party or with funders of jihadist terror, she’s engaged in a great deal of disruptive behavior around the world, racking up an impressive number of arrests on several continents. She’s also disrupted speeches by both Obama and Trump. Global Exchange organized riots against the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and Benjamin was a leader of protests that resulted in Starbucks introducing “Fair Trade Certified” coffee.

On Capitol Hill

Naturally, she’s an Israel hater, having taken part in the 2008 protests against Israel’s invasion of Gaza and in the 2011 Gaza flotilla. She’s also a longtime fan of the Castro regime in Cuba and of the chavistas in Venezuela – hence her occupation of the embassy. Under Hugo Chavez, she has said, Venezuela was “the center of a new, progressive model of socioeconomic development that is shaping Latin America’s future.” She’s also had at least one friendly meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and collaborated on one of her initiatives with agents of the North Korean government. In 2014 she took part in an anti-Israeli conference in Tehran that was organized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry and that featured panels on “Mossad’s Role in the 9/11 Coup d’Etat, “Zionist Fingerprints on the 9/11 Cover-up,” “9/11 Truth Movement Strategies and the Zionism Issue,” “9/11 and the Holocaust as pro-Zionist ‘Public Myths,’” and “Islam as Authentic Universal Religion vs. Zionist Memes of Islam.”

How, you may wonder, has Benjamin managed financially to spend her life traveling the globe denouncing capitalism and waving homemade signs in the faces of politicians and diplomats? Answer: family money. She’s funded her one-woman war on capitalism with the proceeds of her father’s capitalist endeavors.

The Code Pink embassy takeover continues

A back door of the embassy

When we last checked in on the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., on May 2, it was being illegally occupied by the radical leftists of Code Pink, who support the socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó, recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Also in the building are members of other far-left groups such as ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Popular Resistance, and Black Alliance for Peace. Most if not all of the occupiers are Americans with no apparent connection to Venezuela other than their ideological alliance with the country’s destructive, despotic chavista regime. Their goal, they said, was to keep the embassy from being entered by any of Guaidó’s people or by U.S. officials. To that end, reported the Washington Post, they “padlocked the front entrance and secured other doors with chains.”

Juan Guaido

Outrageously, these extremists are still occupying the embassy. Meanwhile, hundreds of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans who oppose the embassy takeover – and many of whom have experienced firsthand the dire consequences of so-called Bolivarian rule – have continued to gather outside the embassy day and night, protesting the protesters and doing their best, as one of them told the Post, “to prevent further trespassers from entering our building.” They have also tried to prevent anybody from getting food supplies to the occupiers. There have been scuffles – and an episode or two that rose to the level of dangerous violence – between the occupiers and the protesters outside, and at least one of the Venezuelan demonstrators, Naylet Pacheco, was hospitalized after being attacked without provocation by several men from inside the embassy, one of whom has been arrested.

Medea Benjamin

The evening of May 8 brought a new development: as the sun set over the leafy Georgetown neighborhood, the lights inside the embassy went off. While Code Pink protested that the embassy’s electric bill had been fully paid by the Maduro regime, Pepco, the local power company, replied that it had shut off the juice to the embassy at the request of the U.S.-backed Guaido government. The cutoff not only meant no lights – it also meant that the Code Pink misfits would no longer be able to recharge the computers and cell phones that they’d been using to send out tweets, videos, and the like to the world. Though the protesters outside expressed the hope that this new turn would drive the occupiers out, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who herself left the embassy over a week ago and has been prevented by the protesters outside from re-entering it, vowed that her cohorts were determined to stay. “They’re saying, ‘No matter what happens, you can cut off the electricity, you can cut off the water, we’ll still stay here,’” she told the Post. “Even if they have to be without eating.” Many observers savored the deliciousness of the irony that the embassy occupiers now have at least some idea of what life has been like for people in Venezuela who have lived for months, in some cases years, without adequate meals or reliable power supplies. As one demonstrator, Daniela Bustillos, put it: “They’re getting a little taste of what Venezuela has been experiencing.”

