After being ruled by a series of
socialist crooks – such as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ended up
in prison for money laundering, and Dilma Rousseff, who was removed
from office for corruption – Brazil opted for Jair Bolsonaro, a
conservative admirer of Donald Trump who believes in cultivating
alliances with democracies and spurning dictators. Argentina, after
years of rule by “progressives” and Peronists, most notably the
left-wing, sticky-fingered Kirschner clan, elected Mauricio Macri
who, after high-profile defaults on the nation’s sovereign debt,
seeks to reintegrate his country into the international market
economy. In Venezuela, where chavismo succeeded in turning a
highly prosperous oil-exporting country into a nightmare of
hyperinflation where people are eating their pets or fleeing to
Colombia, Hugo Chavez’s personally chosen successor, the mendacious
Marxist mediocrity Nicolas Maduro, continues to cling to power thanks
only to the backing of a ruthless Cuban-trained military even as the
admirable Juan Guaido – a fan of liberty, friend of America,
admirer of the free market, and potential rescuer of the so-called
Bolivarian Republic – waits in the wings, desperate to set things
In these South
American nations, then, things seem to be moving in the right
direction. Now another one has joined the pack. In Bolivia, Evo
Morales, who since his ascent to the presidency in 2006 has become
more and more of an authoritarian, finally went too far this year,
triggering, in the words of the Atlantic‘s Yascha Mounk,
“weeks of mass protests in La Paz and other Bolivian cities, and
the rapid crumbling of his support both within law enforcement and
his own political party.” In the end, writes Mounk, “his loss of
legitimacy among the majority of his own countrymen…forced Morales
to resign” on November 10.
Evo’s offenses were many: he violated
the two-term presidential limit and got his rubber-stamp Supreme
Court to give this move the OK. When he ran for a third term in
October and it became clear that the public vote count was going
against him, “the vote tally suddenly froze. For 24 hours, the
website of Bolivia’s electoral commission offered no more updates.
Then the official result was finally announced: Morales had
supposedly won 47.1 percent to Carlos Mesa’s 35.5 percent, winning
the election outright.” Evo had so obviously pulled a fast one that
millions took to the streets in protest. Their reward: threats and
beatings by Evo’s thugs. But Evo’s effort to rule by pure force
collapsed. An impressive number of cops and soldiers stood up against
his gangsterism, saying they wouldn’t do his dirty work for him.
They didn’t want to use violence to uphold an autocracy. They
wanted freedom. The last straw was an OAS audit of the election; when
it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Evo had cheated, his last
few scummy hangers-on scattered, leaving Evo with no alternative
other than to give up. The whole story speaks well of the Ecuadoran
people, and especially of the members of a military and a police
force who, unlike their counterparts in some Latin American
countries, didn’t want to be bullies in the service of despotism.
Well, it’s over. On Wednesday, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was removed from office.
Back in January, we wrote about the increasing calls for Rousseff’s impeachment by ordinary Brazilians who had lost faith in her government’s disastrous socialist policies, who were disgusted by the massive scandal surrounding the government oil firm, Petrobras, and who – bottom line – were determined not to let her turn their country into another Venezuela.
Brazilians, commented Romanian-American political scientist Vladimir Tismaneanu, were turning out to be less susceptible to utopian promises than their neighbors in Venezuelan and Argentina. Philosopher Olavo de Carvalho observed that Brazilians weren’t just rejecting Rousseff – they were rejecting “the whole system of power that has been created by the Workers’ Party, which includes intellectuals and opinion-makers in the big media.”
Today, on the other side of the Brexit vote and the GOP’s nomination of Donald Trump, it’s hard not to wonder whether the grassroots Brazilian effort to oust Rousseff is part of a spreading global thumbs-down for corrupt, supercilious socialist elites. If so, good show.
As it happens, we spent that whole week in January on Rousseff, recounting her beginnings as a rich girl who joined a revolutionary terrorist group called COLINA; her entry into politics (a career in which, from the outset, she distinguished herself by her combination of administrative incompetence and genius for making and exploiting connections); and, finally, her increasingly disastrous tenure as president, capped by the Petrobras scandal, described by the Wall Street Journal as “the biggest corruption case ever in a country with a long history of scandals.”
