We’ve seen how President Obama’s new point man on ISIS, Robert Malley, is the son of a viciously anti-Semitic, anti-American friend of Yasir Arafat and is himself a guy who, early in his career, made his name defaming Israel in print while ardently defending Arafat and other terrorists.
But Malley was just warming up. After Hamas took power in Gaza, he wrote an op-ed in which he defended the terrorist organization and encouraged Western governments to provide it with financial aid. In other articles, he defended Hezbollah and defended Syria’s ties to Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda in Iraq. In still other opinion pieces, he called for the U.S. to engage with Syria, to engage with Hamas, and to engage with the radical Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army in Iraq. All in all, it was a remarkable body of work – adding up to one long, mendacious justification for Islamic terror and tyranny.
And it culminated, in 2007, in a job as foreign-policy advisor to a presidential hopeful – Barack Obama. In January 2008, one Obama supporter, New Republic publisher Martin Peretz, felt obliged to address what he described as “spooky rumors that a man named Robert Malley is one of Obama’s advisers, specifically his Middle East adviser.” Peretz noted that “Malley, who has written several deceitful articles in The New York Review of Books, is a rabid hater of Israel. No question about it.” But Peretz insisted that “Malley is not and has never been a Middle East adviser to Barack Obama. Obama’s Middle East adviser is Dan Shapiro.” (We suspect that Peretz was not being duplicitous here, but was, rather, misinformed – presumably by someone in the Obama campaign.)
In any event, Malley’s job on the Obama team didn’t last long. In May 2008, when Malley admitted to a reporter that he’d had regular contact with Hamas, the Obama campaign, fearful of the wrath of Jewish and other pro-Israel voters, fired him. That the dismissal was pragmatic and not principled was made clear on the day after the 2008 elections, when it was reported that Obama had sent Malley weeks earlier to Egypt and Syria to tell leaders of those countries about the candidate’s Mideast views.
Malley was back on the team. But pro-Israel folks in the U.S. still distrusted him enough that when he was named senior advisor in 2012, Obama felt obliged to promise that Malley wouldn’t be involved in Israeli-Palestinian issues. But that promise faded soon enough: two years later, Malley was promoted to a top job at the NSC; in March 2015, he was put in charge of the NSC’s entire Middle East policy – Israel, of course, included.
And now he’s Senior Advisor to the President for the Counter-ISIL Campaign in Iraq and Syria. An Israeli blogger reported the news under the headline: “This is not the Onion: Obama appoints Hamas-loving Rob Malley his adviser on ISIS.” Lori Lowenthal Marcus, writing in the Jewish Press, didn’t mince words: “Malley is the kind of new-age negotiator who thinks there is no tyrant too awful to shun – unless, of course, you are talking about Israel – and is always eager to play up the ‘positive’ aspects of genocidal terrorist regimes as the justification for allowing them right there in the tent, seated next to you.” If U.S. policy on ISIS wasn’t already in the hands of useful stooges, it’s certainly in the hands of one now.
On April 28, Salon ran a remarkable pieceby Roger Waters, the musician and former member of Pink Floyd. In it, Waters addressed an upcoming Tel Aviv gig by British singer Robbie Williams. Noting that Williams was “UNICEF’s UK ambassador and a declared supporter of its Children in Danger campaign,” Waters charged him with “showing a chilling indifference” to the well-being of Palestinian children and called on him to cancel his appearance.
“Dear Robbie,” wrote Waters, addressing the singer directly, “playing this concert on May 2 would be giving your tacit support to the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children last summer in Gaza…and condoning the arrest and abuse of hundreds of Palestinian children each year living under Israeli occupation.” Informing Williams that Israeli officials are racists who view Palestinian children merely “as grass to be mowed,” he told Williams that
If you cannot see yourself in the eyes of a Palestinian father, you should do the decent thing and resign from UNICEF, or failing that, UNICEF should let you go.
Waters actually had the nerve to close this arrogant edict as follows: “Love, Roger Waters.”
Williams went ahead with his concert. But that didn’t discourage Waters. Only a couple of weeks later – again in Salon – he was haranguing singer Dionne Warwick, who, like Williams, was planning to perform in Israel. “I believe you mean well, Ms. Warwick,” he wrote, “but you are showing yourself to be profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947.”
