Venezuela’s Top 10 Useful Idiots and Propagandists, Pt. I

2014-02-25T175801Z_01_TBR06_RTRIDSP_3_VENEZUELA-PROTESTFood shortages. Economic chaos. Out-of-control crime. Things have never been quite so bad in oil-rich Venezuela. Massive and bloody anti-government protests have roiled the South American nation for more than two months — a response to what Hugo Chávez’s “21st Century socialism” has wrought to a nation that ought to be rich, but is instead poor.

Hugo Chávez can’t be blamed for everything, however.

The late Venezuelan president got plenty of help from a myriad group of useful idiots and propagandists. They helped sweep him into power in 1999 and gave him various kinds of support during his 14 years of increasingly autocratic rule, until dying of cancer one year ago. Now they’re giving their unquestioning support to his hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro — a bus driver and former union leader — who is doubling downs on Chávez’s policies. Maduro has ramped up Cuba’s role in Venezuela and, with the help of Cuban security agents and goons, has ordered a brutal crack-down on anti-government protests. He has jailed opposition figures on trumped-up charges while professing a desire for a dialogue with opposition leaders. Human rights groups are outraged. But not the worst of Venezuela’s useful idiots.

Who are they?

Living in Venezuela, the United States and overseas, they include left-wing politicians, government officials, journalists, and Hollywood filmmakers. Some unwittingly facilitated Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution and subsequently admitted they were duped after belatedly recognizing Chávez’s malevolence. But the most odious of them — the true believers — have proudly set aside their moral compass to worship at the alter of socialist ideology, much to the delight of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

And here are the first five of the top ten …

Eva Golinger

Eva Golinger, a lawyer and writer based in Brooklyn, is hands-down Venezuela’s biggest propagandist. The 40-year-old Venezuelan-American was a confident of the late President Chavez. She often appears on Venezuela’s state radio and television to defend Venezuela’s so-called “Bolivarian revolution.” Speaking with a think American accent, she promotes the virtues of socialism, belittles the opposition, and elaborates on the latest plot that Venezuela claims Washington has hatched against it.

“I’m a soldier for this revolution,” Golinger told The New York Times three years ago. In its profile, “In Venezuela, an American has the President’s Ear,” The Times called her “one of the most prominent fixtures of Venezuela’s expanding state propaganda complex.”

Recently, Golinger defended the Maduro regime during an interview on Fox News Latino, even as his security forces were engaged in a brutal crack-down against massive anti-government protests. Human rights groups were outraged, but not Golinger. “The protesters have been a minority of people…concentrated in upper and middle class areas,” she claimed. But there have been reports of lower-class Venezuelans increasingly joining the anti-government protests. Maduro also didn’t inherit Chávez’s halo or ability to sail to comfortable election wins. In balloting shortly after Chávez’s death, Maduro won by a razor-thin margin. This was despite credible claims that like Chávez, he benefited from election irregularities and voter intimidation including by Chavista motorcycle thugs.

Born at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, Golinger’s father was a military psychiatrist during the Vietnam War. She enjoyed a privileged life as a doctor’s daughter; yet she ridicules Venezuela’s opposition leaders for having attended prestigious schools in the United States, something she suggests makes them out of touch with ordinary Venezuelans. Golinger, for her part, attended preppy Sarah Lawrence College near New York City. When not living in her upscale apartment in Caracas, she earned a law degree at City University of New York.

In 2010, Chávez took her on one of his globetrotting trips aimed at building anti-American alliances; it included stops in Syria, Iran and Libya. Chávez introduced her as “La novia de Venezuela” or “Venezuela’s girlfriend.”

Golinger writes for pro-Venezuela websites, hosts a weekly show on RT Spanish (formerly called Russian Television), and is the author of “The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela” and “Bush vs. Chávez: Washington’s War on Venezuela.” She also writes for the leftist site Venezuelanalysis.com. How much she earns for such work is unknown.

Golinger has denied being on Venezuela’s payroll, but opposition activists dug up documents showing she received nearly $10,000 from the Venezuela Information Office to pay for a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, on media reform.