One detail in the Post’s May 9 account seemed puzzling. On the previous evening, according to the report, “police cordoned off 30th Street NW to allow several neon-shirted men down a manhole in the middle of the street. Code Pink said it showed police are taking sides, though a spokeswoman for the Secret Service said the agency is committed to protecting both sides’ “right to protest.” The right to protest is one thing – but are the police and Secret Service actually behaving as if the clowns of Code Pink have a right to occupy an embassy?

The Code Pink chavistas

The Venezuelan embassy on Tuesday

This week, in Venezuela, lovers of liberty have been courageously taking to the streets in an effort to oust their illegitimate dictator Nicolás Maduro. Meanwhile, in a free country to the north – specifically, on 30th Street N.W. in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. – members of the far-left group Code Pink, a gaggle of mostly American women who, yes, believe it or not, fanatically support the Marxist tyrant’s brutal effort to cling to power, faced off at the Venezuelan embassy against actual Venezuelans who support the attempt by Juan Guaido, recognized by the U.S. and over fifty other countries as their homeland’s legitimate president, to oust the former bus driver and restore democracy to that long-beleaguered country.

Juan Guaido

For the past several weeks, it turns out, Code Pink has illegally occupied the Venezuelan embassy, which should by rights have been handed over to the Guaido camp after President Trump announced America’s backing for him. On Tuesday, while the citizens of dozens of Venezuelan cities braved gunfire and armored tanks to publicly declare their support for Guaido, freedom-loving Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans in the Washington area made their way to their country’s embassy in hopes of being able to take back their embassy from the far-left American interlopers. Giuliano Gandullia, a Venezuelan-American, told Alex Pappas of Fox News that “We want to enter. We want to take over. And demonstrate that it belongs to us.”

Nicolas Maduro

But Code Pink wouldn’t budge. Police closed the street and Secret Service officers formed a barrier between the Code Pink activists and the Venezuelans. Signs and banners at the embassy, and posts on the radical group’s Twitter account, spelled out their take on the issue. No, they insisted, it wasn’t socialist economic policies that, first under the late Hugo Chavez and then under his protégé, Maduro, had steadily transformed one of the world’s richest countries into one of its poorest. The cause of this drastic decline was – what else? – Trump. No, they don’t do a very good job of explaining how Trump had managed to destroy Venezuela, or why he would want to. Nor do they take into account the fact that Venezuela was already sliding downhill fast well before Trump became president. But no matter. Forget the facts: in the ideologically rooted view of Code Pink, the collapse of Venezuela and the movement to transfer presidential authority from Maduro to Guaido are nothing more or less than part of a cynical effort by the Trump administration to steal Venezuelan oil.

A Venezuelan supermarket

The motives of the Venezuelans who gathered outside the embassy were also clear. “Venezuela wants Democracy…not another Cuba” read one sign. The whole thing was striking: at the heart of the action by the Code Pink women was the claim that Trump was a bully out to impose his will on Venezuela. In fact it was the Code Pink women themselves who were the bullies in this situation. They had taken over the embassy of a country that most of them had probably never been to and with which they had no particular connection, and they were denying entry into it by actual citizens of that country. It is ironic to note that, according to the academic identity hierarchies to which Code Pink surely subscribes, these American women (most of whom, to judge by photographs, were white) were privileged members of an ethnic oppressor class who, like their imperialist, colonialist ancestors, were subjugating members of a recognized victim class. Clemente Pinate, another Venezuelan-American who spoke to Pappas outside the embassy, expressed appropriate ire at the intrusion of the Code Pinkers into Venezuelan affairs. “They are communists, socialists with Maduro,” he said. “I’m anti-Maduro. And I’m here representing my people.”

Maduro: down but not out

Nicolas Maduro

We’ve written about Venezuela a great deal at this sight, but not lately. What more is there to say? We reported faithfully on its decline, which now seems pretty much complete. Why repeat ourselves? Given what the people of Venezuela are being put through because of the idiocy of chavismo, it seems almost cruel – almost like rubbing it in, like slumming, like saying “I told you so” – to keep returning to the scene of the crime and gazing, like callous rubberneckers at a car accident, at the sad wreckage of Hugo’s and Nicolás’s tyranny.

