Danny Glover, Communist stooge

Danny Glover

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

With the late Hugo Chavez

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

With Gerardo Hernandez

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

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

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

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

Rep. Steve Cohen

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

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

Useful Stooges: Banned from Twitter!

What was it, Jack? Was it our criticism of Cuban Communism? Our piece about anti-Semitism in Britain? Our report on the imprisonment on corruption charges of a former Chief Justice of the South Korean Supreme Court?

Was it the fact that we called out would-be spiritual guru Reza Aslan for describing the face of that Covington High School kid, Nick Sandmann, as “punchable”?

Was it our uncomfortable reminder that legendary leftist heroine Angela Davis was, in fact, an accessory to murder and has been a lifelong supporter of totalitarian governments?

Has it been any of our several articles about the devastating impact of socialism on Venezuela?

What was it, Jack Dorsey, that led your company, Twitter, to remove this website’s Twitter feed?

Max Blumenthal

This site, Useful Stooges, has been online since April 2015. As you can read at our “About” page, our focus is largely on “heads of state, from Asia to Africa to Latin America, who practice corruption and oppression on a colossal scale” and on those “who serve them, praise them, and provide them with positive PR even though they know better, or should.”

During our more than four years in operation, we’ve published over 750 posts about such past and current leaders as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe, Muammar Qaddafi, and Vladimir Putin and on a wide range of their bootlicking admirers, including Oliver Stone, Max Blumenthal, Stella McCartney, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, E.L. Doctorow, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn, Eric Hobsbawm, and dozens of others.

Eric Hobsbawm

We owe no allegiance to any political party. Without fear or favor, we’ve criticized tyrants of both the left and right. We stand only for individual freedom and human rights, and we stand up against those who oppress, who seek to oppress, or who cheer for oppression. And we deal in facts, not rumors or spin or smears.

Oliver Stone

You wouldn’t think there’d be anything controversial about this. Not in the United States, in the second decade of the twenty-first century. But you’d be wrong. Jack Dorsey, like his counterparts at Facebook and YouTube, has taken on the role of censor. In doing so, he has taken the side of what some have called the “regressive left” and taken it upon himself to stifle its critics.

The alarming fact is that, for all too many Silicon Valley bigwigs, tyranny is an awful thing and those who assail it are doing good work – except, maybe, when it comes to tyranny in Cuba. Or China. Or in the Islamic world. Or in certain other countries and regions, perhaps, where those bigwigs may happen to have great business deals going on.

To be sure, Jack stands apart from the heads of some other social-media giants. When confronted with their hypocrisies, they prefer to retreat behind the walls of their mansions. Jack Dorsey, who encourages Twitter users to think of him just as “Jack” – a buddy, a pal – takes another approach. More on that next week.

A “nice Jewish girl”…who loves Iran

Medea Benjamin

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

Medea at the OAS

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

Medea in Iran

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

On Capitol Hill

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

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

The Code Pink chavistas

The Venezuelan embassy on Tuesday

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

Juan Guaido

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

Nicolas Maduro

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

A Venezuelan supermarket

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

Maduro: down but not out

Nicolas Maduro

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

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

Hugo Chavez

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

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

Juan Guaido

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

An end to chavismo?

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

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

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


Juan Guaidó

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

Nicolas Maduro

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

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

Mauricio Macri

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

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

Promoting Marxism in the U.K.: Youssef El-Gingihy

An East German stamp honoring Marx

Last week, in the wake of Karl Marx’s 200th anniversary, we discussed on this website a couple of recent New York Times op-eds, both by academics with impressive-sounding credentials.

One of them, Jason Barker, sang Marx’s praises and hoped for a time when his magnificent ideas will be implemented by some enterprising government; the other, James A. Millward, while never mentioning Marx or Communism, cheered Communist China’s current approach to international relations, comparing it very favorably to that of the current American president.

Youssef El-Gingihy

But the New York Times isn’t alone in its enthusiasm for Marx and his heirs. The Independent, a left-leaning British broadsheet, celebrated Marx’s birthday with an article headlined “The world is finally ready for Marxism as capitalism reaches the tipping point.” As evidence of Marx’s current relevance, the piece’s author, Youssef El-Gingihy, noted that “[t]he world’s most populous state and rising superpower, China, is officially communist, albeit nominally.” It wasn’t entirely clear what one was to make of El-Gingihy’s description of China as only “nominally” Communist. Was he suggesting that China is not, in fact, a totalitarian or authoritarian country? Does he dissent from the verdict of, for example, Freedom House, which considers China “Not Free”?