We also profiled one of the leaders of the anti-Rousseff movement, 20-year-old Kim Kataguiri, whose activism was spurred when one of his college teachers praised the socialist policies of the ruling Worker’s Party. Kataguiri responded by making a series of You Tube videos promoting free-market capitalism and founding the Free Brazil Movement, which has grown like kudzu.
In March, we noted the arrest of a Rousseff sidekick, the imprisonment of two more of her cronies, and the resignation of her justice minister; in April, we reported on a government raid on the home of former president – and fallen saint – Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. (We also noted Rousseff’s unsuccessful, and patently ludicrous, attempt to shield him from prosecution by naming him as her chief of staff.) Not long after, we reported that Marcelo Odebrecht, the CEO of Brazil’s biggest construction firm – and, naturally, a close associate of Rousseff’s – had sentenced to 19 years for bribing authorities in connection with Petrobras contracts.
Later in April, we learned that notorious journalist Glenn Greenwald (of Edward Snowden scandal fame) and his husband, David Miranda, were on Team Rousseff, with Miranda signing his name to a Guardian op-ed accusing Rousseff’s opponents of seeking to engineer (what else?) a “right-wing coup.” In a July profile of callow, reliably far-left Salon columnist Ben Norton, we pointed out that he’d used the same exact words as Miranda, calling Rousseff the victim of a would-be “right-wing coup.”
And now – well – here we are. She’s out. Congratulations to the people of Brazil. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean an instant turnaround for their country –that’ll take serious, comprehensive reform – but it’s a necessary start.
Oh, and then there’s this news. In reaction to the “right-wing coup” in Brasilia, three of Rousseff’s fellow socialist economy-destroyers – Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, and Evo Morales of Bolivia – all recalledtheir ambassadors. Well, birds of a feather and all that. Let’s hope their days in power are numbered, too.
We’ve devoted this week to Mark Weisbrot, who for years has served as an economic advisor to and ardent defender of the most notorious, incompetent, and corrupt regimes in South America. Since he’s the founder and grand poobah of something called the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), it’s not unreasonable to ask a few questions. For example: who, exactly, is providing the funds to pay Weisbrot’s salary and keep his “center” afloat? And who are the other powerhouses who make up this “center,” which represents itself as a hotbed of serious economic analysis?
Well, as it turns out, most of CEPR’s staffers and directors have more of a background in organized left-wing activism on issues like global warming and women’s rights than in economics. No fewer than three members of CEPR’s small staff (John Schmitt, Deborah James, and Alexander Main) used to work for the “Information Office” of the Venezuelan government – which isn’t exactly famous for its world-class economic acumen. As for CEPR’s “board of directors,” it includes Filipino congressman Walden Bello, a critic of capitalism and globalization who’s written such books as Capitalism’s Last Stand?: Deglobalization in the Age of Austerity (2013). In a piece on free trade, Bello put the word “free” in scare quotes. In November 2010, Bello called Néstor Kirchner “remarkable,” “an exemplary figure in the Global South when it came to dealing with international financial institutions.” Pronounced Bello: “Along with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Lula of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Kirchner was one of several remarkable leaders that the crisis of neoliberalism produced in Latin America.”
Also on the CEPR’s board is Julian Bond, an activist and former NAACP head who’s compared the Tea Party to the Taliban. Neither Bello nor Bond is a trained economist. The most familiar name on the list is Danny Glover – yes, that Danny Glover, of Lethal Weapon fame, whose love for Hugo Chávez, for Fidel Castro, and for Communism generally we’ve already discussed on this site. Needless to say, Glover isn’t an economist either.
Then there’s CEPR’s International Communications Director, Dan Beeton. In August 2014, he wrote a paean to Cristina Kirchner’s newly appointed Minister of the Economy that read less like the work of a sober economist than of an overly gushing publicist. Excerpt: “Alex Kicillof, the telegenic economy minister famous for his Elvis-style sideburns, has emerged on the international stage as a heroic figure championing the Argentine people. Kicillof is perhaps reminiscent of another bold, young economy minister in a different South American country: Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, whose public sparring with the World Bank in 2005 helped to launch his political career.”
