Roger Waters, liar

Roger Waters

The case of Roger Waters, the former front man for the rock group Pink Floyd and outspoken hater of Israel, illustrates a couple of important points. First, it’s possible to be a very gifted artist and a clueless fool at the same time. Second, some human beings are put together in such a way as to render them completely impervious to the plain facts, however often and however effectively they are presented with those facts.

Schmuley Boteach

Of course, we’ve written about Waters before. A lot. In November 2015 we wrote about the “pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David,” that was a feature of his concerts. In response to Waters’s comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, Rabbi Schmuley Boteach penned an article reminding him that German Jews “did nothing to invite the aggression against them. Indeed, they were loyal citizens of a country that many of them had fought for courageously just 20 years earlier in the First World War. They did not blow up buses for political purposes. They did not send terrorists into schools to murder children. They did not preach that killing German children would get them virgins in heaven. They lived lives of humanity and decency and were murdered for no other reason than the fact that they were Jews.”

Did Waters listen? Of course not. So along came Israeli author Lilac Sigan, who in her own plea to Waters wondered how it was that at a time when other countries and terrorist groups across the Middle East were carrying out “senseless and brutal” slaughter, Waters remained obsessed with Israel.

Robbie Williams

Did Waters listen to her? Nope. Instead, he wrote an open letter begging Robbie Williams to cancel a planned gig in Israel – where, he insisted, the government views Palestinian children merely “as grass to be mowed.” Williams went ahead with the concert. Soon afterward, Waters tried the same thing with Dionne Warwick, whom he accused of being “profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947.” She didn’t listen either.

Now it was film director Mark Blacknell’s turn to try to knock some sense into Waters’s head. In an open letter, he reminded Waters that Israel’s neighbors included 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.” Many of these fun folks treated Palestinians terribly. Why, Blacknell asked, didn’t Waters ever get exercised about them?

Bon Jovi

No reply. No change. Instead Waters went after Bon Jovi, writing an open letter that was even more accusatory than his earlier ones. In response, Bon Jovi said, quite simply: “I’m coming to Israel and I’m excited to come.” Only moments before Bon Jovi’s Tel Aviv concert, a terrorist attack hit Jerusalem.

Last year we caught up with Waters, noting that at the Jumbotrons at one of his recent performances had featured the slogan “Resist Israeli anti-Semitism” and that Waters, it now turned out, was one of the rich people who’d invested heavily in some shyster’s sleazy effort to shake down Chevron. In March of this year, we reported that during a concert in Brazil, he’d called Jair Bolsonaro (who was then a presidential candidate, and is now president) a fascist, and that, in response to the recognition by the U.S. and other countries of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president, called Venezuela under Maduro a “REAL DEMOCRACY.”

Linda Sarsour

Waters hasn’t backed off. In May, along with hijab-wearing “feminist” Linda Sarsour (whom we’ve also covered here at length), he appeared on a panel about Israel at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he told a story about remarks he’d made at a 2006 concert in Tel Aviv, before he’d started boycotting Israel. According to him, 60,000 of his Israeli fans had responded negatively when he called for peace with Palestinians. When David Seidenberg of the Times of Israel examined an audio of the event, it turned out that Waters was lying through his teeth – the audience, in fact, had cheered. “Since at least 2017,” wrote Seidenberg, “Waters has been repeating this lie. He told it to an interviewer from the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest dailies. He told it to Liberation News, a socialist newspaper. He told it at a Vancouver event in October 2017 to promote Canada’s participation in BDS.” Plainly, Waters is not to be trusted: he will say anything, true or not, to demonize Israel and idealize Hamas.

Nicolas Maduro

As for Venezuela, even as conditions in that country have gone from bad to worse, Waters has stuck by his pal, the dictator. On June 15, he announced in a Facebook post that Maduro had sent him a cuatro, a four-string guitar, a gift for which, he wrote, he was “deeply moved.” Good to know that even as his people are starving, Maduro has the time to keep his top-seeded foreign propagandist happy. “Thank you President Maduro for your kind gift and message,” the old rocker wrote. “I shall continue to support the people of Venezuela, and continue to oppose U.S. interference in your country, particularly the illegal and inhumane monetary sanctions that seek to make life intolerable for your people.” Appalling.

