Yet more celebrities have lined up to defend
business deals with the world’s largest totalitarian state. One of
them is Charles Barkley. On October 10, TMZ reported that in the view
of Barkley – the former power forward for the 76ers, Suns, and
Rockets, and currently a sports commentator – anyone who criticizes
the NBA for its zero-tolerance policy toward criticism of China,
which includes ejecting from games those who express support at an
for the people in Hong Kong who are protesting Beijing’s attempt to
crush their freedom, is an “idiot,” a “jackass,” a “fool.”
Try to follow this logic, which Barkley served up on the Dan
Patrick Show: “you guys have been killing Colin Kaepernick for
the last X amount of years,” but now “you want to control what
happens in a foreign country?”
Kaepernick, of course, is the mediocre football player who worships the memory of Che and Castro and who started the whole business of “taking a knee” during the National Anthem as a way of protesting the unjust killing of black persons by white cops. Never mind that when you take into account the size of the different population groups, white cops don’t kill any more blacks than they do whites. There is evidence, indeed, that white cops are more careful about pulling a gun on a black person than on a white for fear they’ll end up being branding racists all over the news media. Besides, what Kaepernick was disrespecting was the Star-Spangled Banner and hence, by extension, the U.S. – a free country in which he has been able to become a rich man on the basis of a set of modest athletic skills. As for Barkley’s claim that “you guys” – presumably the media? – had been “killing” Kaepernick for taking a knee, au contaire: whereas Kaepernick’s less-than-spectacular talent on the gridiron had kept him pretty obscure, once he began taking a knee he won praise from all the usual suspects, collecting awards from GQ, Sports Illustrated, the ACLU, the Puffin/Nation Institute, Amnesty International, and Harvard. Yes, a lot of disgruntled fans, understandably turned off by his ingratitude and lack of patriotism, stopped watching NFL games. That’s their right.
But how to compare Kaepernick’s self-aggrandizing demonstrations against America, for which he risked no official punishment whatsoever, with the Hong Kong protesters, who are literally risking their lives by standing up for freedom? Bradley’s excuse for NBA honchos who side with the tyrants of China against the people in Hong Kong whose very freedom is under threat was simple: “They have billions of dollars at stake,” he said. “It’s a business decision. I understand the NBA. The players and the owners both got billions of dollars at stake.” Ah yes, the famous old distinction that keeps cropping up in The Godfather: “It’s not personal, it’s business.” This is indeed how the Mafia operates, and it’s how the American creeps who get rich off of Chinese slave labor defend the indefensible.
a performer from Israel, won the annual Eurovision Song Contest on
May 12, 2018, in Portugal’s Lisbon Arena, meaning that this year’s
competition would be held in her home country, one thing was beyond
doubt: that before the day appointed for Eurovision 2019 rolled
around, Israel-haters from every corner of Europe would raise a stink
about the venue.
Sure enough, in a letter
published on January 29 in the Guardian, fifty members of “the
creative industries” complained that although “Eurovision may be
light entertainment…it is not exempt from human rights
considerations – and we cannot ignore Israel’s systematic
violation of Palestinian human rights.” Because of this violation,
they argued, the BBC – which airs Eurovision in Britain – “should
act on its principles and press for Eurovision to be relocated to a
country where crimes against…freedom are not being committed.”
The fifty people, most of them British, who signed this reprehensible document are a mixed bunch. Some are relatively obscure writers or musicians who have no prominent record of this kind of activism. Others are pretty famous actors or directors and have long histories of far-left political activity. Several are ardent Communists or former Communists. A number of them are involved in pro-Palestinian causes. Many are fervent supporters of Labour Party leader and notorious anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn. Here are some of the more familiar names.
Roy Battersby, a film and TV director, is the stepfather of actress Kate Beckinsale and a former Communist who was active in the Workers Revolutionary Party (so we know that he has good judgment about human rights). Maxine Peake, star of a number of BBC series, is a sometime member of the Communist Party of Britain, won a 2014 award for an Outstanding Contribution to Socialism, and calls Jeremy Corbyn a “beacon of hope.” Alexei Sayle, a stand-up comedian and author, is also a former member of the Communist Party of Britain who still considers himself a Communist and considers Corbyn “morally incorruptible.” Actress Miriam Margolyes is a pro-Palestinian activist who has been active in a group called Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Actress Julie Christie, now 78, won an Oscar for Darling (1965) and is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).
Among the letter’s signatories,
playwright and PSC patron Caryl Churchill has one of the most
impressive records of hard-core Jew-hatred. In 2009, she banged out
her play Seven Jewish Children in record time so it could be
staged while that year’s Gaza crisis was still underway. Writing in
The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg described
it as “anti-Jewish agitprop” and “a drive-by shooting of a
play” that contains a “not-entirely veiled blood libel” and
seeks “to demonize the Jewish people.” In the Spectator,
Melanie Phillips called
it “despicable,” “a direct attack on the Jews” that denies
the “Jewish claim to the land of Israel” and depicts Jews as
“kill[ing] and persecut[ing] the Arabs out of some kind of
strutting power complex.”
