Yesterday I published a piece, “Supporting Rancid Old Oligarchs: Code Pink, Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton and other ‘Revolutionary Heroes’ Travel to Venezuela on Government-Sponsored Junket, Feted by Corrupt President Maduro,” which generated a fair amount of life-affirming criticism from “leftists” suffering from Infantile Disorder Syndrome.
It also generated a lame reply from someone at Code Pink. This person is involved with an organization that previously awarded me a grant on a topic unrelated to Venezuela. (Oops, I guess there goes another source of funding for independent journalism.)
I’m omitting her name, though it may appear elsewhere in the media, because she is someone I like and respect, but this explanation is so lacking in substance, to be polite, that I’d prefer not to see her name attached to it. I’m also not clear, though I asked for clarification, if this is her personal response, or meant to be an explanation for Code Pink as an organization.
“I was invited by generous donors from the U.S.,” she wrote. “I knew in advance this was not a government-sponsored event, thus my decision to participate.”
Come again? No matter who provided the money — and no names are disclosed — your group met at the presidential palace with Maduro, participated in a PR event that was promoted by pro-government media and which Maduro put on his Twitter feed. That by definition is a “government-sponsored event.”
Furthermore, if your group had been interested the helping needy Venezuelans, you needn’t have traveled to Caracas on a self-promotional trip that was used by a corrupt leader for his own purposes. The money should have been sent directly to the Venezuelan poor.
The worst part of this entire affair is that Maduro presented in turn members of the group with the Sword of Bolivar, which was used by one of Latin America’s greatest revolutionaries, Simon Bolivar, in his quest to unite the continent and rid it of foreign influence. You all occupied the Venezuelan embassy for a few weeks, which I supported, but you are not battlefield militants. Accepting the Sword of Bolivar while sucking up to Maduro is a stain on Bolivar’s name. You looked like children playing with toy soldiers.
But the two true bottom-feeders in the Caracas crew are Blumenthal and Norton from the Grayzone, who are modern day Walter Durantys. No self-respecting journalist should ever degrade himself by sucking up to an authoritarian, corrupt leader. But just look at their smug smiles in that video and Blumenthal bursting with joy as he took the Sword of Bolivar from Maduro, too stupid or corrupt, or both, to realize that he was being filmed for a government PR video.
(Note: Yeah, Maduro is no Stalin and Venezuela is no dictatorship, but I cite Duranty because he, like Blumenthal and Norton, was a clueless apologist. Also, it’s sure to inflame the same people who were so outraged by yesterday’s story, so it’s funny as well. )
It took the Old Left 60 years — or in the case of some at RT a century — to figure out that criticizing Joseph Stalin and the USSR was not betraying socialism. Some of today’s “new” left exhibits the same binary thinking. They think that all governments attacked by the United States are their friend and rally around them like Pavlovian dogs.
Take a look at the lineup of speakers and the names of their speeches at the “Foro de Sao Paulo,” which the U.S. group apparently attended before their crowning moment with Maduro. “Venezuela is the first trench in the anti-imperialist struggle,” reads the title of the first speech seen below, which was given by Cuba’s unelected president, Miguel Diaz-Canela, a member of the majestic Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba since 2003.
Really? Venezuela is the “first trench”? Yes, Venezuela is under a criminal, illegal attack by the United States but I’d think that the first trench for a group from the United States might be Flint, Michigan, or a poor area in their respective hometowns.
A few nitwits wrote that I had no proof that Maduro’s government was corrupt. These people apparently can’t read. There are numerous detailed accounts, including U.S. Department of Justice indictments of senior government officials or executives at the state oil company. Oh, of course, that’s all U.S. propaganda so you Maduristas can discount it all. Feel free to consult numerous press and independent accounts you can dismiss as well.
No one can deny that there are corrupt Venezuelan government officials scattered around the planet who have accumulated vast fortunes — in the billions of dollars — while in government That money belonged to the Venezuelan people and it was stolen from them. These people resemble the members of the rancid old capitalist oligarchy that ruled Venezuela before the great Hugo Chavez, the former radical socialist president, won office in 1999.