The Code Pink embassy takeover continues

A back door of the embassy

When we last checked in on the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., on May 2, it was being illegally occupied by the radical leftists of Code Pink, who support the socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Juan Guaidó, recognized by the U.S. and dozens of other countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Also in the building are members of other far-left groups such as ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Popular Resistance, and Black Alliance for Peace. Most if not all of the occupiers are Americans with no apparent connection to Venezuela other than their ideological alliance with the country’s destructive, despotic chavista regime. Their goal, they said, was to keep the embassy from being entered by any of Guaidó’s people or by U.S. officials. To that end, reported the Washington Post, they “padlocked the front entrance and secured other doors with chains.”

Juan Guaido

Outrageously, these extremists are still occupying the embassy. Meanwhile, hundreds of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans who oppose the embassy takeover – and many of whom have experienced firsthand the dire consequences of so-called Bolivarian rule – have continued to gather outside the embassy day and night, protesting the protesters and doing their best, as one of them told the Post, “to prevent further trespassers from entering our building.” They have also tried to prevent anybody from getting food supplies to the occupiers. There have been scuffles – and an episode or two that rose to the level of dangerous violence – between the occupiers and the protesters outside, and at least one of the Venezuelan demonstrators, Naylet Pacheco, was hospitalized after being attacked without provocation by several men from inside the embassy, one of whom has been arrested.

Medea Benjamin

The evening of May 8 brought a new development: as the sun set over the leafy Georgetown neighborhood, the lights inside the embassy went off. While Code Pink protested that the embassy’s electric bill had been fully paid by the Maduro regime, Pepco, the local power company, replied that it had shut off the juice to the embassy at the request of the U.S.-backed Guaido government. The cutoff not only meant no lights – it also meant that the Code Pink misfits would no longer be able to recharge the computers and cell phones that they’d been using to send out tweets, videos, and the like to the world. Though the protesters outside expressed the hope that this new turn would drive the occupiers out, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who herself left the embassy over a week ago and has been prevented by the protesters outside from re-entering it, vowed that her cohorts were determined to stay. “They’re saying, ‘No matter what happens, you can cut off the electricity, you can cut off the water, we’ll still stay here,’” she told the Post. “Even if they have to be without eating.” Many observers savored the deliciousness of the irony that the embassy occupiers now have at least some idea of what life has been like for people in Venezuela who have lived for months, in some cases years, without adequate meals or reliable power supplies. As one demonstrator, Daniela Bustillos, put it: “They’re getting a little taste of what Venezuela has been experiencing.”

One detail in the Post’s May 9 account seemed puzzling. On the previous evening, according to the report, “police cordoned off 30th Street NW to allow several neon-shirted men down a manhole in the middle of the street. Code Pink said it showed police are taking sides, though a spokeswoman for the Secret Service said the agency is committed to protecting both sides’ “right to protest.” The right to protest is one thing – but are the police and Secret Service actually behaving as if the clowns of Code Pink have a right to occupy an embassy?

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?

Now Roger Waters is supporting Maduro

Roger Waters

Here at Useful Stooges, we call Roger Waters “Old Reliable.” Heaven knows there are plenty of useful stooges in show business. Some of them adore the Castro regime in Cuba. Some hate Israel and want to see its Jewish inhabitants driven into the sea. Some speak of burning down the White House. Some support Antifa vandalism and the violent closing down of the free speech of people with whom they disagree. Some blindly follow hijab-wearing “feminist” leaders with histories of defending Islamic gender apartheid.

Robbie Williams

Roger Waters, the 75-year-old rocker and former Pink Floyd front man, put almost all of them in the shade. He’s spoken up for Hamas, painted Iran as a victim, and served as a member of the UN’s discredited Russell Tribunal. He’s not only compared Israel to Nazi Germany but also accused it of “apartheid” and “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” and held concerts featuring a large, airborne “pig-shaped balloon adorned with Jewish symbols, including a Star of David.” He’s such a fierce enemy of Israel that he’s written accusatory open letters to other entertainers, such as Robbie Williams and Bon Jovi, trying to browbeat them into canceling gigs in Israel and telling them that, if they didn’t obey, they had the blood of children on their hands.

Last November, we reported on a new wrinkle: Waters, it turned out, was part of a shady campaign to shake down Chevron to the tune of billions of dollars.

Jair Bolsonaro

Now Waters is at it again. As Marcelo Duclos put it last month in an article for the Panam Post, he’s “always on the same side: the wrong one.” Namely, the side of totalitarianism. Performing last year in Brazil, he told his audiences that Jair Bolsonaro, the anti-Marxist who was then running for president and is now in office, represented the “resurgence of fascism.” While he presumably expected his fans to cheer, many of them booed.