Meanwhile, yet another voice of reason had tried to get through to Waters. Writing in the Times of Israel, film director Mark Blacknell reminded the Israel-obsessed Waters that the target of his wrath enjoys such charming neighbors as Hezbollah, “Assad the Butcher,” ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the “Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen,” the “jihad-plagued, complete insanity of Sudan,” the “ultra-religious, feudalistic Mecca of Islam, Saudi Arabia,” and the “’end of days’ cult of the Ayatollah in Iran.” Blacknell asked Waters why, if he cares so much about Palestinians, he doesn’t “talk about the historically brutal Jordanian oppression of Palestinians, the Egyptians’ crackdown on Gaza or the hellish conditions in the Palestinian camps of Lebanon and Syria.” Why, he asked, “has no Arab nation granted Palestinians a place in their societies? Why won’t you criticize Jordan, Egypt, Syria or Lebanon for their treatment of innocent Palestinians?”
Blacknell made a couple of points worth repeating. First, he noted that pollsters had recently asked Israeli Arabs the following question: “If Palestine becomes a fully independent state will you renounce your Israeli citizenship and become a Palestinian citizen?” Seventy percent had said no. Blacknell also recalled that during the two years he’d spent making a documentary about Jews and Arabs, he’d had to face some unpleasant truths. “Every Israeli I interviewed said something like this, ‘I don’t hate Arabs, I just don’t think there’s anyway to satisfy them, so we have to protect ourselves?’ Every Palestinian I interviewed, said something like this, ‘The Zionist regime is occupation. It must be destroyed.’” If only “Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and their supporters in the Arab world acknowledged and accepted Israel today, the era of peace would begin tomorrow and Israel would lead the way.” That being a seemingly impossible dream, Blacknell had a proposal for Waters:
Since Israeli fans no longer deserve your presence in the only democratic nation of the Middle East, I encourage you do a show in the heart of Gaza City. You could float one of your giant, pig balloons in the air with an Islamic Crescent moon and caricature of Muhammad on it. Then, you could utilize the freedom of speech that you currently use to voice your sophomoric (at best) understanding of the Middle East by telling Hamas that it’s the real enemy of the Palestinian people. I think only then, as the crowd publicly stomps you into the ground and drags you half-alive through the streets of Gaza, will you understand the true nature of Israel’s predicament.
But we’ll save Blackwell’s best sentence for last, and italicize it for emphasis:
What is presented to you as innocent victims struggling for freedom, is in reality uncompromising cultural intolerance at a level so antiquated that is difficult for many westerners to comprehend.
Not even this, however, stirred Waters out of his moral slumber. In fact – as we’ll see tomorrow – he took his attacks on fellow performers to a new height.
Last time around we offered an overview of that species known as the bolifunctionario – thesmall-time, big-ticket racketeers with whom Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro, have surrounded themselves, and who have become billionaires at the expense of Venezuelan voters. Now, let’s look at a few of these hooligans individually.
Alejandro Andrade is an old pal of Chávez for whom an injury in a game of “chapitas” (a variation on baseball) turned into riches. In the game, Chávez threw a soda or beer cap which Andrade was supposed to hit with a broomstick; instead, the cap struck Andrade in the eye, half-blinding him for life. Chávez paid Andrade back by putting him in charge, in turn, of various public funds and, eventually, the National Treasury; while in these jobs, according to investigations by the FBI, DEA, SEC, and State Department, Andrade stole billions of dollars, which he spent on (among other things) a Florida mansion, a South Carolina farm, a Lear jet, some 150 thoroughbred horses, and a majority stake in a major TV channel.
To read through the list of Andrade’s ploys is to admire his ingenuity and versatility. For example, while head of the country’s Social Development Bank (a.k.a. Bandes), he made at least $66 million in kickbacks by selling Venezuelan bonds to a New York broker and buying them back at inflated prices. Andrade also put together a system that managed to provide funds for the ruling PSUV party while also enriching him and his confederates in the scheme. He’s so good at sponging up cash, indeed, that Chávez, just before his death, paid him the ultimate compliment – he wrote a letter placing his daughters’ future economic security in Andrade’s hands.
Pedro Trebbau López and Alejandro Betancourt are the quintessential bolichicos – co-founders of Derwick Associates, a company that materialized out of thin air in 2007 and almost immediately began winning government contracts to build power plants, an activity in which neither Trebbau nor Betancourt had any expertise whatsoever. The firm is accused of having overbilled the government by some $3 billion and of paying at least $50 million in bribes, and together or separately its two principals own a Falcon plane, a Bell helicopter, a home in Miami, an office on Park Avenue, and a farm in Spain.
Chávez crony Diosdado Cabello is President of the National Assembly, which he runs like a thug – silencing, intimidating, and even, on one occasion, ordering the beating of opposition legislators right there in the chamber. Known unaffectionately as “The Godfather,” he owns a slew of banks and insurance firms and also supposedly has his hand in some shady companies that run the Caracas ports. At last count, he was the defendant in at least 17 corruption cases, one of which accuses him of having received at least $50 million in bribes from Derwick Associates.
