Venezuela: a new assault on freedom

leopoldo
Leopoldo López

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.

chavez2
The late Hugo Chávez

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.

maduro
Nicolás Maduro

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.”)

vdheuvel12
Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Nation

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.

The Nation‘s shameless spin on Venezuela

lopez
Leopoldo López

The other day Foreign Policy posted an excellent article by Jeffrey Tayler entitled “Venezuela’s Last Hope.” The reference was to Leopoldo López, who was described by Tayler as “the most prominent and charismatic leader of Venezuela’s embattled democratic opposition” and as embodying “the change his country needs” – and who’s been a political prisoner for over a year. Although his jailers have subjected him to “especially harsh treatment, hurling excrement and urine through his cell’s bars, disrupting his sleep, confiscating his personal belongings and writings, subjecting him to eight months of solitary confinement (torture, according to the relevant United Nations convention), and denying him legally mandated visits from his wife…and his two young children,” López has twice refused offers to be released and sent to the U.S. in exchange for a convicted traitor.

maduro
Nicolás Maduro

The contrast between López and Nicolás Maduro, the incompetent clown who incarcerated him, is stark: Maduro is an ignorant lout who rode the wave of chavismo from poverty to power and who, unable to abandon the ideology that underlies Venezuela’s economic crisis, seeks to distract his followers with fatuous speeches blaming everything on the evil U.S. and his “fascist” opponents; López, handsome, charismatic, and highly intelligent, attended Kenyon College and Harvard, served as a “high-level analyst for the country’s state-owned oil company,” taught economics at the university level, and for eight years was the remarkably effective and corruption-free mayor of the Chacao municipality in Caracas. “If anyone is fit to unseat Maduro,” wrote Tayler, “it is López.”

britto
Luis Britto García

Yet how have our friends at The Nation, that chavismo-loving, Putin-defending flagship organ of the American left, spun this story? In April of last year, under a headline identifying López and his allies as “Neo-Fascist Creeps,” it ran an interview with author Luis Britto García, a longtime Chávez courtier, who called López an “extreme right-winger,” “fanatical fascist,” and “ultra-super-reactionary” and mocked him as “the latest in a long line of messiahs of the right” who’d soon be forgotten.

grandin
Greg Grandin

This March, The Nation ran another piece in which NYU history prof and critic of “U.S. imperialism” Greg Grandin, purportedly seeking the truth about the current situation in Venezuela, consulted a series of “experts” all of whom, unsurprisingly, supplied The Nation with exactly what it wanted. To sum up their wisdom: (1) we should “keep perspective” (after all, things are bad in Mexico, too); (2) the U.S. may not support Maduro, but the Venezuelan people do; (3) Venezuela’s economic problems are caused not by socialism by the “destabilizing” influence of the “fascists”; (4) Venezuela’s economic problems are caused not by socialism but by “a dysfunctional exchange rate system”; (5) Venezuela’s economic problems are caused not by socialism but by the fact that Venezuela has not become socialist enough – the country needs to leave “neo-liberalism” completely behind and “advance towards a post-capitalist model in which productive capacities are socialized in the hands of the people.” Yeah, that always works. 

And what about López? Grandin mentioned him in passing  in parentheses – identifying him as “the now jailed Leopoldo López”; but that was it. There was no mention of the reason for López’s captivity, no acknowledgment that he’s been locked up for over a year without trial; and, of course, no attempt to discuss the morality of his incarceration.

Surprising? No. This is just The Nation being The Nation – an eternal disgrace to freedom and tireless defender of socialist despotism.