Peter Gabriel, formerly of the rock
band Genesis, is no slouch either. Associated with Amnesty
International for decades, he’s a co-founder of his own
human-rights group, Witness, and, along with Jimmy Carter and others,
is a member of a group called The Elders that seeks to resolve
conflicts around the world. In 1992, along with such left-wing
politicians as Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn, he called for British
withdrawal from Northern Ireland; in 2014, he contributed songs to an
album intended to aid Gaza. Film director Ken Loach has belonged to
the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Workers Party, and the
International Marxist Group, has been involved with Jeremy Corbyn and
with the bilious Jew-hater George Galloway, has campaigned for a
number of boycotts of Israel, and has condemned efforts to address
anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood
is also a Corbyn supporter. And last but not least there’s Roger
Waters, whose virulent anti-Semitism we’ve written about at length
on this site.
In short, this campaign to steal
Eurovision from Israel is an effort by the usual suspects. When one
scans through the letter and picks out the familiar names at the end
of it, it’s no surprise to see any of them there. This is what
these people are. This is what they’re about. Together, they form
an unsavory grab-bag, consisting of fervent fans of Corbyn and
Galloway, of longtime card-carrying Communists, of committed
Jew-haters. If you’re in search of a gallery of British useful
stooges, look no further than this shameful roster of signatories.
We first wrote about Linda Sarsour on April 13 of last year. A few weeks earlier, on the day after President Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March on Washington had turned Linda Sarsour, one of the event’s organizers and lead speakers, into a household name. She was the one in hijab, the one who began her speech with the words “as-salāmu ʿalaykum,” the one who told the crowd that she was “unapologetically Muslim-American,” and the one who vowed: “I will respect the presidency, but I will not respect this President of the United States of America.” Why? Because Trump had “won the election on the backs of Muslims,” a group that had been “suffering in silence for the past fifteen years.”
And what had happened fifteen years earlier? 9/11. “For her,” we noted, “the history of the last fifteen years has been a history not of one barbaric mass murder after another performed in the name of Islam, but of a silent epidemic of cruel, soul-crushing Islamophobia.”
Sarsour, of course, presented herself as a feminist. Soon, however, it emerged that she was a zealous supporter of sharia law. She was also fiercely hostile to women, such as Brigitte Gabriel and the former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who are critical of the unequal and often brutal treatment of women under sharia. Unable to answer their charges, Sarsour attacked them personally, tweeting that they were “asking 4 an a$$ whippin’” and that “they don’t deserve to be women.”
Reprehensible. Nonetheless, Sarsour enjoys the support of Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison, Van Jones, Amnesty International, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a number of other left-wing individuals and institutions. When we caught up with her in November, Time and Glamour had joined the list. We also discovered that in addition to playing a role in the decision of Brandeis University to decide against giving an honorary degree to Hirsi Ali, Sarsour had also influenced New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to stop monitoring mosques – a move that made it possible for at least one jihadist, Saypullo Saipov, to take eight lives.
Yet her star continues to climb. Earlier this summer it was reported that Abdul El-Sayed, one of the Democratic candidates for governor of Michigan (he lost the August 7 primary, thank goodness), is close to Sarsour. This didn’t come as a huge surprise. El-Sayed, a Muslim, received the endorsements of two prominent self-identified socialists, Senator Sanders and media darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Still, as former prosecutor Ari Lieberman wrote, El-Sayed’s “association with Sarsour should raise alarm bells.”
For one thing, there’s her enthusiasm for sharia law. For another, she’s “an anti-Semite to her core and is on record making a number of disparaging comments about the ‘Jewish media,’ Zionism and Israel.” Then there’s her “support for Assata Shakur, a murderer who killed a New Jersey state trooper in a 1973 shootout.” (When CNN’s Jake Tapper, a card-carrying liberal, questioned her defense of Shakur, Sarsour “bizarrely accused Tapper of being a member of the ‘alt-right.’”) And let’s not forget “her unabashed support for the unrepentant Judeophobe, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.” Once upon a time Farrakhan was the third rail of American politics; no more, apparently.
“Aspiring Democratic politicians like El-Sayed,” lamented Lieberman, “no longer shy away from toxic bigots like Sarsour. Sadly, they embrace them.” No sooner had El-Sayed lost the primary, however, than another connection to Sarsour made the news. We’ll get to that next time.
Yesterday we met Linda Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March on January 21 – and a devout Muslim who defends Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women and accuses the U.S. of executing Muslim children.