Finally, check out CEPR staffer Robert Naiman, who, after Néstor Kirchner’s death, eulogized him at the Daily Kos website for “defying Washington and the International Monetary Fund.” Naiman also recommended Oliver Stone’s documentary South of the Border, which represented Kirchner as a hero – and which, as we’ve seen, was written by Weisbrot. Who’s Naiman? In addition to his work at CEPR and his writing for sites like Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, he’s served as Policy Director for a website called “Just Foreign Policy,” and as head of the board of the “progressive” news website Truthout, as a member of the steering committee of Gaza’s Ark (which is all about repeatedly violating Israel’s sea blockade of the Palestinian territories).
The other day we delved into a recent New York Times op-edthat sought to whitewash the massively corrupt Kirchner kleptocracy in Argentina, to demonize its creditors, and to defend its indefensible economic policies. The author of the op-ed was none other than the chief architect of those policies, and one of the Kirchners’ more prominent foreign courtiers and sycophants – economist Joseph E. Stiglitz.
This wasn’t Stiglitz’s first appearance here at Useful Stooges. In several articles last October, we pondered his perverse enthusiasm for command economies, his championing of a socialist U.N. superstate, and other perverse positions that make one wonder just how this character ever managed to score the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
We were still shaking our heads over Stiglitz’s Times op-ed when his name again made a prominent appearance in the press. On April 13, the Guardian mentionedStiglitz in connection with the internationally notorious Panama Papers case.
You’ve heard of the Panama Papers, of course? They’re a trove of some 11.5 million documents that, leaked last year to the Süddeutsche Zeitung and first reported on earlier this month, have caused worldwide scandal. They describe in detail the use of various shell companies by powerful figures (including UAE president Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, Saudi King Salman, and Icelandic premier Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson) for nefarious purposes ranging from fraud to tax evasion. The Guardian article outlined plans by the so-called JITSIC network – a task force of 31 major Western nations, plus China, Japan, South Korea, and South Africa – to take aggressive action against these activities.
How does Stiglitz figure in all this? Well, it turns out that while those responsible-minded JITSIC countries were criticizing Panama’s longtime willingness to host shady shell companies and cover up their crooked activities, Panama was handing Stiglitz a new gig. As the Guardian put it, “The Panama government announced that Joseph Stiglitz…would be one member of an international panel formed to review Panama’s legal and financial practices and recommend improvements.”
To us, this sounds like an exceedingly fishy development. First of all, Panama doesn’t need a Nobel Prize-winning economist to tell it to clean up its act; if it wants to be regarded as a transparent financial actor, what it has to do is pretty obvious. Second, given Stiglitz’s track record as an apologist for corrupt regimes, he’s highly unlikely to recommend that Panama institute any meaningful reforms.
What’s going on here, then? Most likely, Stiglitz is providing air cover – lending his name to Panama in its effort to whitewash its reputation as a cash hideout. Is he being paid for this? That’s one question the JITSIC countries might want an answer to – although even if he’s not collecting a fee this time around, his readiness to play ball with the creeps who run Panama deserves scrutiny. For this guy is looking more and more like an ambulance-chaser for unsavory governments.
Why does any of this matter? Well, one reason it matters is that places like the New York Times stilltake Stiglitz seriously as a wise, objective commentator on economic affairs. Another reason is that he’s on the faculty of Columbia University, which expects from its professors a high level of transparency – including full reporting to the college administration of any possible “financial conflicts of interest in research.” But although Stiglitz’s résumé repeatedly cries out “conflict of interest,” he hasn’t reported any such conflicts.
Just look at some of the folks he’s been in deep with over the years. In 2009, the generals who rule Myanmar took him on as a “consultant.” How much was he paid? What was the relationship between his work for the generals and his glowing public statements on Myanmar’s economy?
Stiglitz also “counseled” former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. Again, what was his fee? Were his positive comments about Greece’s financial health compromised by these arrangements? In 2013 he invited Panandreou to speak at the Columbia World Leaders Forum – but, in violation of the university’s guidelines, he didn’t disclose their financial connection.
Was the invitation some kind of quid pro quo?
The same question arises in the case of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whom Stiglitz viewed as a close friend, whose economic policies he praised, and whom he invited to speak at the 2010 Columbia World Leaders Forum. That invitation brought fierce criticism on the website of the Columbia Spectator, where scores of Ethiopians charged the university with legitimizing a “tyrant” who was guilty of “genocide, ethnic cleansing…and other…atrocities.” Jagdish Baghwati, an Ethiopian economist at Columbia, condemned the invitation as the act of academic “entrepreneurs” who were using the college to “ingratiate” themselves with criminal regimes “to get PR and ‘goodies’ for themselves at African summits.” And in a letter to the university’s president, Ethiopian journalist Serkalem Fasil described how she was imprisoned for doing her job, gave birth prematurely as a result of abuse there, and, in the ultimate example of “incomprehensible vindictiveness,” was denied by Zenawi the incubator doctors said her baby needed.