True believers like Golinger, however, never shill only for money, and nor did her counterparts among earlier generations of Americans — all those starry-eyed leftists who happily shilled for the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. Like Golinger, they burned with the desire to be part of something greater than themselves — the creation of a heaven on earth. A socialist utopia.

Oliver Stone

Hollywood has produced more than its share of useful idiots and propagandists over the years. First, they rallied around the Soviet Union. Then Cuba. Now they see Venezuela as an emerging socialist utopia.

Oliver Stone, the director and screenwriter, is Venezuela’s biggest propagandist in Hollywood — more so than celebrities like actors Danny Glover and Sean Penn who, like Stone, regarded Hugo Chávez as a friend and ideological soul mate. Stone has by far the greatest propaganda value for Venezuela’s leftist regime, however.

Consider his 2009 documentary “South of the Border.” It explores the rise of leftist governments and movements in South America which were inspired by Hugo Chávez’s election and enjoyed his oil largesse. To Stone, these movements are the answer to the region’s economic development. At the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Stone was photographed hobnobbing with Chávez on numerous occasions — even as he was being widely condemned by right groups. But Stone has called Chávez nice guy. Not surprisingly, Stone didn’t bother to interview opposition leaders when making the film, which he promoted on a tour of South America.

Stone’s next documentary was “Mi Amigo Hugo,” about his friendship with Chávez. On the first anniversary of Chávez’s death last March 5th, Venezuela’s government premiered the film on state television and (by government edict) private television channels. Talk about a captive audience! Stone wasn’t on hand in Venezuela for the premiere; it was just as well because massive and bloody anti-government protests were then underway — fueled by outrage over food shortages, out-of-control crime, and a dysfunctional economy. Danny Glover, however, did show up and gave a rousing speech in support of Venezuela’s “21st Century socialism.”

Over the years, many of Stone’s films have had a leftist and anti-American agenda. The most recent example was “The Untold History of the United States” — an anti-American hatchet job that aired last year on the the Showtime cable channel. And let’s not forget “JFK” which taught millions of young and impressionable viewers that President John F. Kennedy was murdered by right-wing conspirators tied to America’s vast military-industrial complex.

Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore used to be one of Chávez’s useful idiots, incidentally; but he had a falling out with Chávez’s thin-skinned supporters after claiming to have given Chávez political advice and helped him write a U.N. speech. This supposedly happened during a late-night drinking session with the strongman in his hotel room at the Venice Film Festival.

Stone, ironically, has made millions of dollars in the United States thanks to its free-markets, rule of law, and respect for private property — and yet he believes that Venezuela, Cuba, and South America is better off without these virtues.

Stone is not only a shill for tyranny, he is an incredible hypocrite.

Bart Jones

Bart Jones, a left-learning American journalist, was a “local hire” reporter for the Caracas bureau of the Associated Press in the mid-1990s, back when Venezuela was a relative backwater. He didn’t start out as a journalist in Venezuela, however. In 1992, he went there as a missionary for the left-leaning Maryknoll order of the US Catholic Church. He worked 18 months in a slum where he soaked up huge amounts of right-wing social injustices (as he saw it) and then joined the AP. By dint of hard work and talent, Jones eventually became one of the bureau’s lead reporters — just in time to cover Hugo Chávez’s unexpected rise to power.

Who would have guessed that Jones was a closet Chavista while writing all those supposedly objective articles for the AP? His political views were on display in his 2009 biography of Chávez: “Hugo! The Hugo Chávez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution.” The book has gotten many reviews and is highly readable. It is the only source of in-depth information for many hankering to learn about Hugo Chávez and his so-called Bolivarian revolution. Jones, however, delivers a decidedly lefty view — presenting Chávez as a veritable saint and portraying all who disagree with him as classists, racists, or oligarchs. To Jones, Venezuela’s troubles revolve around a brown-skinned poor majority living under the thump of a white-skinned elite. A simplistic leftist narrative, it ignores the rainbow of colors existing among Venezuelans, including among more than a few of its politicians over the years.

