Nick Cohen wrote in The Guardian last week about the Chavista regime’s systematic and successful use of “deluded pimps,” Western celebrities and intellectuals who have visited Venezuela since 1998 in order to engage in “radical tourism,” the political equivalent of sex tourism.
EspañolBeing photographed next to exotic, socialist strongmen – namely the late showman Hugo Chávez and his clumsy successor, Nicolás Maduro – left-wing vedettes would flout their principled anti-imperialism and “speak up for the powerless.” They could then proceed to jet out of Venezuela in order to enjoy all the advantages of free market capitalism in countries like the United States or Great Britain, leaving Caracas’s 21st Century Socialists behind to create an economic, social, and humanitarian debacle, as they inevitably would.
- Read More: Venezuela: Food and Medicine Shortages Are a Government Policy
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As PanAm Post publisher Luis Henrique Ball points out, the rationing of basic goods in Venezuela is a deliberate government policy. The country, in fact, has more than enough foreign exchange reserves for the private sector, crippled as it is under Chavismo, to supply the people’s fundamental needs fairly quickly.
Rationing, however, allows the Maduro regime to cow the population into submission while keeping the security forces in check, threatening the police sergeant or army officer who is excessively lenient to protesters with an end to the “privileges that allow his family to shop in special government stores, where food and medicine are plentiful.” Talk about standing up for – or rather sticking it to – the powerless.
As the “revolutionaries” in charge of Venezuela lead the country toward its ruin, I compiled a list of the ten most outrageous statements by lefty slebs, hacks, or academics about Chávez, Maduro, and Venezuela’s calamitous experiment with socialism. Readers will surely be able to send the PanAm Post their own favorite, dim-witted phrase by an unsuspecting luvvy infatuated with Chávez’s aura. For reasons of space, I had to be selective amid a plethora of available material.
1. Sean Penn
(Chávez) is a fascinating guy. He’s done… incredible things for the 80% of the people that are very poor there.
The Oscar-winning actor surely belongs at the top of the list of Chávez’s useful idiots. His frequent visits to Venezuela were so convenient for the caudillo, in fact, that Chávez, who was known for his attempts at comedy, once suggested that Penn should be named US Ambassador in Caracas.
There is no word yet from Penn on how the poor are faring in cities like Valencia, where daily blackouts affect hospitals and shopping for food is only allowed on certain days (which are determined by your national ID number). Penn’s adjective, however, is apt: the current misery is incredible in a country that, before Chávez started staging coup attempts, used to be hailed in Latin America as the most advanced nation in the region.
Penn also waded in on press freedom regarding the media’s coverage of the Chavista regime, telling comedian Bill Maher, who asked him about journalists who labeled Chávez a dictator, that
there should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kind (sic) of lies.
In other words, Penn thinks that freedom of speech has its limits, and incarceration is the proper punishment for suggesting that Chávez was an authoritarian even when the “anomalous statistical patterns” of the elections he “won” since 2004 are widely documented.
Penn’s meddling into Venezuelan affairs didn’t end with Chávez’s death. At the late despot’s funeral, the actor said that
Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of vice president Maduro.
The 80% of Venezuelans who have told pollsters that Maduro’s leadership is rather lacking disagree, even as they risk government reprisals for their honesty in a country where anti-Chávez opposition voters have lost their jobs and been otherwise persecuted in the past (see below). All of which is surely “fascinating” to Penn.
2. Oliver Stone
In his documentary My Friend Hugo, Stone appears at a press conference in Caracas and tells the audience to
look at the positive changes that have happened economically, that have happened in all of South America because of Chávez, Kirchner…
He then adds that Chávez is “welcome” to stay in power if he wishes to do so, comparing Venezuela to countries in Europe where “there are no term limits.”
Forget the fact that the European countries without term limits to which Stone presumably refers are parliamentary democracies where internal party politics often lead to changes in the leadership even when a party is in power.
Chávez, on the other hand, transformed the Venezuelan executive into a hyper-presidential power where the strongman in charge changes the constitution at his whim every few years and uses the entire might of the state – the electoral authorities included – in order to rule indefinitely. Death and only death could have removed Chávez from the presidency, all of which was to the delight of foreign cheerleaders who, like Stone, enjoy all the benefits of checks and balances in their own countries.
