Six counts of indecent assault, four counts of rape, two counts of bodily harm, one count of cruelty to a child under 16. These, as we saw yesterday, were the charges of which a Maoist cult leader by the name of Aravindan Balakrishnan was convicted in December in a London court.
The child in question was Katy Morgan-Davies, who was born in 1983 and who, during her childhood and youth, was beaten regularly and prohibited from attending school or making friends. Her mother was a member of Balakrishnan’s commune, the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1997. After Katy’s liberation from the commune, she told a BBC reporter that her father had “wanted the whole world to be like the collective where he is in charge and everybody is his slave.” Indeed, she said he “was using the sect as a ‘pilot unit’ to learn how to control people before taking over the world” – which made her think: “God, if the whole world is going to be like this, what way out is there? How am I going to live? I cannot live in this. So I used to think that the best way would be to die.”
Katy had actually escaped once – way back in 2005 – only to be returned to her father by the police. In 2013, it was the police who saved her, plucking her out of her father’s homemade hell at a time when she suffering from diabetes and desperately in need of medical treatment. At Balakrishnan’s trial, Katy described the commune as the headquarters of a “hate cult” that “was full of violence and horror.” Calling her father a “narcissist and a psychopath,” she said: “The people he looked up to were people like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein – you couldn’t criticise them….They were his gods and his heroes. These were the sort of people he wanted to emulate.” She said she’d “felt like a caged bird with clipped wings” and had finally left the house because she “didn’t want to live like an animal anymore.”
One detective said that Katy had been so profoundly indoctrinated that when she finally was freed from the house, she “genuinely believed…she was going to explode – that her life would come to an end.”
In late January, Balakrishnan was finally sentenced to 23 years in prison by Judge Deborah Taylor, who told him in open court that he’d been “ruthless” in his “exploitation” of his followers, that he’d “engendered a climate of fear, jealousy and competition for [his] approval,” that he’d treated his daughter like “an experiment,” subjecting her to “a catalogue of mental and physical abuse,” and that these were “grave and serious crimes conducted over a long period of time” for which he had “shown no remorse whatsoever.”
Ideologically, of course, what Balakrishnan preached was hardly orthodox Maoism. But in his intellectual tyranny, and his employment of physical abuse and psychological terror to enforce his power, he was a Maoist through and through – a man expertly schooled in the ways of totalitarianism. And the fact that this bullying mediocrity was able to draw so many followers only reflects the perennial power of utopian ideology to attract the gullible and psychologically needy.
Recently we spent a couple of days scratching our heads over Jane Fonda‘s lifelong career as a fleabrained enthusiast for totalitarianism. Now it’s time to train the camera on this aging fluffhead’s third husband, Ted Turner, the billionaire founder of CNN, godfather (in the eyes of some observers) of cable TV itself, and currently the second largest landowner in the U.S., with more acreage, all told, than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island put together. (Until recently he was #1, but another media tycoon, John Malone, edged ahead of him.)
You’d think, given his remarkable financial success (he’s now worth over $2 billion), that, unlike his ditzy ex-wife (they divorced in 2001), Turner must be quite the sharp cookie. Indeed he has to be some kind of a business genius – many of those who’ve worked with him over the years have said so, and his own accomplishments can hardly be explained otherwise. But to peruse the record of his public statements on various issues is to be gobsmacked by what seems nothing less than a stunning combination of foolishness, nuttiness, ignorance, and immaturity. (And we’re talking about a man who’s now 72 years old.)
Like Fonda, Turner is on the extreme political left, loath to criticize the likes of Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, or North Korea’s Kims but quick to compare Fox News or people like George W. Bush to Hitler. Like Fonda, too, he’s a world-class hypocrite. As of 2012, when he was profiledby Stephen Galloway in the Hollywood Reporter, Turner was spending his time jetting privately from one of his 28 (yes, 28) homes to another – and was, at the same time (no joke) identifying himself as a passionate environmentalist who found it “heartbreaking” that “the Tea Party…say that global warming is a hoax.” In a list he’s drawn up of “11 Voluntary Initiatives,” Turner vows “to care for Planet Earth and all living things thereon, especially my fellow beings.” Back in 2001, Ken Auletta reported on Turner’s climate hysteria: “In a hundred years, he believes, New York will be under water and it will be ‘so hot the trees are going to die.’” As of July 2015, when Turner was interviewed by CNN’s Cristiane Amanpour, “protect[ing] the environment” remained his “current aim,” as demonstrated by the fact that his car was “adorned with two bumper stickers, proclaiming: ‘Save the Planet’ and ‘Save Everything.’” In short: do as I say, not as I do.