On the other hand, there have been a few developments worth taking note of. For example, the fact that while most of the governments in the Western hemisphere have joined the U.S. in recognizing Juan Guaidó as the new president of the beleaguered country, Maduro, the former bus driver who inherited the Bolivarian throne from Chávez, still has allies.

Hugo Chavez

One of them is Cuba, whose Communist regime was the model for Chávez’s own. As Eli Lake of Bloomberg News reported recently, the Venezuelan military and police are infiltrated with members of Cuban intelligence, some of whom are responsible for giving Maduro daily briefings. Thousands of Cuban “security forces” harass Venezuelan citizens. The Organization of American States has said that Cuba has what amounts to an “occupying army” in Venezuela numbering about 15,000. “This contingent of Cuban advisers,” Lake wrote “will make it much more difficult for Venezuela’s military to help Guaidó prepare for new elections, as it is being pressured to do.”

Moreover, the ties Chávez forged with Russia and China are still strong. Maduro has shipped cheap oil to China and allowed Russian warships into its ports. Russia, like Cuba, has “military advisers” in Venezuela, and promised in late March to keep them there as long as Maduro needed them — in response to which Trump, while meeting with Guaidó’s wife at the White House, demanded that they be called home. The ayatollas in Iran also continue to support Maduro. Those alliances, of course, are to be expected. Rather more surprising is the apparent coziness between Mexico’s new leftist president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and Maduro, whom he invited to his inauguration in January.

Juan Guaido

Even after month after month of painful headlines about the present social and economic conditions in what was once one of the world’s richest countries, some Western politicians continued to profess admiration for Maduro, and some Western media not only find ingenious ways to avoid blaming his nation’s catastrophe on socialism but even try to perform at least a partial whitewash that catastrophe. As recently as in late January, for example, the BBC described Venezuela as having experienced a “reduction in inequality and poverty.” What kind of way is that to describe a country where countless people are eating pets, countless more are fleeing to neighboring Colombia, and the inflation rate is just shy of 10 million percent?

An end to chavismo?

Venezuelans queue up to buy groceries that may or may not be on the store shelves

Since we’ve devoted so much space at this site to the plight of Venezuela under chavismo, it’s only right for us to acknowledge – and celebrate – an extraordinary turning point in the history of that country.

We need hardly go into detail here about the devastation wrought upon Venezuela, once one of the richest nations in the world, by hard-core socialism. That the land with the world’s largest oil reserves should decline into such terrible poverty – to say nothing of the steady erosion of individual liberty and human rights – is a classic lesson in the horrible consequences of socialist policies.


Juan Guaidó

On January 5, Juan Guaidó, a fierce opponent of chavismo, was sworn in as President of Venezuela’s National Assembly. Five days later, Nicolás Maduro, who had succeeded his mentor, Hugo Chávez, as President of Venezuela, in 2013, was inaugurated for his second term after being re-elected in what was widely considered an illegitimate election. The next day, Guaidó led a massive rally, attended by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, at which it was announced that, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution, he would be assuming the presidency. On January 15, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Guaidó headlined “Maduro is a usurper. It’s time to restore democracy in Venezuela.”

Nicolas Maduro

“We are living in a crisis without precedent in Venezuela,” the op-ed began. “We have a government that has dismantled the state and kidnapped all institutions to manipulate them at will.” Truthfully enough, Guaidó called Maduro a dictator, but a dictator with a difference, who had “ties to drug trafficking and guerrilla groups,” but whose nation continued to have “a functioning, democratically elected parliament, the National Assembly,” which enjoyed “the backing of the international community and the majority of Venezuelans.”

On January 23, Guaidó formally declared himself President of Venezuela. Almost immediately, he was recognized as the country’s legitimate head of state by U.S. President Donald Trump. By the end of day, he had been recognized as President by the Organization of American States as well as by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. In all of Latin America, only Communist Cuba and socialist Bolivia reiterated their full support for Maduro, while Mexico’s new left-wing leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, criticized Guaidó but instead of totally backing Maduro called for “dialogue.”