Not long before the Women’s March raised her profile, Sarsour deleted dozens of old tweets – which, fortunately, had already been saved by critics. In some of these tweets, she expressed her support for sharia law. For example: “You’ll know when you’re living under Sharia Law if suddenly all your loans & credit cars become interest free. Sound nice, doesn’t it?” Here’s another: “I don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat pork, I follow Islamic way of living. That’s all Sharia law is.” Then there’s this one: “shariah law is reasonable and once u read into the details it makes a lot of sense.”
In fact, there’s nothing “reasonable” about sharia. It is anti-woman, anti-human, anti-freedom. It allows men to have four wives but allows women to have only one husband. It permits men to divorce at will while forcing women who want divorces to go through lengthy judicial processes that may or may not end in divorce. Under sharia, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man. Women are required to obey their husbands and must ask permission to leave the house. A woman who claims to have been raped must produce four male witnesses, and if they cannot be found, she is considered not to have been raped but to have engaged in forbidden sex acts for which she can be executed. Sharia prescribes the death penalty for gays, for apostates, for Muslim women who marry infidel men, and for much else.
There are women with backgrounds in the Muslim world who have stood up courageously for their rights of their sisters living under sharia. One of them is Ayaan Hirsi Ali; another is Brigitte Gabriel. Sansour has viciously attacked both of these women. In one tweet she said that Hirsi Ali and Gabriel were “asking 4 an a$$ whippin’.” She added: “I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women.” In 2014 Sansour, who has called Hirsi Ali a “hatemonger,” took part in a successful campaign to get Brandeis University to cancel plans to award her an honorary degree.
When asked on Fox News about Sarsour, Hirsi Ali commented: “Ms. Sarsour is hostile to me not because she knows me but because she is a fake feminist. Ms. Sarsour is not interested in universal human rights. She is a defender of sharia law [and] there is no principle that demeans, degrades, and dehumanizes women more than the principle of sharia law.” Hirsi Ali went on to ask why, if Sarsour is so concerned about women’s rights, she never speaks up for the women imprisoned and executed in Muslim countries for such “crimes” as blasphemy. Hirsi Ali noted that when some of her own friends told her they would be participating in the Women’s March, she told them: “We have real threats to women.” She enumerated some of them: female genital mutilation; child brides; gender-selective abortion. Why, Hirsi Ali asked, weren’t American women marching against those atrocities?
Good questions. Clearly, Sansour has no business being viewed as a feminist heroine. And yet many leading figures on the left have declared their unconditional loyalty to her. Among those who have tweeted their support are Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Keith Ellison, TV commentators Van Jones and Sally Kohn, Amnesty International and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and celebrities Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons, and Mark Ruffalo (who told Sansour: “You are the best of what America is”).
How can this be? How can a woman who supports sharia be embraced by self-styled progressives as “the best of what America is”? Unfortunately, many “progressive” Americans today suffer from a particularly perverse brand of cognitive dissonance when it comes to Islam. Like everyone else, they know about Islamic terrorism, and they’ve heard (they must have heard, at this point) that sharia is profoundly illiberal; and yet they’re incapable of seeing Islam as anything other than a religion of victims. They have no trouble criticizing Christianity, but they consider any criticism of Islam – up to and including criticism of even the most brutal aspects of sharia – to be beyond the pale. And so it was that we witnessed, on January 21, the obscene spectacle of an immense crowd of self-declared freedom lovers applauding a proud adherent of sharia.
Our recent coverage of Nicki Minaj‘s nauseating performance for Angola’s thug-in-chief reminded us that there are other celebrities who belong to the same club but to whom we hadn’t yet accorded the attention we gave to Minaj.
Take Sting, aka Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner CBE. The British musician and songwriter, formerly of The Police, has won 16 Grammys, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, three Oscar nominations for Best Song, and is said to be worth several hundred million dollars. For many years, moreover, he’s presented himself as a world-class champion of humanitarian causes, associated himself with groups like Amnesty International, and made himself the face of such high-profile environmental causes as saving the Brazilian rain forests.
Nonetheless, in October 2009 he decided he couldn’t do without an additional million or two dollars. That’s the sum he accepted to perform in a show arranged by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Islam Karimov, the monster who runs Uzbekistan. If you don’t know about Karimov, here’s a fun fact, courtesy of Fox News: Karimov “burst upon the international scene in 2005 when his troops opened fire on protesters in the city of Andijan,” killing up to 5000 people, largely women and children.
Sting managed to keep his Uzbek deal from blowing up in the British media – but only for a few months. When Marina Hyde reported on it in the Guardian the following February – noting that Karimov had been accused of “boiling his enemies, slaughtering his poverty-stricken people when they protest, and conscripting armies of children for slave labour” – Sting felt obliged to issue a statement. Acknowledging that he’d given the concert, he added that “I believe [it was] sponsored by Unicef.” The Guardian checked out this claim; Unicef, it turned out, had had no connection whatsoever with the event.