Jon Guaido

Not that he learned a lesson from it. On February 3, Waters took to Twitter to offer his two cents on the current developments in Venezuela. As readers of this site well know, most of the democratic countries of the Western Hemisphere have supported the claim of National Assembly leader Juan Guaido to be the legitimate president of that country; only Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, and three small Caribbean island nations have stuck by the incompetent Marxist dictator Nicolas Maduro – along with such stellar international players as Iran, Belarus, Russia, China, Syria, and Equatorial Guinea. No points for guessing which side Waters is on.

Nicolas Maduro

In his February 3 tweet, Waters told the U.S. to “LEAVE THE VENEZUELAN PEOPLE ALONE” and claimed that Venezuela, under Maduro, enjoys a “REAL DEMOCRACY” superior to those of the United Kingdom and United States. He added the hashtag #STOPTRUMPSCOUPINVENEZUELA. Duclos quoted a reply by one of Waters’s fans: “I’m crying. My biggest musical idol has just defended the government that ruined my country and my family, which forced me to leave my own country to seek a better quality of life. Roger, you have no idea what is happening in Venezuela.” This fan was not alone in chiding Waters for his ignorance and his unconcern for Maduro’s victims.

Will he listen? There is no reason to expect him to. “Tho[ugh] his lyrics routinely decry authoritarianism, government power, and assaults on freedom,” Duclos pointed out, “it seems these things receive a pass from Waters when a left-wing government is the culprit.”

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.

AFP whitewashes the Castros

Exotic Havana

From time to time on this site, we’ve examined various public figures who had a soft spot for the Castro regime in Cuba and media organizations whose reports from Cuba routinely focused on its purported charms rather than its totalitarian government. We’ve written about director Bob Yari, who filmed a movie in Cuba; designer Karl Lagerfeld, who used Havana’s crumbling buildings as a backdrop for a glamorous fashion show; and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who, notwithstanding his own wealth, made a point of castigation capitalism while celebrating the Castros. We’ve told the tale of Fidel’s affair with compliant ABC reporter Lisa Howard, noted the chummy relationship between Jesse Jackson and the Castros, and, not least, the shamelessness and fatuity with which Time Magazine, again and again, has glorified the island prison.

Jair Bolsonaro

On January 2, Agence France Press demonstrated that the perverse impulse to whitewash the Cuban regime is not dead in 2019. Under the headline “Cuba celebrates 60 years of revolution amid challenges and change,” AFP described Cuba as a longtime “source of inspiration for leftist Latin American governments,” but added that the nation faces “increasing isolation in a region dominated by a resurgent right,” notably the new Brazilian government led by “far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.”

AFP reported that Bolsonaro had “made a point of not inviting” the new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro to his inauguration, a decision that some of us might consider principled but that AFP seemed to want readers to regard as churlish.

Nicolas Maduro

Typically, AFP labeled Bolsonaro – a pro-American, pro-Israeli conservative who has been dubbed the Latin American Trump – as “far-right,” and characterized Argentina, Chile and Peru as having “all swung to the right in recent years, unseating leftist governments.” A more objective media outlet might have put it a bit differently – might have said, that is, that the voters of those countries have rejected socialism in favor of democratic capitalism.

Evo Morales

Meanwhile, in its references to Cuba’s leaders, AFP was careful to avoid the word “dictator,” obediently referring to Raul Castro as “[e]x-president” and as “first secretary of the Communist Party,” identifying the late Fidel Castro as “Cuba’s revolutionary leader,” and giving the current thug-in-chief, Miguel Diaz-Canel, his official title of “President.” AFP also reported that Maduro had “paid tribute to the ‘heroic Cuban people,’” whom he praised for their “’resistance and dignity’ in the face of ’60 years of sacrifices, struggles and blockade.’” In addition, according to AFP, “[a]nother surviving leftist leader, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, said Cuba’s revolution gave birth to ‘the light of hope and invincible will for the liberation of the people.’” This effusive rhetoric by Maduro and Morales was presented by AFP without context, so that an ill-informed reader would never know that the Cuban people have spent the last six decades not as stalwart patriots who have bravely resisted a U.S. blockade but as downtrodden subjects of a totalitarian tyranny.

Fidel Castro

To be sure, the word “dictator” did eventually appear in the AFP article – but only as a means of describing Castro’s predessor, Fulgencio Batista. To its credit, moreover, AFP also mentioned, toward the end of its article, that Cuba is a communist state. It also quoted a dissident, but that dissident, as it happened, was not an anti-Communist who opposed the Cuban Revolution from the start but a diehard Communist named Vladimiro Roca, whose father was a sidekick of Fidel Castro, who himself had run afoul of authorities and spent several years in prison, and whose complaint was therefore that the Cuban Revolution “died a long time ago.”