Hugo Chavez

El-Ginghy, an Oxford-educated physician and ardent champion of Britain’s National Health Service, further noted that “socialist ideas remain prevalent throughout the world,” and as an example of this prevalence he cited “the Chavismo new left wave of Latin American politics.” He added that chavismo is “admittedly now in the process of being rolled back” in Venezuela, although it would have been a good deal more honest, of course, to say that chavismo is in the process of dying a torturous death at its own hands – and is taking heaven knows how many Venezuelan lives with it. El-Gingihy also pointed to the electoral successes of Bernie Sanders in the U.S., of “unapologetic socialist Jeremy Corbyn” in the U.K., and of Jean Luc Mélenchon in France as examples of just how popular Marx is in the West – though we consider them proof of just how ignorant many Westerners are of the monstrous reality of Marxism.  

Mao Zedong

Denying that the fall of the USSR discredited Marxism, El-Gingihy argued that, on the contrary, the 2008 worldwide financial crash discredited capitalism. “Mao Zedong’s description of capitalism as a paper tiger seems as pertinent as ever,” he wrote, apparently unashamed to be citing with approval the most murderous individual in human history. Mao, El-Gingihy suggested, was only one of many brilliant figures who constitute Marxism’s “rich legacy of thinkers.” El-Gingihy praised the Communist Manifesto as “a call to arms, as well as a work of canonical sublimity and literary fecundity; by turns poetic, inspired and visionary.” And he concluded by asserting that in a time when “late capitalism is economically, socially and ecologically unsustainable, not to mention bankrupt,” Marx is the answer. How bizarre that, in a time when free markets are lifting up economies and radically improving the lives of ordinary people around the world – even as the utopian, reality-defying ideas of Marx’s followers have turned places like North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela into nightmarish hellholes and killing fields – presumably intelligent people are still capable of raising their fists in Marxist solidarity.  

Catching up with Russell Brand, comedian turned socialist sage

How time flies! It was over two years ago that we wrote about Russell Brand, whom we were about to describe as a “British comedian” before we realized that it’s been a long time since we actually heard him say anything funny.

Russell Brand

No, Brand has long since transcended mere comedy. As we noted on June 8, 2015, he’s been more comfortable the last few years “posturing as a crusading champion of the downtrodden and a heroic enemy of The System.” His 2014 stand-up show was entitled Messiah Complex, for which this world-class egomaniac should at least get credit for truth in advertising. The show was a tribute to some of his heroes, among them Che Guevara. And the book he published the same year was called Revolution, in which he expanded upon his enthusiasm not only for the “morally unimpeachable” Che but also for Fidel Castro.

Sharing pearls of wisdom from his latest masterpiece at Carlton House Terrace, London, October 14, 2017

Lately Brand has been busy plugging a new book about his history of addiction. The book’s publisher describes it as a collection of lessons learned from “fourteen years of recovery” from addiction to “heroin, alcohol, sex, fame, food and eBay.” The author himself calls it a “manual for self-realization,” adding, with an uncharacteristic touch of what sounds like – can it be? – humility, that his “qualification” to offer up these life lessons “is not that I am better than you but I am worse.”

The Sermon on the Mount?

But don’t worry: that quote notwithstanding, Brand appears to be as much of a crusading know-it-all as ever, no less convinced than before that – despite his admitted inability, over a period of years, to stay on track and keep his own house in order – he takes a back seat to no one when it comes to diagnosing the planet’s ills. In other words, while he’s escaped dependency on booze and drugs, he’s still hooked on himself. And the media, perversely, can’t kick the habit of reporting on his every pearl of wisdom. On October 25, for example, the BBC’s website carried a story headlined “Russell Brand: Society is collapsing.” (It’s not every day you see a headline like that on any website’s “Entertainment” section.)

“People,” Brand told BBC scribe Steven McIntosh, “are starting to recognise that the reason they feel like they’re mentally ill is that they’re living in a system that’s not designed to suit the human spirit.” They’re frustrated over having to “work 12 hours a day,” over having to “live in an environment that is designed for human beings from one perspective but not from a holistic perspective,” over the fact that they’re “[b]reathing dirty air, eating dirty food, thinking dirty thoughts.”

