As Ukraine burns, our attention has unfortunately shifted away from the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, a potential revolution over a decade in the making. The New York Times gave a good quick summary of the situation today for those unfamiliar with the country:
Behind the outpouring is more than the litany of problems that have long bedeviled Venezuela, a country with the world’s largest oil reserves but also one of the highest inflation rates. Adding to the perennial frustrations over violent crime and chronic shortages of basic goods like milk and toilet paper, the outrage is being fueled by President Nicolás Maduro’s aggressive response to public dissent, including deploying hundreds of soldiers here and sending fighter jets to make low, threatening passes over the city.
President Maduro is the successor to Hugo Chavez, a man loved by the socialist Left in Hollywood and the fringes of the Democratic Party. Most observers place the blame for the situation in Venezuela at Chavez’s feet. While Chavez and Maduro have the same base of support and the same policies, Chavez possessed a political ability to keep tensions at a simmer, unlike Maduro, who has seen them boil over. As we watch dozens of Venezuelans die in the streets, struggling to save their country from the brink of disaster, this is a good opportunity to point out who on the Left in the United States helped legitimize Chavez during his time in power.
1. President Barack Obama
During the Clinton administration, amid negotiations with Yasser Arafat, the White House became consumed with hugs; specifically, how President Clinton could avoid Arafat’s famous bear grip handshake that would become a full-on embrace. There’s an amusing anecdote about how the White House practiced and choreographed how Clinton could avoid appearing too chummy with Arafat in front of the cameras (“Clinton would squeeze in underneath the biceps and block him.”). Why did Clinton’s staffers spend hours practicing how to avoid an Arafat hug? Because they knew that optics matter.
This is a lesson that President Obama has yet to understand, and this photo, widely circulated around the globe, including inside Venezuela, lent Chavez enormous clout.
2. Sean Penn
Sean Penn could be called his generation’s Jane Fonda. Throughout Chavez’s life Penn was an outspoken supporter of the dictator, and at his candlelight vigil in Bolivia Penn showed up wearing a Venezuelan flag jacket and told a group of mourners:
He’s one of the most important forces we’ve had on this planet, and I’ll wish him nothing but that great strength he has shown over and over again. I do it in love, and I do it in gratitude.
“I just want to say, from my very American point of view, of my friend President Chavez: It is only possible to be so inspiring as he is, as a two-way street. And he would say that his inspiration is the people.
3. Oliver Stone
The director of the movie South of the Border praising Chavez and his ilk in South America, Stone is no stranger to leftist themes in the films he makes. At the 2009 premier of the film at the Venice Film Festival, the AP reported at the Chavez was met with a red-carpet welcome:
Chavez praised Stone’s work for depicting what he said were improvements made across Latin America.
“Rebirth is happening in Latin America, and Stone went to look for it and he found it,” Chavez told reporters. “With his cameras and his genius, he’s captured a good part of that rebirth.”
Award-winning actor Danny Glover also had fond memories of Chavez upon his death. Shortly after Chavez’s death Glover told La Nación:
“He was not only my friend, he was my brother,” the 67-year-old actor told the Spanish-language newspaper about the late Venezuela president. “It’s difficult for a leader like him to exist in these times. His vision for humanity and the world can only be compared to that of leaders like Nelson Mandela. He was a great man and I cried when he died.”
In the interview with La Nación, the veteran actor said the strong criticisms against Chávez’s successor Nicolás Maduro are normal as it is a democracy and there will always be detractors.
5. Courtney Love
At a U.S. screening for Stone’s South of the Border the grunge rocker couldn’t contain her love for the South American dictator, the NY Daily News reported,
Courtney Love is still floating on the charm offensive that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched at Wednesday’s screening of Oliver Stone’s new documentary, “South of the Border.” The singer, who came dressed to thrill in a short zipper-front skirt, says she noticed the twice-divorced Chavez checking her out during a Q&A afterward.
Other dishonorable mentions present at the screening: Susan Sarandon,Danny Glover, Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan.
6. Gregory Meeks
This Democratic congressman from New York was part of the U.S. delegation sent to Chavez’s funeral last year (of note, the same honor was not given to Lady Margaret Thatcher). The New York Times discussed their cozy bond:
The relationship between Mr. Meeks and Mr. Chávez has been the subject of some scrutiny. In 2006, one of the representative’s donors, R. Allen Stanford, asked Mr. Meeks to make Mr. Chávez aware of a legal dispute he was having with a top banking official in Venezuela. Mr. Meeks reportedly agreed and traveled to Venezuela to meet with Mr. Chávez, according to published reports. The banking official was eventually indicted in Venezuela.
7. Reverend Jesse Jackson
After the death of the Venezuelan strongman, Jackson offered a prayer at his funeral. On Wolf Blitzer’s The Situation Room, Jackson hit back against those who called Chavez a dictator, comparing the brutal suppression to the fact that the first 15 presidents owned slaves. Politico reported on the statements:
“I just want to be precise,” Blitzer said in a follow-up question. He continued, “Are you really comparing Hugo Cháez to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or James Madison? That’s what I was hearing. But I want you to explain.”
Jackson, who leads a Chicago-based social justice organization and is the father of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), didn’t walk back the comment.
“Well, democracies evolve,” Jackson said, speaking from Caracas, Venezuela. “My point is that our first 15 presidents owned slaves and called it democracy for [about 200] years. We’ve come a mighty long way.”
He called for engagement with the new Venezuelan government, adding that there are trade opportunities with the oil-rich country and that Venezuela could serve as an ally in fighting the drug-trafficking war.
“So democracies evolve and if we’re engaged, we can help it evolve in the right direction,” Jackson said.
We’ve seen where the Venezuelan “democracy” has evolved. We can thank the American lovers of Chavez mentioned above, and many more, for the bloodshed we’re seeing in Venezuela today.