Commentary Magazine


Topic: Caracas

Morning Commentary

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

Read Less

Scammed Again (Even Without the Dolphin Show)

Jeffrey Goldberg, fresh from flacking for Fidel Castro, moves on to Castro’s sidekick Hugo Chavez:

One day after I posted Fidel Castro’s condemnation of anti-Semitism on this blog, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, announced that he too, felt great “love and respect” for Jews, and he invited the leaders of his country’s put-upon Jewish community to meet with him. The meeting took place a short while later. Chavez’s statement, and the meeting that followed, were widely interpreted in Latin America as a signal from Chavez his mentor, Fidel, that he understood that Venezuela was developing a reputation as a hostile place for Jews.

And he relates an e-mail saying how thrilled Argentine Jews were to have the meeting.

There was such a meeting. The group presented Chavez with a dossier on anti-Jewish incidents, which Chavez “promised to read,” but it’s absurd to consider this anything more than a PR stunt. Does Goldberg really imagine his dolphin encounter has spurred Chavez to retreat from his state-sponsored anti-Semitism and voracious anti-Israel foreign policy? Read More

Jeffrey Goldberg, fresh from flacking for Fidel Castro, moves on to Castro’s sidekick Hugo Chavez:

One day after I posted Fidel Castro’s condemnation of anti-Semitism on this blog, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, announced that he too, felt great “love and respect” for Jews, and he invited the leaders of his country’s put-upon Jewish community to meet with him. The meeting took place a short while later. Chavez’s statement, and the meeting that followed, were widely interpreted in Latin America as a signal from Chavez his mentor, Fidel, that he understood that Venezuela was developing a reputation as a hostile place for Jews.

And he relates an e-mail saying how thrilled Argentine Jews were to have the meeting.

There was such a meeting. The group presented Chavez with a dossier on anti-Jewish incidents, which Chavez “promised to read,” but it’s absurd to consider this anything more than a PR stunt. Does Goldberg really imagine his dolphin encounter has spurred Chavez to retreat from his state-sponsored anti-Semitism and voracious anti-Israel foreign policy?

This June report explains:

In the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla affair, President Chavez cursed Israel as a “terrorist state” and an enemy of the Venezuelan revolution and claimed Israel’s Mossad spy agency was trying to assassinate him.

“Extreme criticism and the de-legitimization of Israel continue to be used by the government of Venezuela as a political tool,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.  “The atmosphere of extreme anti-Israel criticism and an unsettling focus on the Venezuelan Jewish community’s attitudes creates an environment for anti-Semitism to grow and flourish.  So far this hasn’t translated into attacks against individual Jews or Jewish institutions.  However, we cannot forget that the Jewish community in Venezuela has already witnessed violent anti-Semitic incidents in the past few years.”

In a new online report, the League documents recent anti-Semitic expressions in Venezuela in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident, including those of government and political leaders, conspiracy theories and accusations in the government-run media, and statements on various anti-Israel websites.

In a June 12 interview with the government-owned national television network, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro . . suggested that should a terrorist attack be carried out on Venezuelan soil, a likely culprit would be the “intelligence assassin apparatus of the State of Israel,” the Mossad.

Vilification of Zionism is particularly present in the government-run media and the so-called “alternative” media run by government sympathizers who are intricately intertwined with the government apparatus, according to the ADL.  Media and political leaders seem to take their cues from Chavez, who has in the past few years made his feelings about Israel all-too clear.

Moreover, Chavez’s overeager Atlantic scribe overlooks an inconvenient truth: Chavez has made common cause with Ahmadinejad. As the Washington Post explained last year:

Mr. Chávez was in Tehran again this week and offered his full support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line faction. As usual, the caudillo made clear that he shares Iran’s view of Israel, which he called “a genocidal state.” He endorsed Iran’s nuclear program and declared that Venezuela would seek Iran’s assistance to construct a nuclear complex of its own. He also announced that his government would begin supplying Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day — a deal that could directly undercut a possible U.S. effort to curtail Iran’s gasoline imports.

Such collaboration is far from new for Venezuela and Iran. In the past several years Iran has opened banks in Caracas and factories in the South American countryside. Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau . . . says he believes Iran is using the Venezuelan banking system to evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions. He also points out that Iranian factories have been located “in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela” that lack infrastructure but that could be “ideal . . . for the illicit production of weapons.”