Also worth a mention is Cabello’s brother José David Cabello, who has served as head of the international airport in Caracas, Minister of Infrastructure, and President of the National Customs and Tax Administration (Seniat), without having a background in any of these fields.
Rafael Ramírez held several high-level energy posts before serving briefly last year as Foreign Minister; he’s now UN ambassador. While head of the state oil firm, PDVSA, he ordered employees “to vote for Chávez or else.” With three cronies, he rearranged the processing of Venezuela’s oil income to make it utterly lacking in transparency, resulting in a system that one industry source called “rotten to the core” and that ultimately achieved the impossible: bankrupting the state oil firm of one of the world’s leading oil powers.
Then there’s Ramírez’s cousin Diego Salazar, who – thanks to a multimillion-dollar insurance policy Ramírez took out on PDVSA – went in a trice from being a lowly insurance salesman to being one of the richest men in the country, owning a private plane, a private orchestra of some 100 musicians, “almost all the apartments” in a Caracas luxury complex, and much else. He’s been investigated by the U.S. Senate for corruption – but it would take more than that to cramp his style.
We’ve already mentioned Tarek El Aissami, governor of the state of Aragua and head of the ruling PSUV party. The American Enterprise Institute has called him “thuggish,” but this seems like a polite understatement. It may sound like a joke, but Aissami’s dad actually ran the Venezuelan branch of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and Aissami himself – who was a college friend of Chávez’s brother – came to be known as Chávez’s personal link to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.
Aissami has funneled cash to these groups, and when he was head of the agency that produces national ID cards, he provided Venezuelan cover identities to some of their members. As if that weren’t impressive enough, he also recruited young PSUV members to train in Lebanon for guerrilla war against the U.S.
But aiding and abetting terrorism is just a sideline for Aissami, whose main activity, it seems, has been sponging up taxpayer money and laundering it through his “multilayered and vast network of shell companies,” the chart of which looks more complex than the organization of the U.S. government itself.
(Bonus factoid: Aissami’s brother Firaz is involved with drug trafficking and has over $21 million in a Swiss bank.)
Shipping magnate Wilmer Ruperti, who thanks to “illegal deals with corrupt thugs” became “the go-to guy for nearly all PDVSA-shipping needs,” provides a fine example of the cartoonish extent to which Venezuelan self-enrichment schemes can go: in order to fool a Russian firm into thinking it was chartering oil tankers to PDVSA, Ruperti set up “an elaborate network of shell companies,” giving one of them a name very close to that of PDVSA, and leased tankers from the Russian firm, then rented them to PDVSA at a hefty profit. Alas for him, U.S. and U.K. authorities got wind of his dodge and took him to court; in the U.K. case, he had to pay $59 million in damages. But he’s not suffering: he owns a bulletproof BMW, a jet, a veritable palace in Caracas, and a Miami Beach mansion that, on paper, is owned by (of all people) Gloria Estefan’s husband.
Victor Vargas, who runs several banks and companies around the world, has long been known as the “Chávez Banker.” Translation: he’s said to have “made a backroom deal with Chávez’s government to handle some of the revolution’s murkier financial transactions.” As we’ve noted, Vargas may or may not own Cadena Capriles, Venezuela’s largest media conglomerate, which was purchased through a proxy on the island of Curaçao; if he does own it, moreover, he’s probably a front for the government, which has an interest in controlling as much of the nation’s media as possible. Vargas owns a major polo team, a stable of 60 ponies, a private fleet of jets, two yachts, a helicopter, homes in Europe, a huge estate in Venezuela, and mansions in Santo Domingo and Palm Beach.
Luisa Ortega Díaz is Venezuela’s General Prosecutor, a position she’s used to undermine media rights and to imprison journalists and politicians (notably opposition leader Leopoldo López). In 2009 she proposed a Media Crimes Law to curb “the irrational use of power by the media” and “regulate freedom of expression.” While ignoring the embezzlement by officials of truckloads of cars, motorcycles, computers, cameras, and other government-owned items, she’s used forged evidence to prosecute opposition legislators; and while threatening to “severely punish” so-called “hoarders” of basic foodstuffs – a widespread and thoroughly understandable phenomenon in Venezuela, where things are so screwed-up that you can’t be sure you’ll be able to buy bread, butter, or milk any time in the next few weeks – she’s been photographed shopping at high-end boutiques on the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris.
All this, note well, is just a small sampling of the sleazy operators who make up the Maduro regime.
[NOTE: Corrected on December 22, 2015, to reflect the fact that Rafael Ramírez, at the time this post went up, was UN ambassador, not Minister of Finance.]