The people Brand is apparently talking about are those who live in the Western world today; and the system in question is therefore democratic capitalism. Given Brand’s heavily documented enthusiasm for Castro, Che, and other Communists, we can only suppose that he is unfavorably comparing life in the West today with life under various Communist countries, past and present. Donald Trump’s recent speech to the South Korean parliament drew a striking contrast between the freedom, prosperity, and respect for the individual that characterize life below the DMZ with the deprivation, fear, and despair of life under the tyranny of the Kim family regime. Brand’s comments to the BBC are apparently a through-the-looking-glass version of Trump’s speech. Yes, the British funnyman appears to be saying, South Korea may look okay enough “from one perspective,” but life in places like Cuba and North Korea is better holistically. Got that?

Two Brand heroes: Corbyn and Chávez

Brand told McIntosh that he had no intention of going into politics, but that determination didn’t keep Brand from penning a Huffington Post paean last May to Labour Party chieftain Jeremy Corbyn. Now, Corbyn is a guy whom even many Labour stalwarts consider to be way over the line. Corbyn, an enemy of NATO and fan of Castro’s Cuban Revolution and Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, is a Communist in all but name; but for Brand, he’s a man who combines “principles” with “common sense and compassion,” who has kept his “integrity perfectly preserved,” and who is, all in all, a “caring socialist leader” who has kept it together despite being the target of a “hegemonic narrative singularity.” No, we don’t know what that means either.

Prison report: Lula in, Leopoldo out

While all kinds of terrible things are happening in South America and around the globe, that continent recently supplied us with a couple of pieces of very good news.

Lula

In Brazil, almost a year after socialist President Dilma Rousseff’s removal from office, her mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has been sentenced to nine years and six months in prison. Both were brought down by their roles in the Petrobras scandal, a.k.a. Operation Car Wash, the largest scandal ever in the history of that nation. Lula, a Worker’s Party politician who served two terms in Brazil’s highest office and who anointed Rousseff to succeed him, was found guilty of corruption and money-laundering. Lula plans to appeal the verdict; meanwhile, four – count them, four – other corruption trials lie ahead of him.

Dilma Rousseff

The specifics of Lula’s corruption are tawdry and rather dull: he was found guilty of taking a massive bribe – in the form of a luxury beachfront apartment – from a construction company, OAS. In addition to presenting Lula with the apartment, OAS also gave Lula’s party about $27 million in bribes in return for a suspiciously lucrative contracts with Petrobras. At the trial, Lula denied having anything to do with the apartment in question.

Protégé and mentor in happier times

It’s hard to explain just how staggering the conviction of Lula is in his home country. He’s not just a former president but a national icon. His admirers believe that his socialist policies helped boost the Brazilian economy, lifting millions out of poverty. As a result, he’s widely revered as a folk hero, the ultimate man of the people, the very personification of socialist largesse – so that the idea of him raiding the treasury on behalf of OAS in exchange for an apartment seems a particularly cheesy sort of betrayal.

Lula is actually eligible to run again for president, and, prior to his conviction, was leading the polls in the run-up to next year’s elections. But if his appeal fails, he won’t be allowed to be a candidate. In any case, his conviction has surely diminished him in the eyes of at least some of his fans.

Leopoldo López

So that’s the good news from Brazil. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Venezuela, which is basically a tool of President Nicolás Maduro, took an action that surprised the world: it ordered that Leopoldo López be removed from prison, where he has languished for more than three years, and placed instead under house arrest.

Nicolás Maduro

López, of course, is someone whose fortunes we’ve been following pretty closely on this site: as we wrote in March of last year, he is “the chavista regime’s most eloquent critic [and] the opposition’s most charismatic leader” and was plainly locked up “for no other reason than that he is …by far the most potent threat to the power of…Maduro.”

Hugo Chávez

This is a man who, as mayor of one of the five municipalities that make up Caracas, was recognized for his erudition and eloquence and showered with international awards for excellence and transparency in public service – making him the very antithesis of the crude caudillo Hugo Chávez and his lunkhead successor, Maduro. As we have put it previously:

López is so manifestly everything that Maduro is not, so completely the Gallant to his Goofus, that it seems almost too tidy a scenario; if this were a film script, the producer would almost certainly order the writer to make the villain at least somewhat less buffoonish and corrupt and the hero somewhat less noble and courageous.