Moreover, Benny Avni writes in the New York Sun that Chavez’s mentor — notwithstanding the lovely visit with Goldberg — is behaving as he always does:

On the eve of hearings that had been set to open in the United States Congress on whether to ease the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, Havana’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, has been taking a hard, even strident line here at the United Nations, very much at odds with the way Fidel Castro is trying to portray Cuba in the American press these days.

It has prompted old hands here at the United Nations to quote another, albeit different kind of, Marxist —  Groucho, who famously asked: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? . . .

Mr. Parrilla, however, was, in his address at the annual General Assembly debate, as rigid as ever, blaming America’s aggression for all the isle’s troubles, saying Israel is behind all that’s wrong in the Middle East, and expressing solidarity with Venezuela’s caudillo, Hugo Chavez.

Avni chastises Goldberg for stunning naivete and relaying Cuba’s business-as-usual rhetoric:

And no, for Cuba the holocaust-denying Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not the aggressor. “As Comrade Fidel has pointed out, powerful and influential forces in the United States and Israel are paving the way to launch a military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Parrilla warned, adding that the General Assembly must stop such a plot to commit a “crime against the Iranian people” and such “an assault against international law” in order to prevent a nuclear war.

Mr. Parrilla’s entire speech was an old-style Cuban assault on America and Israel, harking back to the glorious days of the Cold War when the Castros drew as much attention at international fora like the U.N. as is now reserved for Mr. Ahmadinejad or Mr. Chavez.

It’s bad enough that Goldberg was taken in by Soros Street (many liberals were), but he really should stay away from Latin American dictators.

Read Less

Rewarding Dictators

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

Read Less

Chavez Agonistes

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

Read Less

Exit Venezuela?

Despite all his rhetoric, his failed constitutional coup, and his cozying with Iran, there are still people who insist that Hugo Chavez is more of a buffoon than a serious threat to Western interests. They should take a look at this week’s Forward. Life under Chavez has become particularly difficult for the country’s Jews, who have begun fleeing the country in droves. In 2002, Jews were accused of being behind a coup attempt. Last year, Chavez accused Venezuelan Jewish leaders of disloyalty to the country, and began speaking out viciously against Israel, insisting that Mossad agents were trying to topple him. State-run television has been pretty free with anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-Israel propaganda. And last month, armed policemen raided the Jewish communal center in Caracas, looking for arms and evidence of subversive activity, which they failed to find. It was the second such raid in four years, and Jewish leaders, who until now have tried their best to maintain smooth relations with Chavez, have finally lashed out. “We’re facing the first anti-Jewish government in our history,” the head of the center told the Forward. Since Chavez’s election in 1998, the Jewish population in Venezuela has dropped from 16,000 to about 12,000, and the emigration continues apace.

It has often been said that the test of a regime’s inner values and long-term intentions is how it treats its Jews. Whereas liberal regimes take pride in allowing a community to live their own lives and have some measure of control over their own communal space, anti-Western revolutionary regimes can’t really handle that sort of thing, and they often find that when support for the regime is flagging, there is no better way to rally it than to play on background anti-Semitism, to insist that the Jew is an enemy in their midst. Okay, so it’s not Germany in 1938. But we should still be pretty alarmed.

Despite all his rhetoric, his failed constitutional coup, and his cozying with Iran, there are still people who insist that Hugo Chavez is more of a buffoon than a serious threat to Western interests. They should take a look at this week’s Forward. Life under Chavez has become particularly difficult for the country’s Jews, who have begun fleeing the country in droves. In 2002, Jews were accused of being behind a coup attempt. Last year, Chavez accused Venezuelan Jewish leaders of disloyalty to the country, and began speaking out viciously against Israel, insisting that Mossad agents were trying to topple him. State-run television has been pretty free with anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-Israel propaganda. And last month, armed policemen raided the Jewish communal center in Caracas, looking for arms and evidence of subversive activity, which they failed to find. It was the second such raid in four years, and Jewish leaders, who until now have tried their best to maintain smooth relations with Chavez, have finally lashed out. “We’re facing the first anti-Jewish government in our history,” the head of the center told the Forward. Since Chavez’s election in 1998, the Jewish population in Venezuela has dropped from 16,000 to about 12,000, and the emigration continues apace.