Sting went on to say that, while “well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment,” he’d chosen to accept Karimova’s invitation because “I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular.” Ka-ching!
The Guardian had a good answer to Sting’s apologia: “Even if you accept Sting’s live performances as ‘ideas and art,’ you can’t really help but question this notion of ‘open commerce,’ considering the tickets for his concert cost more than 45 times the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan.” Craig Murray, former U.K. Ambassador to Uzbekistan, called Sting’s response “transparent bollocks,” adding:
He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?…I agree with him that cultural isolation does not help. I am often asked about the morality of going to Uzbekistan, and I always answer – go, mix with ordinary people, tell them about other ways of life, avoid state owned establishments and official tours. What Sting did was the opposite. To invoke Unicef as a cover, s[i]t next to a woman who has made hundreds of millions from state forced child labour in the cotton fields, is pretty sick.
Writing in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson asked: “Does Sting really think that the President of Uzbekistan doesn’t care what or who his daughter spends two million dollars on?” Karimova, Davidson pointed out, is “not just some apolitical fashionista but is also a member of the government” and her father’s presumed successor, and thus “deeply, deeply implicated” in his evildoing.
In Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein weighed in: “I’m not going to pretend pop-music fame is easy, but here’s a handy maxim for future crooners to keep in mind: Don’t do private concerts for tyrannical rulers who reportedly boil people alive. Just sayin’.” Weinstein also pointed out that, Karimov’s brutality aside, Gulnara Karimova is “a piece of work in her own right,” who “reportedly runs several state-owned business concerns cobbled together from Western assets seized in Uzbekistan, which are occasionally backed by shadowy military contractors who might be involved in assassinations. She’s also listed as one of the 10 richest women in Switzerland. Let that sink in for a minute.”
Does it even take a minute? Clearly, Sting knew exactly what he was getting into – and didn’t care, not for a second.
Next week and the week after, in honor of Vladimir Putin’s sixty-third birthday, we’ll be examining some of his most ardent European fans – among them a Dutch rapper, a former Italian prime minister, a British billionaire, and a Norwegian historian. Today, however, we’ll be taking yet another look at a fellow whom we’ve discussed here several times before, and who may be Putin’s most stubbornly loyal cheerleader in the whole U.S.A.
We’re talking, of course, about Stephen F. Cohen, a veteran academic luminary (Princeton, NYU) who, back in the day, was considered a top expert on the Soviet Union and is now increasingly recognized as one of the current Kremlin regime’s most aggressive and shameless apologists.
If we keep bringing up Cohen on this site, it’s because he keeps bringing up Putin – almost invariably in the pages of The Nation, the weekly rag owned and edited by his rich lefty wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel. Our subject today: his latest propaganda effort, a June 30 piece entitled “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities.” It’s full of passages calculated to paint the Ukrainian government as a pack of savages, to depict pro-Russians living in the eastern Ukraine as helpless victims, and to cast Putin in the role of the peaceful leader who’s displaying exemplary restraint in the face of a brutally violent enemy:
Kiev’s “anti-terrorist” tactics have created a reign of terror in the targeted cities. Panicked by shells and mortars exploding on the ground, menacing helicopters and planes flying above and fear of what may come next, families are seeking sanctuary in basements and other darkened shelters….an ever-growing number of refugees, disproportionately women and traumatized children, have been desperately fleeing the carnage….By mid-July, roads and trains [to Russia] were filled with refugees from newly besieged Luhansk and Donetsk, a city of one million and already “a ghostly shell.”
Throughout his piece, Cohen defends the Kremlin’s thug-in-chief (“however authoritarian Putin may be, there is nothing authentically fascist in his rulership, policies, state ideology or personal conduct”) while repeatedly flinging the word fascist at democratic Ukrainian leaders and groups and parties. In short, he’s perpetrating good, old-fashioned Stalin-era-style Nation journalism, taking us back to the days when, in the Marxist-soaked minds at that publication, the Soviets were the real heroes in the struggle against fascism, and the Western Allies (at best) Johnny-come-lately amateurs who reaped the rewards of victory in World War II and hogged the credit. Cohen finds it important, for example, to point out that Putin’s “brother died and [his] father was wounded in the Soviet-Nazi war” (yes, that’s right, “the Soviet-Nazi war”) and to warn us that “tens of millions of today’s Russians whose family members were killed by actual fascists in that war will regard…defamation of their popular president [i.e., any suggestion that he’s a fascist] as sacrilege, as they do the atrocities committed by Kiev.” So there.
On July 24, in Slate, the Russia-born American journalist Cathy Young, who is a contributing editor at Reason, gave Cohen precisely what he had coming to him for this most recent boatload of disinformation.