And what about China? Stiglitz has some kind of relationship with the Renmin University of China Institute of Economic Research – which, of course, amounts to having a relationship with the Chinese state. Again, he hasn’t made public any information about income he’s earned from this gig. What he has madepublic is his supposed enthusiasm for an alternative to the single reserve currency – a position neatly in line with Beijing’s – and his claim that concerns about risks to the Chinese economy are overblown.
Then there’s Bolivia, where in a single day Stiglitz received two honorary doctorates. After meeting in 2006 with Evo Morales, that country’s socialist strongman (and longtime Castro chum), Stiglitz began speaking out in favor of Morales’s nationalization of private property. What happened at that meeting? Did money change hands? Or did Evo – who’s not exactly famous for his eloquence – dazzle Stiglitz with the brilliance of his argument for expropriation?
Are you beginning to discern a pattern here?
These aren’t the only leaders who’ve availed themselves of Stiglitz’s “services.” Others include Fernando Lugo, former president of Paraguay, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, former prime minister of Spain. Stiglitz has been a “financial consultant” to the Icelandic government and has given “expert testimony” on Ireland’s sovereign wealth fund.
What did he pocket? Who knows? In none of these cases has Stiglitz disclosed how much he’s been paid for his work – or, for that matter, exactly what his “work” has consisted of. How much of his “consulting” for heads of state and government has involved actual consulting – and how much of it has amounted to nothing more than an agreement to publicly promote their horrible economic policies? In other words, is he simply raking in cash from leftist governments in exchange for positive PR – like a crooked film critic selling a movie producer a rave?
Stiglitz hasn’t only done deals with governments. He’s delivered speeches under the auspices of a long list of Funds and Centers, Institutes and Coalitions, Foundations and Iniatitives, Councils and Commissions. How much did they pay? Again, mum’s the word. (Even Hillary Clinton makes public her lecture fees.) But more to the point: what were they really paying for? Did Stiglitz give these institutions tough, smart advice that they perhaps didn’t want to hear – or, as with his governmental clients, did he affirm their own wisdom to their faces and then come away touting it to the world?
To be sure, if Stiglitz is monetizing his Nobel, he wouldn’t be the first to do so. But there can’t be too many other Nobelists who’ve been so aggressive about it. Put it this way: if they awarded a Nobel Prize for using your reputation as a serious economist to help prop up unscrupulous autocrats, he’d have no competition.
We last looked in on Bolivian bossman Evo Morales a few months ago, after he gave Pope Francis a unique present: a “cross” made out of a hammer and sickle. As we noted at the time, Morales – “like the Castros in Cuba, the Kirchners in Argentina, and Nicolás Maduro (and Hugo Chávez before him) in Venezuela” – is “a card-carrying member of Latin America’s hard-left club.” Like those other socialist strongmen, moreover, he’s palled around with useful Hollywood stooges, such as Benicio del Toro, Oliver Stone, and Jude Law.
But the winds have been shifting south of the border. As contact between Cuba and the U.S. increases, the Castros’ island prison seems to be on the verge of transformation. In Argentina, the corrupt, cronyist Kirchner era – that long national nightmare that climaxed in a sovereign-debt default – is finally over. In Venezuela, chavista socialism – which has resulted in Soviet-style shortages of toilet paper and other basic goods – is being taken on by a National Assembly newly dominated by the pro-freedom opposition.
That’s not all. Rafael Correa, the longtime Chávez amigo and America-basher who’s been turning Ecuador into a socialist paradise since 2007, has said he won’t run for re-election next year. In Chile, a raft of corruption scandals – at least one of which is an ugly mess involving her son and daughter-in-law – has tanked the popularity of formerly beloved lefty President Michelle Bachelet. And in Brazil, which not long ago was on its way to genuine First World prosperity, President Dilma Rousseff’s socialist policies and massive corruption, as we’ve seen, have turned the economy into a Greece-like basket case.