It has often been said that the test of a regime’s inner values and long-term intentions is how it treats its Jews. Whereas liberal regimes take pride in allowing a community to live their own lives and have some measure of control over their own communal space, anti-Western revolutionary regimes can’t really handle that sort of thing, and they often find that when support for the regime is flagging, there is no better way to rally it than to play on background anti-Semitism, to insist that the Jew is an enemy in their midst. Okay, so it’s not Germany in 1938. But we should still be pretty alarmed.

Read Less

When Hugo Met Naomi

Aspiring world leaders frequently summon star power to help them on the campaign trail. As we’ve seen during the current presidential primaries season, certain stars’ endorsements can critically capture the mood of individual campaigns. For example, Obama has Oprah (unity, sensitivity); Huckabee has Chuck Norris (strength, values); Hillary has Bill (experience, stability); McCain has Curt Schilling (winner, sacrifice); and Edwards has Desperate HousewivesJames Denton (soon to be off-the-air).

But presidential candidates are hardly alone in using stars to further their aspirations. This week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s bid for increased power enjoyed a star-studded bump, when British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Chavez in Caracas, calling him a “rebel angel” who is unafraid to speak his mind.

Read More

Aspiring world leaders frequently summon star power to help them on the campaign trail. As we’ve seen during the current presidential primaries season, certain stars’ endorsements can critically capture the mood of individual campaigns. For example, Obama has Oprah (unity, sensitivity); Huckabee has Chuck Norris (strength, values); Hillary has Bill (experience, stability); McCain has Curt Schilling (winner, sacrifice); and Edwards has Desperate HousewivesJames Denton (soon to be off-the-air).

But presidential candidates are hardly alone in using stars to further their aspirations. This week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s bid for increased power enjoyed a star-studded bump, when British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Chavez in Caracas, calling him a “rebel angel” who is unafraid to speak his mind.

To be fair, Campbell’s rendezvous with Chavez wasn’t technically an endorsement. After all, Campbell interviewed Chavez in her capacity as contributing editor for the British edition of GQ. Her official reason for accompanying Chavez around the Venezuelan capital was thus journalistic, not political.

Still, it’s hard to take Campbell’s career as a journalist seriously. For starters, Campbell is probably the first reporter to allow her publication to post nude photos of herself on its website. But more importantly, her interview with Chavez is a total puff piece: Campbell said she “went to interview Hugo Chavez the man,” and that she “didn’t want to judge Chavez, or probe him for his political views.” Given this facile approach, it’s no wonder that Campbell viewed Chavez as posing no threat to democracy, praising him as “fearless, but not threatening or unreasonable.”

How does this help Hugo Chavez’s campaign for world power? For the most part, Campbell’s interview with Chavez serves the same purpose as Oprah’s endorsement of Obama—it gives him immediate access to a new constituency. Thanks to Campbell, young British males can now appreciate Chavez’s opinions on fashion and pop music, and sympathize with his view that Camilla is “not as attractive” as Princess Diana. Suddenly, Hugo Chavez—the Venezuelan ruler suppressing freedoms at home and extending an arm towards Iran abroad—is humanized. Indeed, GQ’s readers will wonder, how harmful can a guy who follows the Spice Girls’ reunion tour really be?
Chavez deserves credit for orchestrating this public diplomacy ploy. By challenging a supermodel to feel his pectorals, the Venezuelan leader made himself seem likeable to a demographic that was previously inaccessible to him. Meanwhile, Naomi Campbell has joined the ranks of Jane Fonda as the latest pretty face to use her star power for the wrong cause during dangerous times.

Read Less

The Oil-for-Bananas Summit

Yesterday, in the southern Cuban city of Cienfuegos, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez opened the Petrocaribe Summit. The day-long gathering attracted about a dozen Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, including Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. Raul Castro, who is effectively running Cuba for his ailing brother, was there as well. American allies also showed up.

And it’s not hard to see why the meeting was well attended. Chavez, who sits on top of the world’s largest oil reserves outside the Middle East, was offering energy on easy terms. At present, Venezuela ships almost 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil a day to Cuba. Cuba pays for the oil by stationing thousands of its doctors in Venezuela, where they provide free care for the poor. Chavez, at the summit, wanted to extend the barter arrangement to other nations by accepting local products such as bananas and sugar.

