Presente! With the Sandalistas, Caracas, 2019

A killer account of my days in Caracas and the glories of the "progressive" press corps.

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Meet the cast of Hamilton. Photo credit: Ken Silverstein

“Well, all your father ever did was fuck your mother and leave his semen in her.”

What a potty mouth! From Max Blumenthal’s Twitter account./Fair Use.

I have a faulty memory but that’s pretty close to a verbatim quote from Max Blumenthal, on or about February 26 at a conference in Caracas sponsored by the International Peoples Assembly. Fittingly, the acronym for this hipster event, in English anyway, was IPA.

If I have something wrong there are two witnesses who can correct me: Anya Parampil, recently fired by RT for apparently not being sufficiently servile towards Vladimir Putin, and Ben “french fry” Norton, recently fired by The Real News Network for being out of control on social media. (At least that’s what a TRNN reporter at the conference in Caracas told me.)

And what had merited Maxie’s outrage? At least two things, beyond his pathetic immaturity.

First, after I shook his hand because I detest him but this was after all a solidarity event and the IPA had paid my freight, he and french fry, his colleague at the little read Grayzone project, squeaked at me that I once had supported a neocon attack on them at the Facebook page for WashingtonBabylon.com, my increasingly popular website. I’m still not sure what I had posted and long ago forgot about it, but I stand by it 100 percent.

My guess is that it had more to do with a delicious hatchet job I wrote for the once wonderful New York Observer, Jared Kushner’s rag and ably edited in 2015 by my friend Ken Kurson, about Max’s father, Sidney Blumenthal. I guess somebody has daddy issues.

What’s funny is that during his tirade Maxie told me I was “irrelevant.” Yet if I’m irrelevant, why was Blumenthal — dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, an Ezra Klein wannabe — so visibly red and angry about an obscure and irrelevant Facebook post?

Max Blumenthal

In any event, that hatchet job on “Sid Vicious,” who refused to return phone calls for that story — just as Maxie and french fry declined requests for comment for this piece —  would probably be second on the list of why Maxie’ seemed annoyed at me.

However, when he squeaked at me in Caracas, the gloves came off. “Your father is the worse piece of shit in Washington and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” I replied.

Anyway, a little more on Maxie and french fry later. Let’s step back for a moment and I’ll tell you how and why I was in Caracas to begin with.

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I received an invitation to the Assembly a few months ago from Gerard Gamarra, a Brazilian helping organize the gathering. The Assembly paid for my plane ticket — from D.C. to Caracas with lengthy stops in Newark, New Jersey and Panama City, Panama, so it took 26 hours to get to my final destination — and for my room at the wonderful but simple Waldorf Boutique Hotel in La Candelaria, which probably cost about $10 a night. As I joked with several people with the Assembly, after relations had cooled, “If you had paid for a first class ticket I might have been your whore, but you made me go Economy class’.”

There’s a tremendous irony in this whole affair. I don’t like President Nicolás Maduro much but I greatly prefer him to the what his predecessor, the marvelous Hugo Chávez, called the “rancid old oligarchy,” and what Maduro quite recently and accurately referred to as “the crazed minority” of U.S. backed puppet opposition scum.

El Presidente. Photo credit: Ken Silverstein

I flew into Caracas at 5:30 am from Panama on a flight filled with revolting right-wingers who openly trashed Maduro and longed for a coup. Their outspokenness was somewhat odd given that Venezuela is a “dictatorship,” according to President Donald Trump. When I landed I was 80 percent in the government’s corner.

I flew out at 6:30 a.m. some six days later disgusted by Maduro — who was too cowardly and stupid to give me an interview — being only 60 percent in its corner. That’s because I spent much of my time in the barrios hearing from residents about the Maduro government’s corruption and cynicism.

At the Assembly, which I attended for the first two days before my amusement gave way to disgust, organizers introduced me everywhere as “a very good friend” of the Bolivarian Revolution. Which I am and remain.

But my 80 percent apparently wasn’t good enough; the government needs 100 percent, which reveals a dictatorial mind. So it passed up an exclusive interview for Yahoo! News, which would have reached a huge, mainstream audience — just what Maduro needs. Instead, the government opted to shield the apparently dimwitted, thick Venezuelan leader from outside scrutiny.

OK, I did say I would ask about allegations of drug trafficking and corruption on the part of Maduro and his family, but the other planned questions were softballs and a few curves.

I liked a number of the Assembly organizers, especially Victor and Stephanie, who picked me up at the airport. Victor even loaned me the equivalent of a few dollars at one point because it’s almost impossible to get cash, either Bolivars or dollars, even at banks, because the Trump administration is strangling Venezuela with sanctions.

But the Assembly was a boring, predictable joke, like a left-wing Cats or Hamilton. There were images everywhere of revolutionary icons, from Rosa Luxemburg to Thomas Sankara, a Marxist military man and president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987.

I bailed on Day 2 when Delcy Rodríguez Gómez, a former Minister of Popular Power for Communication and Information, arrived to wild applause from the assembled Sandalistas.

Delcy. To the right of Kerry.

I spent most of my time in Caracas in the barrios, especially San Augustin.

San Augustin.
San Augustin, with Iris and Navidad.

A resident took me to her humble house in the latter. From her gated window, I could just make out the Hotel Alba, where the Assembly was headquartered and where guests and other Friends of the Revolution sipped cocktails beside the hotel swimming pool.

The Hotel Alba was down there somewhere.

Which brings me back to Maxie and Ben. After I told the former that his father was the worst piece of shit in Washington, he and his toy poodle pretty much went insane, as noted above. They hovered over me in what they apparently thought was intimidating fashion — Maxie dressed in his biceps and Ben weighing in at roughly 5 feet tall and 99 pounds — and shouted at me. Again, Anya witnessed the entire sad thing so they can’t honestly deny my account.

Maxie apparently thinks there’s a virtue in being famous like his father, which makes him a Paris Hilton of journalism. I was told by several people that he knows almost nothing about Venezuela and that he’s merely a groupie.

In terms of my own views of Venezuela, they are highly favorable. This was my third trip. The first was in 1993, when Chávez was imprisoned for attempting to overthrow the rancid old oligarchy and before he was thrice elected in free and fair ballots. The second was in 2004, when I interviewed Chávez at the presidential palace, Miraflores, while working for the Los Angeles Times. Now Chávez is dead and his reputation is a bit in tatters due to Maduro’s incompetence and authoritarianism.

Nonetheless, Maduro seems to have far more support than the Yankee-backed opposition and I have to admire the way he’s played a very weak hand and remained in power. He is grudgingly popular in the barrios, as far as I can tell, and since the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans are poor that’s pretty much all that matters.

At least for Venezuelans. For the preening and pimping Sandalistas, showing off their revolutionary fervor and soaking up the sun and booze trumps everything, even getting outside and meeting the people they allegedly love.

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