I have been to Venezuela three times, most recently in February, and have family and friends who live there. Many are Chavistas but not Maduristas. There is a huge difference, and one Code Pink, Blumenthal and Norton choose to ignore or are unaware of.
Furthermore, I lived in Miami and have been to Panama and Colombia, where many Venezuelans have fled as refugees. Venezuelans are suffering and many of them — suffering merely from “false consciousness,” I guess — blame the government, not only the United States.
The first wave of exiles under Chavez were indeed the rich, and good riddance to them. We’re now up to about the sixth generation and with each wave the exiles have gotten poorer and poorer. Exhausted Venezuelans are leaving their great country in droves. Maduro’s apologists can point to U.S. sanctions all they like, but they do not offer a full explanation for the failings of his government. (For any of my critics who have the brain capacity to do a Google search, I’ve noted the devastating toll of sanctions numerous times in my reporting.)
I’ve written in support of Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela since 1993, but Maduro is, quite simply, bad news. The opposition is worse, more corrupt and more violent than Maduro — though his security forces have killed opponents without cause – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to serve as a useful idiot for the country’s current leadership, which is dominated by military officials, 1950s era Fidelistas and corrupt civilians.
There are plenty of good people who work for the government, but Maduro does not have Chavez’s base of support. Anyone with a brain knows he should step down in favor of a younger, less corrupt, less dogmatic socialist.
I’m not going to bother defending myself from the idiots who say I’m supporting the U.S. government. I’ve been working as a journalist for more than three decades and I have a long public record that belies that. These people are as simpleminded as those who call me anti-Semitic because of my writings about the Middle East.
I’m sure these people will be out in force when I write my next piece for Washington Babylon, “A Tribute to Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah.” There are plenty of people on the global stage who I admire, but Nasrallah is the closest thing the global poor have as an inspirational leader along the lines of Che Guevara and Chavez.
Yeah, the latter presumably believed — foolishly as Liberation Theology showed — that religion is the opiate of the people and Nasrallah is a religious leader (as well as a political, social and military one). But Hezbollah kicked Israel out of Lebanon and it provided the bulk of the soldiers who died in the heroic defeat of Western-backed ISIS and Al Qaeda jihdists in Syria.
Furthermore, Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government, despite threats and sanctions imposed by the U.S. against the U.S. because of its inclusion. Nasrallah has to maneuver carefully and has made important and admirable compromises with his opponents, some of whom are as awful as Maduro’s. He does not maintain his popular support by rigging elections and firing or criminalizing internal dissent, as Maduro has done.
But most significantly here, even Nasrallah’s worst enemies in the government, and there are many, have been unable to point to systemic corruption on his or Hezbollah’s part, which is a far cry from the case with Maduro. Unlike the latter, Nasrallah’s organization uses its money, and resources, much of it provided by Iran, to help poor Shias, not to line their own pockets.
So yeah all you Maduro apologists, I’m just a tool of U.S. imperialism. Nicolas is a saint and you are doing the right thing by sucking up to him in Caracas.
But personally, I’ll take Nasrallah over your hero any day of the week. I’ve been trying for years to get an interview with Nasrallah and I hope I do in the future. He’s an intelligent, thoughtful man, and I’d love to ask him questions, and not merely softballs. But no matter how much I genuinely admire Nasrallah, I’m never going to take part in a Hezbollah-financed junket to Lebanon and I reserve my right to be critical of the group.
But I don’t worry about writing what I think in terms of Lebanon, because don’t think it will impact my ability to report freely in Lebanon, to speak with Hezbollah’s critics as well as its supporters, and to generally operate with journalistic independence as opposed to being a shill for a single faction.
In my view, Maduro’s government is nowhere near as tolerant and open-minded as Hezbollah (or its critics) so reporting from there in the future could be a problem. Either way, I’m quite certain I’ll never experience the joyless, cynical pleasure of receiving the Sword of Bolivar from Nicolas Maduro.