The barter option—“a new mechanism” in the words of Chavez’s Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez—is already available to members of Petrocaribe, the Venezuela-funded energy alliance founded in 2005, but it does not appear to be widely used. That doesn’t mean Chavez’s “brothers” in the region have not been taking advantage of his largesse. In about a year, they have accumulated debts of almost $1.2 billion to Venezuela. Chavez thinks the debt will grow to $4.6 billion by 2010. At present, Petrocaribe members can defer payment of 40 percent of their oil bill and take as long as 25 years to pay Caracas with 1 percent interest when the price of crude exceeds $40 a barrel. Is it any wonder that even Honduras, a traditional friend to Washington, became the alliance’s seventeenth member yesterday? Guatemala may also want in.

“We have begun to create a new geopolitics of oil that is not at the service of the interests of imperialism and big capitalists,” the Venezuelan leader said yesterday. Unfortunately for him, subsidized arrangements do not last, and that is all Chavez is offering to his neighbors. The American vision of trade binding the region together is sustainable, but it is failing for a multitude of reasons. One of them is Boss Hugo, who blasted Washington. “Free trade doesn’t exist,” he said as he asked his fellow leaders to resist the failed “dictatorship of world capitalism.” Chavez may sound like a buffoon, but whether we like it or not, he is challenging the notions that underpin the West. It is time for President Bush—and the candidates seeking to replace him—to focus on the region that borders our own.

Yesterday, in the southern Cuban city of Cienfuegos, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez opened the Petrocaribe Summit. The day-long gathering attracted about a dozen Latin American and Caribbean heads of state, including Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega. Raul Castro, who is effectively running Cuba for his ailing brother, was there as well. American allies also showed up.

And it’s not hard to see why the meeting was well attended. Chavez, who sits on top of the world’s largest oil reserves outside the Middle East, was offering energy on easy terms. At present, Venezuela ships almost 100,000 barrels of subsidized oil a day to Cuba. Cuba pays for the oil by stationing thousands of its doctors in Venezuela, where they provide free care for the poor. Chavez, at the summit, wanted to extend the barter arrangement to other nations by accepting local products such as bananas and sugar.

The barter option—“a new mechanism” in the words of Chavez’s Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez—is already available to members of Petrocaribe, the Venezuela-funded energy alliance founded in 2005, but it does not appear to be widely used. That doesn’t mean Chavez’s “brothers” in the region have not been taking advantage of his largesse. In about a year, they have accumulated debts of almost $1.2 billion to Venezuela. Chavez thinks the debt will grow to $4.6 billion by 2010. At present, Petrocaribe members can defer payment of 40 percent of their oil bill and take as long as 25 years to pay Caracas with 1 percent interest when the price of crude exceeds $40 a barrel. Is it any wonder that even Honduras, a traditional friend to Washington, became the alliance’s seventeenth member yesterday? Guatemala may also want in.

“We have begun to create a new geopolitics of oil that is not at the service of the interests of imperialism and big capitalists,” the Venezuelan leader said yesterday. Unfortunately for him, subsidized arrangements do not last, and that is all Chavez is offering to his neighbors. The American vision of trade binding the region together is sustainable, but it is failing for a multitude of reasons. One of them is Boss Hugo, who blasted Washington. “Free trade doesn’t exist,” he said as he asked his fellow leaders to resist the failed “dictatorship of world capitalism.” Chavez may sound like a buffoon, but whether we like it or not, he is challenging the notions that underpin the West. It is time for President Bush—and the candidates seeking to replace him—to focus on the region that borders our own.

Read Less

A Warning for Paulson

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, traveling yesterday in Africa, acknowledged the support of the G-20 nations for a “best practices” code for sovereign wealth funds. There could now be as much as $3 trillion in such vehicles, which are capital pools accumulated by foreign governments for investment abroad. The amount might be five times larger in half a decade.

“How do we actually deal with funds in state hands?” asks German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her government is already drawing up plans to restrict investments from other countries. Paulson, on the other hand, has adopted a different approach. “I’d like nothing more than to get more of that money,” he said recently.

Do we really want to encourage what amounts to the “cross-border nationalization” of America’s private enterprises? Norway has a sovereign wealth fund thanks to its oil and gas revenues, but nobody is concerned about Oslo’s $350 billion because of its model management practices. Yet even the Norwegians have allowed political views to affect their investment decisions. They did not like Wal-Mart’s union and other labor practices, so the government divested its stock in the gigantic retailer. They did not try to influence Washington by buying up more of the shares so that they could use the Arkansas-based company to promote its views on, say, the war in Iraq.