As to the “positive changes” that Chávez’s revolution supposedly brought not only to Venezuela, but also to Argentina, it might be useful to keep in mind the economic situation in both countries last December, when the Kirchnerists were booted out of power in Argentina and the Venezuelan opposition took over the National Assembly for the first time since Chávez became president.
- Read More: Cristina Kirchner Did Drive Argentina’s Economy into the Ground
- Read More: Argentina Returns to International Bond Markets 15 Years after Default
Despite clearly manipulated government figures, independent economists calculated that inflation in Argentina was close to 28% in June of last year, one of the highest rates in the world according to Reuters. Mauricio Macri, the new president, also inherited a fiscal deficit that neared 7% of GDP by the end of 2015, the result of the Kirchners’ policy of tripling the number of public employees in 12 years. Foreign-exchange reserves were also depleted, as The Economist wrote.
Cristina Kirchner, in fact, established strict controls “to protect the government’s stock of foreign reserves,” making it “almost impossible for ordinary Argentines to purchase dollars, preferred by savers to the inflation-prone peso.” The natural result of this policy, aside from the creation of “a parallel foreign-exchange market,” was to leave exporters “hobbled by the overvalued peso” and importers without dollars, “which starved factories of supplies.” Under the Kirchners, in other words, Argentina was slowly turning into Venezuela.
In Venezuela itself, meanwhile, the Central Bank reported that inflation in 2015 reached an astonishing level of 141.5%. The polling firm Datanálisis, however, states that it is impossible to measure inflation levels in Venezuela with accuracy since the Central Bank analyzes prices fixed by the government, whereas most citizens don’t buy their goods in formal stores.
For his part, Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann estimates that annual inflation levels in Venezuela have already reached 200% as the government resorts to printing money to cover its uncontrolled spending. The IMF, meanwhile, calculates that Venezuela’s consumer inflation could reach a level of 720% in 2016 and the economy could contract by 18% over 2015 and 2016.
Surely, the Chavistas’ utter destruction of the value of the Venezuelan people’s currency (the bolivar) and the economic implosion they have brought about fall under the “positive changes” that Stone so accurately perceived.
3. Naomi Campbell
After interviewing Chávez in 2007 for GQ, the English model said the following about the caudillo:
Whatever the future holds, for me his role will always be that of a rebel angel.
Today, one wonders if Campbell would tell the families of the Venezuelan government’s political prisoners that the Chavista regime’s nature is as angelic as she claimed.
GQ, meanwhile, seems to have pulled Campbell’s interview off its website beyond the opening paragraphs.
4. Michael Moore
Upon hearing of Chávez’s death in 2013, the American filmmaker tweeted the following:
Hugo Chavez declared the oil belonged 2 the ppl. He used the oil $ 2 eliminate 75% of extreme poverty, provide free health & education 4 all
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) March 6, 2013
Moore forgot to mention that anything that Chávez handed out “for free” was paid not only with oil money, which was also squandered in the caudillo’s incursions into other countries, but also by printing money and issuing foreign debt. As Hausmann and Miguel Ángel Santos have pointed out, however, most holders of Venezuelan bonds are “well-connected” to the Chavista regime, and the punctual payment of the debt involves not giving access to foreign exchange reserves to the importers who could put an end to the worsening shortages of basic goods.
L.H. Ball puts it more bluntly: “it is no secret that Chavistas, their cronies in banking, and self-defined ‘brokerage houses’ hold the lion’s share of Venezuela’s outstanding foreign debt.”
Choosing to pay the government’s courtesans while the Venezuelan people undergo hunger and face death due to a lack of medicines is, to use Moore’s term, a dangerous policy indeed. And it is especially dangerous for the poor.
The battered remains of the middle class, meanwhile, will eventually have to foot the bill for years of recklessness under Chávez and Maduro.
5. Don King
To see what is happening here makes me feel good all over.
Twelve years later, “what is happening” in Venezuela is a rapid descent into “failed state” territory. According to The Economist, Venezuela’s inflation levels have not been seen since the early 2000’s in Zimbabwe. Needless to say, King hasn’t revealed his latest feelings about Venezuela’s unfolding economic and humanitarian collapse.