Liliana Tintori at the White House in February with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Senator Marco Rubio

Our most recent mention of López here was in March, when we noted that his wife, Liliana Tintori, had met with President Trump at the White House not long after the latter’s inauguration. At the time, Trump issued a call for López’s immediate release. It was more than President Obama had ever done for López, and it may well have made a difference.

In any event, López is out of jail, and that’s good news. But, like the rest of the people in his country, he’s not yet entirely free. We’ll continue to keep an eye on the course of Venezuela’s fortunes, and Leopoldo’s.

Protecting the Chávez legacy

Jack Staples-Butler

Yesterday we discussed a thoughtful piece by Jack Staples-Butler about the Western apologists for Venezuelan chavismo who helped Hugo Chávez gain (and regain) power – but who, as the thug’s misguided socialist project (now in the hands of his hapless successor, Nicolás Maduro) has led his country further and further into ruin, have run for the hills rather than face up to their share of moral responsibility for this colossal failure.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP

At the head of Staples-Butler’s list of unapologetic apologists is Owen Jones, who along with Members of Parliament Grahame Morris and Diane Abbott, Guardian columnist Seumas Milne, and the repulsive anti-Semite George Galloway, among others, served as official, and supposedly “independent,” observers of the 2012 election in which Chávez was re-elected. Of course, as Staples-Butler pointed out, “There was nothing remotely ‘independent’ about the observers – all were from the socialist left, all had expressed support for Chávez and most crucially, all were involved in some capacity with the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.”

Owen Jones

In an article written on the occasion of Chávez’s death in 2013, Jones recalled his fierce chavista partisanship and raised the possibility that some observers might consider him a “useful idiot.” Staples-Butler’s comment: no, he and his fellow British chavistas were not “useful idiots”; they were worse. Because they knew more about the reality of chavismo than a lot of Stalin’s “useful idiots” in Britain during the 1930s knew about the reality of Stalin’s USSR. Reporters like this website’s mascot, Walter Duranty of the New York Times, systematically whitewashed the reality of life in the Soviet Union, denying the reality of everything from the Holdomor to the Gulag. By contrast, observes Staples-Butler,

Hugo Chavez

Human Rights Watch and other organisations provided overwhelming and easily-accessible evidence that Venezuela had during the 2000s become a dictatorship, a home to mass murder and political repression sliding towards economic and social collapse. This was or should have been self-evident to any journalist, politician or educated person who visited Venezuela even if they were under the chaperone of a tightly-managed official tour. Direct contact was not even necessary to know what was happening there. Nothing more than an Internet connection and a library card would provide the mountains of information collected on political and social conditions in the country which had not been produced by Venezuelan state media.

Chavez with longtime buddy Fidel Castro

And yet they lied. Jones lied. “[W]hen it comes to his relationship with his opposition, Chávez has arguably been pretty lenient,” wrote Jones in 2012. Compared to whom? “The status of human rights deterioration and abuse in Venezuela,” maintains Staples-Butler, “was apparent and visible for the entirety of Chávez’s rule.” He cites reports by Human Rights Watch, which documented this reality year by year throughout the Chávez presidency. Also in 2012, Jones claimed that Venezuela’s “private media enjoys a 90 per cent audience share and routinely pump out vitriolic anti-Chávez propaganda.” Very early in Chávez’s presidency, there was some truth in this; before long, however, journalists were being harassed, newspaper offices attacked, and censorship imposed, with serious penalties put in place for those who dared defame the caudillo. Apropos of Chávez’s alliance with such regimes as that of the Castros in Cuba, Jones pointed to the fact that the U.S. and U.K., too, had cooperative relationships with autocratic governments; the difference Jones failed to acknowledge, however, was that Chávez’s ties to Cuba weren’t just strategic, but founded in his desire “to remake Venezuela in the image” of Cuba and other dictatorships.

At this point, Staples-Butler is an obscure law student. We can only hope that he’ll soon be as widely published, read, and cited as his mendacious, tyranny-loving co-patriot Owen Jones.