First Young made a few telling points about Cohen’s background: during his years as a “Soviet expert,” he befriended some Soviet dissidents, though they were usually “of the democratic socialist or even Marxist persuasion.” During the Gorbachev period, he and vanden Heuvel co-authored Voices of Glasnost, a collection of interviews with “proponents of top-down change to bring about a kinder, gentler Soviet socialism.” Then the USSR fell, the result, in most people’s view, of “the system’s internal rot,” although Cohen blamed it on “Boris Yeltsin’s power-grabbing, aided by the pro-Western ‘radical intelligentsia’ that ‘hijacked Gorbachev’s gradualist reformation.’”
Putin’s rise won Cohen’s cheers – and Putin’s brutal regime, as we’ve observed repeatedly on this site, has won Cohen’s unwavering praise. But this newest article by Cohen, as Young puts it, “hits a new low.” Cohen sums up his thesis as follows: “the pro-Western Ukrainian government, aided and abetted by the Obama administration, the ‘new Cold War hawks’ in Congress, and the craven American media, is committing ‘deeds that are rising to the level of war crimes, if they have not done so already.’” Young notes that while Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the U.N. have reacted to the fighting in the Ukraine by raising concerns of the sort that they routinely, and properly, raise about any and every armed conflict, none of them have suggested that Ukraine is guilty of war crimes.
She further points out that while these organizations have documented acts of rape, kidnapping torture, and murder by “the insurgents whom Cohen calls ‘resisters,’” he “entirely omits these inconvenient facts, conceding only that the rebels are ‘aggressive, organized and well armed—no doubt with some Russian assistance.’” No doubt indeed. Cohen also argues that “calling them ‘self-defense’ fighters is not wrong,” because “their land is being invaded and assaulted by a government whose political legitimacy is arguably no greater than their own, two of their large regions having voted overwhelmingly for autonomy referendums.” Really? Here’s what Young has to say about those “referendums”:
Is Cohen the one person in the world who puts stock in the results of the Donetsk and Luhansk “referendums,” which even Russia did not formally recognize? Pre-referendum polls in both regions found that most residents opposed secession; they were also, as a U.N. report confirms, kept from voting in the presidential election by violence and intimidation from the insurgents. Nor does Cohen ever acknowledge the known fact that a substantial percentage of the “resisters” are not locals but citizens of the Russian Federation—particularly their leaders, many of whom have ties to Russian “special security services.” Their ranks also include quite a few Russian ultranationalists and even neo-Nazis—a highly relevant fact, given that much of Cohen’s article is devoted to claims that Ukrainian “neo-fascists” play a key role both in the Kiev government and in the counterinsurgency operation.
Young goes on to catalogue the factual mistakes – or outright lies – in Cohen’s piece, which she describes as “so error-riddled that one has to wonder if The Nation employs fact-checkers.” She rightly dismisses his absurd “claims about the ‘mainstreaming of fascism’s dehumanizing ethos’ in Ukraine,” which, she points out, “rely heavily on Russian propaganda canards.” Then there’s this:
In a downright surreal passage, Cohen argues that Putin has shown “remarkable restraint” so far but faces mounting public pressure due to “vivid accounts” in the Russian state-run media of Kiev’s barbarities against ethnic Russians. Can he really be unaware that the hysteria is being whipped up by lurid fictions, such as the recent TV1 story about a 3-year-old boy crucified in Slovyansk’s main square in front of a large crowd and his own mother? Does Cohen not know that Russian disinformation and fakery, including old footage from Dagestan or Syria passed off as evidence of horrors in Ukraine, has been extensively documented? Is he unaware that top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin himself, have publicly repeated allegations of war crimes that were quickly exposed as false, such as white phosphorus use by Ukrainian troops or a slaughter of the wounded in a hospital? But Cohen manages to take the surrealism a notch higher, earnestly citing the unnamed “dean of Moscow State University’s School of Television” (that’s Vitaly Tretyakov, inter alia a 9/11 “truther”) who thinks the Kremlin may be colluding with the West to hush up the extent of carnage in Ukraine.
Yes, eastern Ukraine is undergoing a human-rights crisis. As Young notes, every bit of evidence indicates that it’s “overwhelmingly the responsibility of the Russia-sponsored militants.” But for the likes of Stephen F. Cohen, his devoted spouse, and their comrades at The Nation, what are mere facts alongside a fealty to the Putin line that’s every bit as deeply seated as their forerunners’ determination, back in the days of Stalin, to be reliable cogs in Uncle Joe’s monstrous mendacity machine?
He studied sociology at Kenyon College and public policy at Harvard; after returning home to Venezuela, he was elected mayor of Chacao, one of the five political subdivisions of the city of Caracas. Twice during his eight-year tenure (2000-2008), Transparency International gave him awards for presiding over an honest and efficient municipal administration in a country otherwise rife with corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency. The City Mayors Foundation awarded him third place in its international World Mayors Commendation, calling him “a hands-on mayor as well as a national politician fighting for democratic openness and fairness in Venezuela.” When he completed his two terms as mayor, he had a 92% approval rating.