Hugo Chavez hasn’t gone quite that far. But he has employed Citgo Petroleum to further his ideological goals. Beginning in 2005, the company, acquired by Venezuela two decades ago, has provided tens of millions of gallons of home heating oil at subsidized prices for poor families in several Northeast states as a stunt to embarrass the United States, and especially the Bush administration. Moreover, he has been gutting Citgo’s operations in the United States to support his “oil socialism” policies at home. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, political decisions made in Caracas are ruining the company’s business here. That’s a potential problem because Citgo, which is now run like a police state, owns 5 percent of our nation’s refining capacity. Chavez, should he want to, could throw the American oil market into turmoil merely by turning off the switch.

Our open investment policies are based on the notion that America will prosper as foreign parties participate in the economy. Yet Chavez is beginning to undermine this fundamental assumption, and he is giving no indication that Paulson’s best practices code will deter him. When despots control trillions of dollars in funds, prohibiting investments from autocrats is not protectionist—it’s plain common sense.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, traveling yesterday in Africa, acknowledged the support of the G-20 nations for a “best practices” code for sovereign wealth funds. There could now be as much as $3 trillion in such vehicles, which are capital pools accumulated by foreign governments for investment abroad. The amount might be five times larger in half a decade.

“How do we actually deal with funds in state hands?” asks German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her government is already drawing up plans to restrict investments from other countries. Paulson, on the other hand, has adopted a different approach. “I’d like nothing more than to get more of that money,” he said recently.

Do we really want to encourage what amounts to the “cross-border nationalization” of America’s private enterprises? Norway has a sovereign wealth fund thanks to its oil and gas revenues, but nobody is concerned about Oslo’s $350 billion because of its model management practices. Yet even the Norwegians have allowed political views to affect their investment decisions. They did not like Wal-Mart’s union and other labor practices, so the government divested its stock in the gigantic retailer. They did not try to influence Washington by buying up more of the shares so that they could use the Arkansas-based company to promote its views on, say, the war in Iraq.

Hugo Chavez hasn’t gone quite that far. But he has employed Citgo Petroleum to further his ideological goals. Beginning in 2005, the company, acquired by Venezuela two decades ago, has provided tens of millions of gallons of home heating oil at subsidized prices for poor families in several Northeast states as a stunt to embarrass the United States, and especially the Bush administration. Moreover, he has been gutting Citgo’s operations in the United States to support his “oil socialism” policies at home. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, political decisions made in Caracas are ruining the company’s business here. That’s a potential problem because Citgo, which is now run like a police state, owns 5 percent of our nation’s refining capacity. Chavez, should he want to, could throw the American oil market into turmoil merely by turning off the switch.

Our open investment policies are based on the notion that America will prosper as foreign parties participate in the economy. Yet Chavez is beginning to undermine this fundamental assumption, and he is giving no indication that Paulson’s best practices code will deter him. When despots control trillions of dollars in funds, prohibiting investments from autocrats is not protectionist—it’s plain common sense.

Read Less

Like Mother, Like Son

The New Yorker carried a piece last week in its “Talk of the Town” section about a gathering of graying (and not so graying) leftists at a West Village bar, celebrating and commiserating over the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death. Among the luminaries was Tariq Ali, an editor of the New Left Review, the cover of whose book Clash of Fundamentalisms is a case study in the Left’s post-September 11 moral equivalence.

Other such lions of the modern far-Left abounded at this kaffeeklatsch, prominent among them my old Yale chum Chesa Boudin, class of 2003 and “radical chic Rhodes Scholar.” He’s the son of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, Weathermen terrorists responsible for the deaths of two police officers and a Brinks Security guard killed during a botched 1981 bank heist. Kathy Boudin is herself the daughter of Leonard Boudin, the famous leftist defense lawyer who represented Castro’s Cuba, Paul Robeson, and was a leading member of the fellow-traveling National Lawyers Guild. Chesa’s genealogy would be of little concern were it not for his obnoxious penchant for invoking his parents in the name of his own radical ideology. As he told the New York Times upon winning the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship:

“We have a different name for the war we’re fighting now—now we call it the war on terrorism, then they called it the war on Communism,” Mr. Boudin said. ”My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I’m dedicated to the same thing.”