6. Noam Chomsky
In a 2013 interview, linguist and activist Noam Chomsky described the suggestion that Chávez had suppressed press freedom as “a bit of a joke.” He added:
There’s a strong opposition press bitterly attacking him all the time. There’s much more of an opposition press than there is in most of Latin America… There is some repression of the press, but it’s mostly, you know, verbal intimidation…
As in the case of Sean Penn, there might have been some humor to Chomsky’s statement if Venezuelan journalists weren’t being jailed for “libelling” the government. According to Human Rights Watch, protests against the Venezuelan regime have left “victims of security force abuses (who) were professional journalists and people who had been taking photos or filming security force confrontations with protesters.”
The Venezuelan press, meanwhile, has reported that the police and the Bolivarian National Guard have arrested numerous citizens for merely filming the long lines of people who, due to severe food shortages, wait outside supermarkets on a daily basis. This is unconstitutional in Venezuela, but the law has never been an obstacle for the Chavistas as they carry out their political goals. All of which is surely justified for Chomsky, that staunch defender of human rights.
In the same interview, Chomsky states that Chávez
(carried forward) this historic liberation of Latin America…. (He was certainly) destructive to the rich oligarchy, to the US power…
Over the past ten years, I’ve seen a change of absolutely historic significance. I mean, if you go back to the Conquistadors 500 years ago, I sense that Latin America has been pretty much enthralled to Western force, (to) the United States in most recent times. Now, it’s pretty much free.
Venezuela is so free from Yankee imperialism, in fact, that Coca-Cola has shut down its local production due to a lack of sugar. Undoubtedly, that is wonderful news for Coca-Cola’s workers in the country.
The US embassy, meanwhile, recently cancelled all new appointments for the thousands of tourism and business visa applicants, many of whom are undoubtedly trying to escape the country’s economic disaster any way they can. This is due to the Venezuelan government’s refusal to hand out visas for US Embassy personnel.
Venezuela’s economic demise has also coincided with a sharp decline in trade with the United States. As Miami’s El Nuevo Herald reported on Tuesday, trade between both countries decreased by 48% in the first trimester of 2016 compared with the same period one year ago. According to the Chomsky-ite worldview, this must be a positive sign for Venezuelans. After all, who would want to trade with the US — or with any other country, for that matter — in order to maintain some semblance of prosperity?
It’s far better to aim for economic sovereignty, becoming so sovereign, in fact, that the sick have no access to the foreign drugs they desperately need.
7. Mark Weisbrot
In January, 2013, left-wing pundit and columnist Mark Weisbrot wrote the following in a Guardian piece titled “Disinformation still clouds the US debate on Chávez’s legacy in Venezuela”:
…remember that the catastrophic view of Venezuela’s economy has been promoted by the Venezuelan government’s opponents – including most of the international and Venezuelan media – for 14 years. Economic disaster was always just around the corner, but it never quite happened.
Weisbrot also mocked columnist Moisés Naím for correctly suggesting that Venezuela was “headed for an economic crisis of historic proportions.”
Now, Weisbrot is claiming that Venezuela’s current “inflation-depreciation spiral” was brought about by a “dysfunctional exchange-rate system (the unsustainable effort to maintain a fixed, overvalued exchange rate) and (the government’s) dependence on oil revenue.” So it seems that two of the pillars of Chávez’s economic policy made a catastrophe unavoidable after all.
8. Jeremy Corbyn
The current leader of the British Labour Party said in 2009 that
Venezuela is seriously conquering poverty by emphatically rejecting the Neo Liberal policies of the world’s financial institutions.
In late 2015, a study revealed that 76% of Venezuela’s population was poor in terms of income. This, one supposes, is the Chávez-Maduro regime’s odd way of “conquering poverty.”
Even worse news for well heeled, anti-imperialist Corbynistas in Islington is the fact that, as Spanish economist Daniel Fernández writes, “the US dollar serves as a store of value for Venezuelans, and to a lesser extent, the unit of account.”