What stopped Leopoldo López from going on to a third term? Hugo Chávez. In 2008, citing manifestly trumped-up corruption charges, the government denied López and a number of other opposition politicians the right to run for office. Human Rights Watch, the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) all took López’s side, calling his treatment undemocratic, but the chavistas held firm: they knew a serious threat to their rotten-to-the-core regime when they saw one.
López – young, handsome, passionate, eloquent, charismatic, and sharp as a tack – went on to become not just a leader but a symbol of his country’s democratic opposition. On February 18 of last year, after organizing and participating in a mass protest against the Chávez government, he was arrested on charges of “terrorism, murder, grievous bodily harm, public incitement, arson, damage to property, and conspiracy to commit crimes.” The charges were as patently illegitimate as the charge of corruption that kept him from running for elective office, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded his immediate release – to no avail.
He has been in prison ever since. During his incarceration, he has been showered with honors. Harvard gave him an award. So did the National Endowment for Democracy. In Spain, he won the Cádiz Cortes Ibero-American Freedom Prize. This June, Foreign Policy – which had already named him one of its “Leading Global Thinkers of 2014” – ran an article hailing him as “Venezuela’s Last Hope” and said he embodied “the change his country needs.” Polls show that in an electoral face-off for the presidency between López and the incumbent, Chávez protégé Nicolás Maduro, the vote would be 72% to 28%.
(Meanwhile The Nation, the flagship weekly of America’s far left and home base for the nation’s most egregious useful stooges, exhibited its usual contempt for freedom by deferentially interviewing a longtime chavista who was allowed to smear López in its pages as an “extreme right-winger,” “fanatical fascist,” and “ultra-super-reactionary.”)
The latest outrage came two days ago, on September 10. After a closed-door trial, López was sentenced to thirteen years and nine months in prison. Erika Guevara-Ross, Americas Director at Amnesty International, made her organization’s position clear: López, she said, is being punished for leading “an opposition party….He should have never been arbitrarily arrested or tried in the first place. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.” José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director at Human Rights Watch, called the case “a complete travesty of justice.” The Washington Post noted that in recent months U.S. diplomat Thomas A. Shannon Jr. had met with Maduro and other officials “to convey U.S. concern about the outcome of the López trial,” but obviously to no avail.
Innumerable Americans and Europeans root reflexively for Venezuelan socialism, having been beguiled into thinking that it embodies “liberal” or “progressive” values. If they had any decency, this latest cruel and cynical move against the ruling party’s #1 opponent would awaken them to the truth about Maduro’s monstrous regime. But don’t count on it. As history shows, useful stooges have a remarkable gift for preserving their own self-delusion.
Over the last few days we’ve been looking at some of Venezuela’s slimier chavistas. But let’s not leave the impression that all the unsavory public figures in that country are members of the ruling party. Not officially, anyway.
Take Henry Lisandro Ramos Allup, a lawyer who is Secretary General of Acción Democrática, Venezuela’s largest opposition party, and who represents Venezuela in the Latin American Parliament. Acción Democrática isn’t a conservative or classical liberal party; like Chávez‘s PSUV, it’s a left-wing party. Indeed, Ramos is currently Vice President of the Socialist International. And although he’s purportedly a leader of the opposition to Maduro’s government, he’s very – shall we say – diplomatic when discussing the ruling party. He believes, he says, not in confrontation but in respectful discussion and debate.
The man he does criticize – and very fiercely, at that – is his fellow opposition leader, Léopoldo López. Founder of the pro-freedom party Voluntad Popular, López is Venezuela’s most admired politician. He’s been in prison since February of last year, having been locked up by Maduro because he loudly and eloquently assailed the regime’s systematic violation of basic freedoms and human rights. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other such groups have called for López‘s immediate release; Ramos, however, has persisted in slamming him even while he’s been in the slammer, condemning his spirited approach as counterproductive and divisive. The irony here, of course, is that Ramos’s cheap, cowardly swipes at López are nothing if not divisive for the Venezuelan opposition. This past February, when leaders from a range of opposition parties took part in a demonstration protesting López‘s continued imprisonment, Ramos stayed away,as did his cronies from Acción Democrática. How could that be interpreted, other than as a tacit endorsement of the chavista practice of putting its real opponents behind bars?
Why is Ramos so hostile to López? One reason is doubtless sheer envy. A 2006 cable, written by U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William R. Brownfield and later made public by Wikileaks, described Ramos as a “crude” and “abrasive” figure whose “repellent” personality and lack of imagination made him a burden to his own party. López, by contrast, is unusually intelligent, articulate, and attractive – a stirring, courageous figure whose vigorous denunciations of the oppressive and fiscally disastrous Maduro regime have struck a chord among millions of increasingly fed-up Venezuelans.
