Question: What do you get when you help terrorists seek dirty bombs, give sanctuary to Hezbollah and Hamas, taunt America, and threaten war on U.S. ally Colombia?
Answer: Hugs and kisses from members of Congress like Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, academics like Cornel West, and Hollywood celebrities like Danny Glover - and a pass from the press.
And what's there not to love about Venezuela's Marxist strongman Hugo Chavez, who crushes dissenters, muzzles the media, and takes from "the rich" to give to "the poor"? With a Kennedy clan member as his spokesman, he even gives discounted home heating oil to the shivering masses of the U.S. oppressed by the capitalist system. ¡Viva la Revolucion!
Latin America's newly preeminent thug is, after all, the kind of anti-American buffoon that American leftists instinctively swoon over. Chavez fancies himself a revolutionary leader, protégé and presumptive successor to Cuba's Fidel Castro, who stepped down last month after nearly a half-century in power.
Since becoming president in 1999, Chavez has called for political upheaval in Latin America and flirted with violent anti-government guerrilla movements in neighboring Colombia, with which Venezuela shares a porous 1,300-mile border. He's a good friend of America's enemies and myriad unsavory world leaders. Chavez supports Iran's Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran gave Chavez its highest honor, the Islamic Republic Medal. He's visited the dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and called for a strategic alliance between the two countries. He's met with Vladimir Putin and purchased $3 billion in Russian arms, including fighter jets, military helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles. Chavez has offered safe haven to the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas, and the Iranian-funded Hezbollah, in Venezuela's capital city of Caracas where both groups currently keep regular office hours.
In recent days, Chavez has threatened war against U.S ally Colombia. (Note: A late press report suggests tensions between Venezuela and Colombia are cooling. Stay tuned.) The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that documents found in a dead terrorist's laptop computer (recovered by the Colombian government in an Ecuadorian excursion) indicated that Chavez was helping the narco-terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). A FARC confederate said the group could buy and resell at a markup 50 kilos or more of uranium to a government. Connect the dots: uranium can be used to make a dirty bomb.
The same article also reported Chavez was more than just a cheerleader for FARC; rather, he was complicit in scheming with FARC guerrillas and offered them $300 million and a cachet of arms. Although he previously claimed "by God" that he never backed FARC, in recent days, Chavez lavished praised on FARC while condemning Colombia for greasing rebel boss Raul Reyes, whom he called a "good revolutionary."
He's long given (at a minimum) tacit support to the communist FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) and angered Colombia by urging it to stop calling FARC "terrorists." Calling FARC and ELN "true armies," Chavez described them as "insurgent forces that have political and Bolivarian goals, and here [Venezuela] that is respected."
Self-styled investigative journalist Greg Palast, a reliable apologist for leftist thugs everywhere, is already spinning out of control to defend a fellow traveler. The reporter for the uber-leftist Nation magazine sniffs that the laptop documents are fake: "The US press snorted up this line about Chavez' $300 million to ‘terrorists' quicker than the young Bush inhaling Colombia's powdered export."
Meanwhile, on Thursday, the notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the "Merchant of Death," was arrested in Thailand in a sting operation by U.S. agents posing as FARC rebels. While an unnamed U.S. government official denies any link between the recovered FARC laptop and the arrest, some of the $300 million Chavez offered for arms may well have been intended for Bout.
Chavez has long been an antagonist of the United States. On September 20, 2006, he stood before the U.N. General Assembly to insult President George W. Bush, the previous day's speaker. Chavez called Bush "the Devil" and theatrically crossed himself, adding "it smells of sulfur still today."
Chavez held up Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, a book by the humorless linguistics theorist Noam Chomsky, a radical critic of U.S. foreign policy, and urged his audience to read it. Within days the dreary tome that asserts humans are a "biological error" and uses the phrases polyarchy, internalized acceptance, and imperial grand strategy, jumped to the top 10 in sales at the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, and its publisher, Henry Holt, ordered a reprinting.
So apart from lawmakers, professors, and movie stars, it seems the Venezuelan president, who rules his supposedly democratic nation by decree, has a legion of loyal chavistas in the U.S. Chavez's American boosters all sing the praises of his so-called Bolivarian Revolution. Anti-war poster child Cindy Sheehan says Chavez is a well-intentioned idealist who wants to help the poor, and that he is indeed a modern-day Bolivar. In early 2006, Chavez met in Caracas with Sheehan, whom he calls "Mrs. Hope." The activist urged the world to help bring down "the U.S. empire" and declared she would rather have Chavez in the White House than President Bush. Princeton professor Cornel West, who makes a living denouncing his native land as racist and patriarchal has said, "We in the United States have so many lies about President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution." West said he visited Venezuela in 2006 "to see the democratic awakening taking place."
Never mind that the real Simon Bolivar, the great 19th century liberator of South America (whose statue stands three blocks from the White House), was no socialist. "Bolivar would be embarrassed to see Venezuelans being oppressed by the same kind of Latin American caudillo (strongman) from which he fought to free them two centuries ago," writes the Heritage Foundation's James M. Roberts.