Another cute little hypocrisy: Turner has had five kids, but in 2010 he called for an international directive that would penalize couples for having more than one child. (He’s openly praised the Communist Chinese government for its one-child policy, which has resulted in the widespread murder of baby girls by their parents.)
But Turner’s biggest hypocrisy is the fact that he’s a billionaire with a soft spot – and a blind spot – when it comes to Communism. We’ll get into the details – of which there are many – next time.
Yesterday we started out on a little tour through the swamps of chavista criminality. First up was Hugo Carvajal, a longtimepal of Hugo Chávez who served as his main conduits to the FARC terrorist group, with which the Bolivarian regime enjoyed very friendly relations.
Deserving of mention alongside Carvajal is Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, who held two cabinet positions under Chávez, served as his intelligence chief, and is now governor of the state of Guarico. Although he co-founded the Comando Específico José Antonio Páez (CEJAP), an elite force purportedly established to quell FARC and another Colombian guerilla group, ELN, he (along with Carvajal) acted as the top middleman between Chávez and FARC, with whose leaders he has close friendly relations. One sourcedescribed him in 2009 as having been “Chávez’s personal liaison to the senior FARC leadership since 1994, when Chávez and Rodríguez Chacín met in Colombia with several members of the FARC’s directorate to forge a political alliance.” The U.S. has called Rodríguez Chacín FARC’s “main weapons contact” in the Venezuelan government, and has even said that he tried at one point to arrange a quarter-billion-dollar loan to the terrorist group. Between 2002 and 2007, he “traveled frequently under at least four false identities (but with legal Venezuelan passports and identity documents) to countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico.”
There’s more. Rodríguez Chacín helped Chávez plot “Operation Knockout,” a plan “to instigate a coup attempt against his government in order to justify declaring martial law and crushing his political opponents.” In the 1980s, he played key roles in a cold-blooded operation in which 42 people were killed and in the brutal massacre of fourteen fisherman in the town of El Amparo. As of 2009, he was “believed to be the military commander of the Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL), a nominally all-Venezuelan Marxist guerrilla (militant) group which operates in Border States like Apure, Barinas and the Andes region.”
Then there’s José Vicente Rangel Vale, a sometime journalist who went on to hold two cabinet positions under Chávez before becoming his Vice President. Not only was he a good pal of the caudillo; he’s also a fan of the Cuban Revolution, and back in the day encouraged friendly relations with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi.
A few random items from his CV. With Chávez, he hatched plans to – among other things – kidnap a union boss, assassinate opposition leaders, and “organize fake terrorist attacks.” He was behind the 2004 car-bomb explosion that killed public prosecutor Danilo Baltasar Anderson, who’d threatened to expose Rangel’s involvement in an extortion network.
Once, when riots were taking place in Caracas, a reporter who’d just witnessed them – and was still coughing from the tear gas – was told flatly by Rangel that there were no riots. “That, dear reader,” wrote journalist Francisco Toro after Rangel’s departure from the Vice Presidency, “was José Vicente Rangel. That was his modus operandi: untrammeled contempt for his former profession, barely concealed delight at the way power allowed him to piss all over the truth, to flaunt his ability to lie and lie again, ever more outrageously, without anyone being able to hold him to account for it.”
In recent years, Rangel has been active as a TV and print journalist – or, more accurately, as a vigorous promoter and propagandist for the Maduro regime. On July 10, he turned 87. Maduro tweeted his congratulations, thanking Rangel for his loyalty “to the People, to Chávez, and to the Socialist Revolution.”
Yesterday we discussed an inane tweet sent out by Jon Snow, a news anchor on Britain’s ITN, after the death, on June 5, of Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein’s sometime Foreign Minister. “Nice guy in a nasty situation,” wrote Snow.