He adds that
The only function that the bolivar currently serves is as a medium of payments, (and it) is only a matter of time before this function is abandoned as well . In fact, alternatives to using local currency have begun to spring up in the form of bartering and trade.
Since the US dollar is already serving various functions that replace Venezuela’s national currency, it is all too possible that it will become the undesired successor to the bolivar.
Needless to say that lefties across the world will shudder at the thought of the US dollar rescuing Venezuelans from a socialist-imposed barter economy, even as millions of people are saved from starvation.
9. Danny Glover
In March, 2014, the actor praised Venezuelans for
(continuing) to realize (Chavez’s) vision of a participatory democracy, one involving all citizens.
The facts, however, tell a different story. According to a Human Rights Watch report published in 2008, “political discrimination has been a recurrent characteristic of the (Venezuelan) government’s policies and actions” since Chávez assumed power. The report adds that the news media, labor unions, and civil society have been the primary victims of the Chavista regime’s deliberate policy of isolating opposition groups and individuals from the political process.
The infamous “Tascón List” is exemplary of the Chavista regime’s penchant for political persecution. As the Guardian explains,
in 2004, the National Electoral Council (CNE) published the names of individuals who had signed a petition seeking to oust the late president Hugo Chávez, by calling for a recall referendum. The Tascón List, as it came to be known, was later used by the government to deny those who had signed the petition access to state jobs and welfare programs.
According to the Spanish daily ABC, some 500,000 state employees mentioned in the Tascón List lost their jobs for signing in favor of the recall referendum against Chávez. Others faced obstacles when obtaining a passport, personal documents or foreign currency or when simply trying to leave the country.
Nor has the Maduro government abolished such heavy-handed practices. As Deutsche Welle reports, Diosdado Cabello, the former speaker of the National Assembly who ranks second in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela behind Maduro, “has threatened to fire any state employee who signs the petition to carry out a recall referendunm against President Maduro, warning that the signatures will be inspected ‘one by one.’”
Such thuggery is merely the Chavista version of a “participatory democracy.”
10. Joseph Stiglitz
The economist, a Nobel laureate, said in 2007 that
(Chávez’s “equitable” distribution of Venezuela’s oil revenue) should be considered innovative rather than revolutionary, because it did not occur in the past.
What Stiglitz didn’t mention is that Chávez, aside from squandering oil money on unaffordable and politically motivated social programs, also dissipated an enormous amount of Venezuela’s oil wealth in subsidies to other countries under left-wing rule.
Chávez’s Venezuela, in fact, replaced the Soviet Union as the main paymaster for the Castro regime in Cuba. According to the BBC, the island was receiving 100,000 oil barrels per day from Venezuela at heavily subsidized prices in 2013. This covered 60% of Cuba’s energy needs.
When Daniel Ortega, the current president of Nicaragua, took power in 2007, he signed an agreement with Chávez so that his country would receive 100,000 barrels of oil per month from Venezuela among other forms of aid. From 2007 until 2013, Venezuelan subsidies to Nicaragua reached a total of at least USD $2.6 billion.
But this was not all. The Financial Times mentions
the glory days when Venezuela’s socialist leader Hugo Chávez was still alive, oil prices were high, and revolutionary Caracas, which sits on the largest energy reserves in the world, could afford to send 200,000 barrels per day of subsidised oil to 13 countries… in return for their political support and sometimes repayment with goods in kind — like black beans.
Chávez, however, didn’t only write checks to poor Caribbean or Central American countries. He also helped rescue an Uruguayan bank and gave at least USD $24 million in “donations” to hospitals and other companies in that country, which has had the highest GDP per capita rate in Latin America.
In Argentina, the Supreme Court recently ordered the re-opening of a case involving a Venezuelan businessman with close links to Chávez who allegedly transported USD $800,000 in 2007 from Caracas to Buenos Aires, a sum which was destined for Cristina Kirchner’s presidential campaign.
So despite his constant, tiresome criticism of Yankee imperialism, Chávez tried to create a regional empire of his own using Venezuela’s oil wealth. Far from being innovative, favoring imperial expansion over the well-being of one’s own population has been the modus operandi for despots since the days of Sargon of Akkad.