But another reason for Ramos’s criticism of López, we suspect, is that Ramos, a socialist, isn’t really all that opposed to the ideology of the Maduro regime. On the contrary, there’s ample evidence that Ramos has intimate and profitable links to what one of his critics has called “the revolution’s most unsavory characters.” Welcome, then, to Venezuela, where even the head of the largest opposition party is uncomfortably close to being a chavista stooge himself.
Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion.” That’s Sean Penn, Oscar-winning actor, political activist, and ex-spouse of Madonna, upon hearing the news of Hugo Chávez’s death. “I lost a friend I was blessed to have,” Penn lamented, adding that “Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of vice president Maduro.”
On the same occasion, Michael Moore tweeted: “Hugo Chávez declared the oil belonged 2 the ppl. He used the oil $ 2 eliminate 75% of extreme poverty, provide free health & education 4 all. That made him dangerous. US approved of a coup to overthrow him even though he was a democratically-elected president.”
We’ve already surveyed Oliver Stone‘s tributes to Chávez, which included not only any number of embarrassingly fulsome press releases but two classic examples of film agitprop. But in addition to this trio of ill-informed Hollywood stooges (whose equally deplorable Fidel fandom we’ve previously covered), the putatively humble-yet-heroic Hugo – and his less colorful but equally vile successor, Nicolás Maduro – have also accumulated praise from people who actually should know better.
One of them is ex-Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II – JFK’s nephew; Bobby and Ethel’s oldest son – who today runs a green-oriented nonprofit called Citizens Energy. In February 2014, under the headline “A Kennedy Shills for Maduro,” Sohrab Ahmari reported in the Wall Street Journal that TV ads for Citizens Energy were praising Maduro for providing free heating fuel to underprivileged Bay Staters. Calling the commercials “an almost-perfect exercise in demagoguery,” Ahmari described one of them as follows:
“The cold can overwhelm even the toughest amongst us,” Mr. Kennedy says, as a sad piano tune plays and images of children with cancer fill the screen. “The heating bills just keep piling on,” Mr. Kennedy goes on, and we see him hugging a young cancer survivor, who smiles but also seems slightly uncomfortable. Then, following a burst of upbeat music, Mr. Kennedy says: “The people of Venezuela and President Maduro are once again . . . the only country to answer our call to provide heating assistance to the poor.”
As Ahmari noted, the ads didn’t mention such “other hallmarks of the Maduro regime” as outrageous corruption, soaring crime, shortages of food and medicine, and the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López. “Given the situation at home,” Ahmari summed up, “Maduro must be thrilled that he can count on useful idiots like Joe Kennedy to sing his praises to the world.”
Then there’s Belén Fernández, who in February 2014 published an article at the Al Jazeera website that was one long sneer at the “absurd hysterics that typify the Venezuelan opposition,” a.k.a. the “doom-and-gloom squawking of the elite.” Fernández’s case in point: a Caracas blogger, Emiliana Duarte, who’d written about having to visit ten different supermarkets in order to find all the ingredients she needed to bake a cake.
Duarte’s account nicely illustrated the impact of chronic shortages on everyday Venezuelan life; but for Fernández, it was nothing but an “elite right-wing…sob story” and a “less than persuasive evidence of the supposedly brutal tyranny under which Duarte and her socioeconomic cohorts are forced to reside.” Of course, the story wasn’t intended to provide evidence of brutal tyranny but of economic mismanagement; in any event, Fernández had nothing to counter it with but mockery. For her, plainly, anycriticism of anyaspect of chavismo is nothing but elitist treason, motivated by a longing for (as she put it) “the deliverance of Venezuela into the imperial [American] embrace.”
Or take “social-justice” activist Dan Kovalik, who has called Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution “the most benevolent revolution in history.” In a piece that ran at Huffington Post on February 20, 2014, Kovalik spun chavismo this way: it’s benefited “the very poor and those of darker skin tone,” so if the U.S. government and media smear Venezuela as a “basket case” and condemn its “alleged lack of democracy,” it’s because they’re racists who “openly side with the white, wealthy elite – such as Kenyon and Harvard trained right wing leader Leopoldo López.”
Kovalik’s mention of López was, alas, not well-timed: two days before Kovalik’s article appeared, López was put under arrest; he’s been behind bars ever since, and both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch consider him a political prisoner. (HRW described his detention as exemplary of “the classic tactics of an authoritarian regime.”)
As for the Venezuelan economy, Kovalik called “claims of ‘economic collapse’…quite exaggerated,” citing as evidence import and export figures that proved nothing. (The shortages went unmentioned.) And the country’s high level of violence? Kovalik attributed it – with a straight face – to opposition agitators, and even maintained that “the Venezuelan government has exercised great restraint” in its response to that violence.