But facts rarely get in the way of leftist zealotry.
It should come as a surprise to no one that Chavez's regime enjoys enthusiastic support from actors Danny Glover, Kevin Spacey, Sean Penn, Ed Asner, singer Harry Belafonte, and supermodel Naomi Campbell. Campbell speaks of her "amazement" at the "love and encouragement" that Chavez pours into social welfare programs. She calls him a "rebel angel." Moviemaker Oliver Stone calls Chavez a "great man," adding, "I'm a fan."
Last year Chavez's compliant parliament returned Hollywood's favor by approving $20 million in financing for two films by Lethal Weapon star Glover, a longtime Chavez business partner. Glover serves on the advisory council for the Chavez-funded La Nueva Televisora del Sur ("The New Television Station of the South"), also known as teleSUR. Representative Connie Mack (R-Florida) says teleSUR, "has teamed up with Al-Jazeera to spread anti-democratic messages across Latin America."
And it would be hard to forget Harry Belafonte's pilgrimage to Venezuela in 2006, when he bellowed: "No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we're here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people...support your revolution."
The Useful Idiots
Former Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II (D-Massachusetts) has become Chavez's goodwill ambassador to the American public. His nonprofit Citizens Energy Corporation ((2005 assets: $58.3 million) provides public relations cover to Chavez by hawking CITGO's home heating oil to low-income families program. CITGO is owned by the government of Venezuela and controlled by Chavez, who appointed a Venezuelan army general as its CEO.
Years ago Joe Kennedy's group won praise for working with heating oil dealers and state and federal agencies to provide fuel delivery to those in need, but it's become a tool of Chavez's efforts to win public support from ordinary Americans for his regime.
Kennedy rarely mentions Chavez publicly, but the television and radio messages that advertise his charitable program are paid for by Venezuela by way of CITGO. In the ads, Kennedy invites those who need help to call 1-877-JOE-4-OIL, and he thanks "our good friends in Venezuela" for their help. In one ad, Kennedy pontificates:
"...Yet our own government cut fuel assistance. And the Big Oil companies with oil and money to burn all said ‘no' when we asked for help. All but one. CITGO, owned by the Venezuelan people, is donating millions of gallons to non-profit Citizens Energy...Some people say it's bad politics to do this. I say it's a crime against humanity not to because no one - no one - should be left out in the cold."
The Kennedy charity is another public relations ploy. It's designed to win sympathy for Chavez, and it's working, at least in some quarters. For instance, media critic Jeff Cohen, founder of the watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), urged Americans to buy CITGO gas to back up "a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor."
We'll never know what Kennedy's father, the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a man who called communism "a tyranny that holds its captives in a vice-like subjugation," might think of his son's collaboration with a communist. As a young man Senator Kennedy was an anti-Communist who had worked for Senator Joseph McCarthy on his anti-subversion subcommittee. The two were so close that RFK made the famous Red hunter godfather to his firstborn child, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
More of Chavez's dupes have offices in the U.S. Capitol.
Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) has actively defended Chavez as a "democratically-elected" president. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) previously penned a letter along with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Marxist writers Howard Zinn and Naomi Klein endorsing Chavez's reelection.
Speaking to the International Terrorism panel on the House Committee on International Relations, Representative Brad Sherman (D-California) urged American patience with Chavez while commending Venezuela's "free press." (Of course, under Chavez it is now illegal to "practice" journalism in Venezuela without joining the National College of Journalists and holding a journalism degree.)
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan) wrote a letter along with 12 other members of Congress to President Bush complaining that the U.S. wasn't doing enough to support Chavez.
British journalist Richard Gott declares that the U.S. government's assessment of Chavez's dictatorial rule is "entirely invented." When asked in 2005 what Chavez's Venezuela would look like 10 years hence, Gott, a hard leftist alleged to have been a KGB "agent of influence," gushed:
"Venezuela will be a model for the rest of Latin America-a society that's come to terms with its black and indigenous poverty-stricken populations, and where those populations participate fully in the democratic process. Because it's a new generation it's a little open-ended as to what will happen, but Chavez recognizes that. He says ‘Let the people decide,' and I think he means it."
To Time's Tim Padgett, Chavez's policies are all George W. Bush's fault. The Venezuelan's ascendancy "is a lesson in what can happen when the U.S. disses an entire continent."
For the most part, the U.S. media, which is only too eager to label politicians on the right, can't bring itself to call Chavez a socialist even though he is a self-described Che Guevara admirer whose political party is called the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
But every once in a while, accurate, meaningful adjectives sneak past the copy desk. For example, a CNN report in 2006 called him an "anti-American socialist."
(This blog post is based on a longer article, "The American Friends of Hugo Chavez: Dial 1-800-4-TYRANT," by Ana Maria Ortiz and Matthew Vadum, that was published in the March 2008 issue of Capital Research Center's Organization Trends.)