”I don’t know that much about my parents’ tactics; I’ll talk about my tactics,” he added. ”The historical moment we find ourselves in determines what is most appropriate for social change.”

Read More

The New Yorker carried a piece last week in its “Talk of the Town” section about a gathering of graying (and not so graying) leftists at a West Village bar, celebrating and commiserating over the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death. Among the luminaries was Tariq Ali, an editor of the New Left Review, the cover of whose book Clash of Fundamentalisms is a case study in the Left’s post-September 11 moral equivalence.

Other such lions of the modern far-Left abounded at this kaffeeklatsch, prominent among them my old Yale chum Chesa Boudin, class of 2003 and “radical chic Rhodes Scholar.” He’s the son of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, Weathermen terrorists responsible for the deaths of two police officers and a Brinks Security guard killed during a botched 1981 bank heist. Kathy Boudin is herself the daughter of Leonard Boudin, the famous leftist defense lawyer who represented Castro’s Cuba, Paul Robeson, and was a leading member of the fellow-traveling National Lawyers Guild. Chesa’s genealogy would be of little concern were it not for his obnoxious penchant for invoking his parents in the name of his own radical ideology. As he told the New York Times upon winning the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship:

“We have a different name for the war we’re fighting now—now we call it the war on terrorism, then they called it the war on Communism,” Mr. Boudin said. ”My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I’m dedicated to the same thing.”

”I don’t know that much about my parents’ tactics; I’ll talk about my tactics,” he added. ”The historical moment we find ourselves in determines what is most appropriate for social change.”

Only in the mind of a closet totalitarian could killing a black police officer be construed as “fighting U.S. imperialism around the world.” This is to say nothing of Boudin’s dishonesty in claiming not to “know that much” about his parent’s tactics, which are a matter of public and legal record. The Boudin family legacy has been one of defending and propagandizing on behalf of despots who rob and murder their own people in the name of “progressive ideals,” and Boudin is doing a bang-up job of carrying forward that tradition. The New Yorker reports on his homilies for Che Guevara:

At seven-thirty, the partygoers gathered in an auditorium to hear from the new guard of Che admirers, including Chesa Boudin, the twenty-seven-year-old son of Kathy Boudin, who was jailed after serving as an accomplice in the 1981 Brink’s robbery. Boudin, a Rhodes scholar, author, and political consultant, had a neat, buzzed haircut and wore a pink lattice-patterned shirt and gray pants. He said that he had to make a 6:30 A.M. flight to Caracas (“I was in twenty-six countries last year”), and he spoke to the crowd about Che’s legacy: “Most of us don’t remember when he was killed. But all of us have seen Che Guevara T-shirts.”

I wrote a piece for the Yale Daily News several years ago about Boudin, after he was quoted in a New York Times story about credulous Westerners traveling to Chavez’s Venezuela in hopes of finding the New Jerusalem.

Read Less

Praising Noam Chomsky

Osama bin Laden’s latest videotaped message, his first in three years, contains several pearls of wisdom. But the following is most apt:

This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn’t like those who give advice.

Two years ago, Chomsky was voted the world’s top public intellectual in a poll conducted jointly by the magazines Foreign Policy and Prospect, the latter a British publication (Vaclav Havel came in fourth). Chomsky is enormously popular on American college campuses, and loved especially by Europe’s chattering classes. And he is not just the favorite public intellectual of Osama bin Laden, but of Hugo Chavez, the caudillo of Caracas, as well.

Read More

Osama bin Laden’s latest videotaped message, his first in three years, contains several pearls of wisdom. But the following is most apt:

This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn’t like those who give advice.

Two years ago, Chomsky was voted the world’s top public intellectual in a poll conducted jointly by the magazines Foreign Policy and Prospect, the latter a British publication (Vaclav Havel came in fourth). Chomsky is enormously popular on American college campuses, and loved especially by Europe’s chattering classes. And he is not just the favorite public intellectual of Osama bin Laden, but of Hugo Chavez, the caudillo of Caracas, as well.

Last September, in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly, Chavez waved around a copy of Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, while denouncing President Bush as “the devil.” “The people of the United States should read this. . .instead of. . .watching Superman movies,” Chavez told the assembled dignitaries.

Given his views of America and the West in general, it comes as no surprise that the MIT professor’s greatest fans are the Venezuelan military despot and the man responsible for the death of 3,000 on September 11, 2001. And with fans like that . . .

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.