This isn’t the first time Jon Snow has expressed sympathy for tyrants or their envoys. Interviewing Fu Ying, China’s ambassador to Britain, back in 2008, he grovelled pathetically, posing such hard-hitting questions as this one: “Do you think that somehow Western concepts of freedom and democracy are simply different from Chinese concepts of freedom and democracy?” In the same year, he described the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai massacre as “practitioners,” not terrorists.
Then there’s Hugo Chávez. On the day the caudillo died in 2013, Jon Snow tweeted: “Whatever you think of Chavez, Latin America is far more its own continent today thanks to Lula [the former Brazilian president], Chavez, and others.” Westerners who write such things about thugs like Chávez think they’re standing up for Third World people against First World imperialism, but all they’re doing is exhibiting their own condescension, implying that the rabble in places like Venezuela are better off under gangsters who spout populist, anti-American rhetoric (and trash the economy and human rights) than under governments that provide them with more freedom and prosperity but (horrors!) may actually have friendly ties to the evil norteamericanos.
The same day, Snow also tweeted: “When I started working in Latin America the US was still killing leaders it didn’t like: Chavez is part of the order that put an end to that.” One of his Twitter followers, an obscure Texas businessman, had a sensible reply to that: “Whether you hate the US or not, the fact that Hugo survived is proof that the US is not killing those it opposes.”
Why can’t the top TV newsmen in the Western world be as clear-thinking about such matters as some businessman you’ve never heard of?
The tweet came on June 5. “Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz has died in jail: Nice guy in a nasty situation – made no better by Bush/Blair’s Shock and Awe.” The author of the tweet: Jon Snow. He elaborated in another tweet. “I spent time with Tariq Aziz, interviewed him often..Christian that he was – they didn’t kill him, they just let him rot to death in jail.”
Who’s Jon Snow? Now 67 years old, he’s a familiar face in Britain, where he’s been a news anchor for decades, previously on Channel 4, now on ITN. And who, for those who may have forgotten, was Tariq Aziz? Yes, he was the foreign minister for Saddam Hussein, one of the most monstrous dictators of modern times. But Aziz was more than that. For one thing, he was a very close friend and trusted confidant of Saddam’s; thanks, moreover, to his many appearances on CNN, the BBC, and other international news media, he was probably, for people in the English-speaking world, the most prominent apologist for Saddam’s tyranny. As one BBC presenter put it after his death, he was “the international face of Saddam Hussein’s regime.”
It will be remembered that many of the Western journalists and diplomats who interacted with Aziz found him personally charming. This was not unusual. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, was charming, too. So was Maxim Litvinov, Stalin’s prewar Foreign Minister. (Molotov, his successor, was notoriously charmless.) Journalists and diplomats interacting with such persons need to be on guard against being taken in by their charm. Snow appears oblivious to this fact.
Snow’s tweets about Aziz drew criticism, much of it from other journalists. But he stood by his sentiments. “I can only say I interviewed him and got to know him quite well,” he toldThe Independent. “I think he was made the fall guy by the West. It’s a long time ago. He’s been in prison for a long time. There were plenty of people who needed to go to prison in that regime. He was one of the only ones who were picked off.” Apropos of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath, he added: “It’s an absolute tragic morass in which everybody has behave[d] badly. What was the idea of going in and smashing that place? It meant Christians couldn’t stay. It meant Jews couldn’t stay. He was picked off because he was a Christian. It’s all tricky stuff – so complicated.”
One might prefer simply to back away from that mishmash of inane remarks, but given Snow’s prominence and influence, it is perhaps salutary to pause for a moment and notice what Snow is doing in his tweets and his follow-up comments. For one thing, he’s not denying Aziz’s involvement in Saddam’s unspeakable atrocities; he’s simply taking the view that since Aziz was only one of many vile creatures whose hands were soaked with the blood of tortured women and children, why jail him when others were allowed to walk away? For another, the reference to Saddam’s nightmare society of torture chambers and mass graves as a “nasty situation” is a world-class understatement. And by describing the situation in Iraq as a “tricky” and “complicated” one in which “everybody has behave[d] badly,” and by focusing on the purported offenses of “the West,” which in his description went in and “smash[ed]” Iraq and made Iraq’s predicament “no better,” Snow is playing moral-equivalency games of the lowest order.
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.]