Sheer fiction. Kovalik’s piece made one thing clear. For him, as for Fernández, any criticism of chavismo, however legitimate, should be recognized as part of a perfidious effort to “reverse” Venezuela’s “liberation” from U.S. domination – and, consequently, even the most deceitful response to such criticism is justifiable as a blow for the glorious revolution.
Oh, and by the way: in April, 2015, the Fusion website reported that some hotels in Venezuela were now asking foreign tourists to bring their own toilet paper and other basic supplies. “For over a year,” lamented one hotelier, “we haven’t had toilet paper, soap, any kind of milk, coffee or sugar. So we have to tell our guests to come prepared.” Another hotel owner admitted that in all good conscience, she couldn’t advise visitors from abroad to come to Venezuela: “As soon as they get off the plane they will encounter risks.”
America’s new opening to Cuba should not blind us to the cruel history of the Castro era. We should not forget the human-rights heroes who have suffered in Castro’s prisons and spoken out internationally about his tyranny. Nor should we forget those prominent figures in the West who have betrayed the cause of freedom by befriending, defending, and brown-nosing Castro over the decades.
Take, for example, Gabriel García Márquez. During his lifetime, he was probably the most honored and most famous author in the Spanish-speaking world. He deserved immense respect for his writings: his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is a beautiful piece of work, a true masterpiece. After his death in April 2014, however, he was celebrated by left-wing media around the world not only as a literary genius but as a great humanitarian, a sort of world-class hero of the human spirit. Recently, on the Oscar telecast, he was included in the “In Memoriam” segment alongside the likes of actors Mickey Rooney and Eli Wallach, presumably on the basis of his handful of obscure Spanish-language screenplays.
Only a few dissident voices dared breathe the ugly truth.
Armando Valladares, who described his years as a prisoner of conscience under Castro in the book Against All Hope, wrote after García Márquez’s death that the Colombian novelist had “put his pen at the service of Fidel Castro’s tyranny, supporting torture, the concentration camps, and the murdering by firing squad of whoever dared to oppose the Communist regime. García Márquez used to say that the only country in the Americas that respected human rights was Cuba.”
García Márquez, recalled Valladares, “lived in a ‘House of Protocol’ with Blanquita, his teenage lover….The Nobel winner had a white Mercedes Benz, another gift from his friend Fidel Castro, and privileges in exchange for defending Castro’s dictatorship, all while he rent his robes denouncing Pinochet.”
Valladares’s gravest revelation was that García Márquez was “an informer for Castro’s political police” – in other words, a snitch, a fink, a double-crosser. Valladares cited the case of Cuban dissident Ricardo Bofill, who, during a visit by García Márquez to Havana, entrusted him with “documents relating to several Cuban artists.” Shortly thereafter, Bofill was arrested – and “displayed on the table right next to Castro’s secret-policeman…were the very documents which Bofill had given García Márquez.”
Bofill, whom Cuban emigré Humberto Fontova describes as “a peaceful human-rights activist inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.,” ended up spending “12 years in Castro’s prisons—thanks to Gabriel García Márquez.” In 1968, two major Spanish newspapers, ABC and Diario 16, reported on this betrayal, and stated flatly that García Márquez had informed on several Cuban writers and artists, whose trust in him – as a colleague who they assumed would agitate for their human rights – landed them in prison.
“Some of his friends and defenders have said that García Márquez interceded for my freedom,” wrote Valladares. “This is absolutely untrue — a complete falsehood. I have enough moral honesty (which he did not) to have accepted the story if it had been true. This version was a maneuver of his buddies to capitalize on the international sympathy that produced my release; they used this sympathy on his behalf. What he did was use the Nobel Prize ceremony to repeat accusations of Castro against me, which prompted a strong critical letter from the French PEN Club, into which I had been adopted as an honorary member.”
Fontova noted that Castro provided García Márquez with “a (stolen) mansion…where he frolicked with adolescent girls” and with “a (stolen) Mercedes” in which he tooled around the crumbling city of Havana. Fontova also cited Before Night Falls, the autobiography of gay Cuban writer Reynaldo Arenas, who “was jailed and tortured by Castro’s police for his rebellious writings and gay lifestyle” before finally escaping to the U.S. in 1980. Two years later, Arenas described García Márquez as an “unscrupulous propagandist for totalitarianism.”
Then there’s Cuban author and emigré Roberto Luque Escalona, a sometime Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who said of García Márquez that
Only a five star-scoundrel would put his literary fame in the service of a cause as vile and malignant as the Castro tyranny. Simple frivolity cannot possibly justify an embrace so long and strong as the one Garcia-Marquez gave someone who devastated a nation, murdered thousands, jailed and tortured tens of thousands dispersed an entire nation and debased the rest.
A fellow Latin American novelist who is not only a gifted artist but a morally admirable human being, the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, has described García Márquez as Castro’s “courtesan.” But in fact he was only one of several international cultural figures who were, or are, “courtesans” in Castro’s harem. We’ll look at a few more of them next time.