Latin America’s socialist leaders, in short, are being challenged on every front, buffeted by the gusts of liberty. And Evo Morales isn’t immune.
In office since 2006, Morales was re-elected in 2009 and 2014. During his presidency, he’s nationalized major sectors of the economy, created a massive welfare state, forged close ties with his fellow autocrats in Havana, Caracas, and Tehran, presided over widespread corruption, and entertained his followers with racist rants about the evil “gringos.”
His current term ends in 2020, and he’s prohibited from running for a fourth term. So on February 21 he had the electorate vote on a rewrite of the constitution that would let him stay in office.
Bolivia voted no.
Morales was still dealing with this kick in the butt when another blow struck. On February 26, Gabriela Zapata, an executive with a Chinese construction company that’s been awarded lucrative Bolivian government contracts, was arrested on corruption charges. This is important because Zapata isn’t just any businesswoman: she’s Morales’s ex-girlfriend, and the two of them have allegedly conspired to sell influence in exchange for Chinese cash.
This one should be be fun to watch. It’s always entertaining to see an oligarch brought to his knees.
Bolivian president Evo Morales doesn’t often make front-page headlines in the U.S., but his image was all over the Internet in early July when he presented the visiting Pope Francis with a bizarre gift: a “cross” made out of a hammer and sickle. The message could hardly have been less subtle. In the weeks preceding their encounter, to be sure, Francis had spent a lot of his time savaging capitalism, but he hadn’t yet hoisted a Soviet flag over St. Peter’s Square or hung up a picture of Lenin in the Sistine Chapel. Morales’s gift seemed to make the pontiff at least somewhat uncomfortable, although it was unclear whether he disagreed with Evo’s apparent equation of Communism and Christianity or whether he was uneasy about being seen by the entire world accepting a potent symbol of that equation.
What’s the deal with Evo? Well, first of all – like the Castros in Cuba, the Kirchners in Argentina, and Nicolás Maduro (and Hugo Chávez before him) in Venezuela – he’s a card-carrying member of Latin America’s hard-left club. He’s presided over South America’s poorest country since 2006, and is its first president with an indigenous background; during his tenure in office, he’s alienated whites and mestizos with his “discriminatory government policies and Hugo Chávez–style power grabs, not to mention rampant corruption.” (According to Transparency International, Evo’s regime isn’t quite as corrupt as those in Venezuela or Paraguay, but it’s on a par with Argentina’s, which is awful enough.) A 2009 Atlantic Monthly article described Evo as “deploy[ing] a rhetoric studded with racial references aimed at his [white] opposition.” Last year, reports Human Rights Watch, Bolivia became “the first country in the world to legalize employment for children as young as 10.”
Nonetheless, like his counterparts in Havana, Buenos Aires, and Caracas, Evo has made his share of amigos in Hollywood. Among them: Benicio del Toro, who in 2007 visited Evo, who “gave him a charango, an Andean string instrument, and several books.” Two years later, del Toro, who played Che Guevara onscreen, said that he shared many of Che’s values – and that he was sure Che would’ve been delighted to see Bolivia governed by somebody like Evo. We’re sure Che would delighted too: Evo, an outspoken Che fan whose aggressively socialist policies have eroded human rights, damaged the country’s already feeble economy, and sent foreign investors fleeing, would have been right up Che’s alley.
Another Evo enthusiast, unsurprisingly, is our old friend Oliver Stone, the far-left director whose 2009 propaganda film South of the Border was a gushing, inane paean not only to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez but also to Morales, with whom he held an obsequious interview at the presidential palace in La Paz. During his visit with El Presidente, Stone reportedly “kicked a soccer ball and chewed coca leaves” with him. Later, Evo traveled to New York, where he spoke alongside Stone and Chávez at a Lincoln Center event held in connection with the documentary’s premiere.
Then there’s actor Jude Law, whowent to Bolivia this past February as part of a deal to promote the country’s annual Carnival. While in La Paz, Law met with Evo, who presented him with a poncho and a book about Latin American history. News reports on Law’s visit didn’t indicate how much money he was paid to plug the Carnival and didn’t even hint that there was anything remotely inappropriate about his taking money from Evo’s regime or holding a chummy meeting with the authoritarian leader; the Daily Mail, for its part, was more interested in covering Law’s new hairline and his growing family.