Mauricio Macri

The swiftness with which so many Latin American governments endorsed Guaidó’s ascent to power is a reflection of the degree to which socialism in that region has, in a relatively short time, given way to a renewed wave of democratic capitalism. A few years ago, for example, Cristina Fernandez, then President of Argentina, would surely have stood behind Maduro; now, her successor, Mauricio Macri, took to Twitter and explicitly cheered on “all efforts toward rebuilding democracy in Venezuela and reestablishing conditions of life worthy of all its citizens.” Likewise, in Brazil, the new president, Jair Bolsonaro, widely known as the Trump of Latin America, tweeted that “Brazil supports politically and economically the transition back to democracy and social peace in Venezuela.”

To be sure, it’s all easier said than done. At this writing, Maduro seems determined to stay in Miraflores, the White House of Caracas. He still enjoys the support of the military, of the Supreme Court (which he has packed with cronies), and of the powerful and notoriously corrupt national oil company, PDVSA. So it will be interesting to see how things develop in the days and weeks to come.

Celebrating Karl Marx in the New York Times

Karl Marx

May 5 marked the two hundredth birthday of Karl Marx, without whom the world would have been spared the murderous regimes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Castro, Hugo Chávez, and – who knows – maybe even Hitler, too. Marx was the spiritual father of twentieth-century socialism, with its erasure of the individual, its denial of human nature, and its rejection of the basic premises of economics. In his name, hundreds of millions of people were deprived of their freedom, subjected to imprisonment and torture, sent to Gulags, or executed by firing squads.

During the Cold War, countless citizens of Western countries who had been bewitched by the words of Marx and who belonged to Communist parties or “progressive” movements viewed the Soviet Union as a utopia – or, at the very least, a utopia in the making. Millions more who did not identify, strictly speaking, as Communists, and who occupied influential positions in government, the media, the arts, and the academy, took a far more benign view of the USSR than it deserved. When the Kremlin’s empire came tumbling down, and the oppressed, bedraggled prisoners of Communism cheered their newly won freedom, these Western champions of Marxism looked on in bewilderment and shame. For a time, they maintained a decent silence. Communism still existed in China, Cuba, and North Korea, but it had been discredited for all the world to see and would never rise again.

Bernie Sanders

Or so we all thought. Almost thirty years have passed since the fall of the Soviet Union, and pretty much everyone who is now living on the planet and who is under the age of thirty-five has no meaningful memories of the world in which the USSR existed. This has rendered them vulnerable to pro-Communist propaganda, much of it disseminated by the Sixties radicals who went on to become college professors – or by those radicals’ protégés. During the 2016 presidential campaign, an elderly, self-described socialist named Bernie Sanders – who honeymooned in the Soviet Union and admired Castro – was the favorite candidate of millions of American voters who were too young to have personal experiences of Soviet Communism and too ill-educated to have learned from their studies just what an evil nightmare Communism is, and always has been, when put into practice.

Jason Barker

So it was that, as the 200th birthday of Marx approached, once respectable media organs ran articles that treated Marx as a not as the begetter of a century of barbarism but as a hero and a symbol of hope. “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” read the headline on a New York Times opinion piece by Jason Barker, an associate professor of philosophy. “Today,” wrote Barker, Marx’s legacy “would appear to be alive and well.” Barker quoted French philosopher Alain Badiou as saying “that Marx had become the philosopher of the middle class” – meaning, explained Barker, “that educated liberal opinion is today more or less unanimous in its agreement that Marx’s basic thesis – that capitalism is driven by a deeply divisive class struggle in which the ruling-class minority appropriates the surplus labor of the working-class majority as profit – is correct.”

Empty supermarket shelves in Venezuela

Barker himself opined that Marx provides us with “the critical weapons for undermining capitalism’s ideological claim to be the only game in town.” He praised “movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo” for expanding Marx’s critique of classism to include racism and sexism as well. And he concluded his piece on an optimistic note, looking ahead to the day when Marx’s advocates finally put his ideas into practice and establish “the kind of society that he struggled to bring about.” As if one society after another hasn’t put those ideas into practice and ended up with tyranny, poverty, fear, and despair! As if Venezuela, at this very moment, weren’t providing the whole world with a tragic portrait of what happens when a government takes Marx as its model!

More on Thursday.

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.