Donald Trump

Moreover, while AFP acknowledged that Cuba “has faced heavy criticism” abroad, it presented the Cuban people not as decades-long victims of a brutal autocracy but as having “had to contend with an increasingly hostile administration under Trump these last two years.” There’s no hint that the Trump administration is hostile not to the Cuban people but to their unelected masters. In 2019, alas, such full-scale misrepresentation continues to be par for the course for all too many Western media.

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.

Those chavista Brits

Jack Staples-Butler

Jack Staples-Butler, a British law student, wrote an interesting article recently about Venezuela – not about the social and economic crisis itself but about the government’s response to it, namely “systemic and organised psychological denial,” which largely takes the form of “externalis[ing] blame through conspiracy theories.” Nicolás Maduro’s regime has spread “[f]antasies of ‘economic warfare’ waged by ‘hoarders’ led by the United States,” and has used these fantasies as an excuse to seize food from grocery stores and impose price controls on food products. “The most disturbing recent development,” wrote Staples-Butler, “is the prospect of Venezuelans becoming a population of forced labourers in government-run agricultural projects, a solution that would take Venezuela from Zimbabwean levels of hunger and inflationary poverty to Cambodian levels of state-led starvation.”

Nicolas Maduro

It is madness – dangerous madness. Yet, as we have noted frequently on this website, Maduro has, until very recently, had more than his share of eager Western supporters. “As recently as June 2015, when this starvation crisis was already in full-swing,” wrote Staples-Butler, “an event organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in London” to cheer chavismo as a heroic challenge to “neoliberalism and privatisation” drew such prominent figures as Jeremy Corbyn (now head of the British Labour Party) and two other members of Parliament, Grahame Morris and Richard Burgon.

Jeremy Corbyn

But more interesting to Staples-Butler than the lingering enthusiasm of British politicians – as well as British intellectuals and journalists – for the Bolivarian Republic is the role they played years earlier in the creation of this crisis. Among the names he mentions, in addition to Corbyn, Morris, and Burgon, are several other prominent MPs and former MPs, including Diane Abbott, John McDowell, and Colin Burgon, journlist Owen Jones (whom we’ve profiled at length on this site). After the 2012 elections, influential British figures organized a propaganda tour of the UK for chavismo politicians and union bosses. Left-wing British groups held events all over the UK to celebrate Venezuelan socialism; among the speakers were Seumas Milne (whom we’ve also profiled here), London mayor Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Jones (again), and chavismo enthusiasts from Cuba and Argentina.

The rewards of socialism: a Venezuelan supermarket

All of these figures, charged Staples-Butler, bear a “moral responsibility” for “the continued suffering of the Venezuelan people at the hands of a regime which they passionately supported.” Yet these Western chavistas, who are accustomed to viewing themselves as moral exemplars, are incapable of admitting to themselves their moral responsibility for the current outrage. “What is most striking in the Western socialist left’s response to Venezuela’s agony,” therefore, “is the absence of response.” They can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge that there’s anything wrong. Venezuela, writes Staples-Butler, “has become a collective unperson to those who formerly proclaimed it an example for humanity’s emulation.” (There are exceptions. The Morning Star, a Communist newspaper to which Corbyn contributes, “continues repeating Venezuelan state propaganda,” describing anti-Maduro protests, for instance, “as a right-wing ‘coup plot.’”)

Hugo Chavez

Staples-Butler predicted that when the international left finally works out a “history” of contemporary Venezuela with which it can live, it will take the line that Hugo Chávez was, indeed, a great man whose brilliant socialist program brought Venezuela prosperity, but that Maduro (who took over after Chávez died in 2013) was a criminal whose corruption ruined everything. Such a fantasy, suggested Staples-Butler, would rescue not only Chávez and socialism but, more important, themselves from responsibility. If this lie were to take hold, it would not be the first ever historical example of such revisionism: after the USSR fell, many ardent Western Communists dealt with the reality of Soviet evils by blaming them entirely on Stalin and depicting him as having betrayed the supposedly benevolent – and beneficial – ideology of Lenin.

Of all the Western apologists for chavismo, Staples-Butler singled out one for special censure. It’s somebody whom we’ve discussed at length on this site – Owen Jones. But Staples-Butler’s comments on Jones in connection with the downfall of Venezuela are reason enough to return to Jones yet again. We’ll do that tomorrow.