Jones also condemns Venezuela’s private media as doing the dirty work of anti-Chávez oligarchs. In particular, he lashes into its biased coverage (and, yes, it was definitely slanted) during Chávez’s brief ouster during a failed military-civilian uprising on April 11, 2002. Private media outlets, however, didn’t start out being virulently anti-Chávez; they only started waving the anti-Chávez banner when Chávez played a gigantic bait-and-switch on Venezuela — imposing a socialist regime despite having claimed to be a moderate, not a socialist, during his first election campaign. As Jones skewers the anti-Chávez media, one wonders if he is similarly troubled about how most of America’s mainstream media was in Barack Obama’s camp from the get go. Jones surely cherishes his first amendment protections, yet he seems delighted that Venezuela’s government has neutered private media outlets or driven them out of business.

It’s troubling that Jones researched much of his book long after Chávez had revealed himself to be a megalomaniac — a despot who was leading Venezuela toward an authoritarian and poverty-ridden abyss. Checks and balances were dissolved, power was concentrated in Chávez’s hands, and quality-of-life indices took a nose dive. Human rights groups were alarmed. But not Jones. He shrugs off Chávez’s authoritarianism and personal excesses, including his womanizing and purchase of an Airbus 319 presidential jet that he rode on with Chávez; it wasn’t as opulent, he wrote, as Chávez’s critics had claimed. To Jones, Chávez can do no wrong because he is ruling in behalf of Venezuela’s poor majority.

Jones, incidentally, rented an apartment a few floors above me in an upscale complex on a tony corner of eastern Caracas, now an opposition stronghold. One day, Bart and I ran into each other at the entrance. We talked shop for a few minutes, and I asked about his thoughts on Chávez’s growing and inexplicable anti-American rhetoric.

Jones was normally calm and affable, but he suddenly launched into a frothy anti-American rant, declaring the United States had unleashed unspeakable atrocities upon Latin America in the past, and so it was totally understandable that Chávez was now telling those in Washington to go “f–k themselves.”

This, incidentally, was during Bill Clinton’s presidency. But like many of Chávez’s worshipers, Jones was living in another era. Not long after our conversation, in early 2000, Jones moved to Long Island, New York, and became a reporter for Newsday, a daily with a politically left-wing outlook.

How lucky for Jones that he and his Venezuelan-born wife aren’t raising their children in the country that he regards as a beacon of emerging social justice.

Joseph P. Kennedy II

Joe Kennedy II has been the Venezuelan government’s favorite useful idiot in Massachusetts since 2005. Since then, the former U.S. representative and scion of the Kennedy family has facilitated and cheered on what amounts to an anti-American program by oil-rich yet impoverished Venezuela. Though his non-profit Citizens Energy Corporation, Kennedy and Venezuela’s government provide free home-heating oil to needy Americans.

In so doing, Kennedy and Venezuela’s leaders get to portray themselves as heroes of the poor. The media-savvy Chávez started the program and Maduro has continued with it — even as Venezuela’s inflation-wracked economy slides toward basket-case status. CITGO Petroleum Corporation, the Houston-based arm of Venezuela’s state oil company, claims that more than 235 million gallons of home-heating oil have been distributed over the past nine years to more than 1.8 million low-income Americans.

Joining Kennedy are two Democratic politicians who negotiated the oil deal: former Rep. Bill Delahunt from Massachusetts, who had served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks, who took off time from fighting corruption allegations to attended Chávez’s funeral last year. Both reportedly introduced Kennedy to Chávez on a trip to Caracas.

Kennedy, to be sure, isn’t as stupid as he seems. Citizen’s Energy reportedly pays him a cool $86,311 annually.

Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain

Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain, young and lefty Irish filmmakers, arrived in Venezuela in September 2001 to make a documentary about firebrand leftist president Hugo Chávez.

Their research took an unexpected turn after seven months.

On April 11, 2002, while in the presidential palace, Chávez was briefly ousted from power amid massive pro- and anti-government marches in response to Chávez’s increasingly polarizing leadership. At least 20 people died and more than 150 received gunshot wounds, with some gunfire coming from shadowy snipers whose allegiances and motives were never determined.

Their riveting 2003 documentary, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” attracted large audiences and generated rave reviews. It won some prestigious awards.

It also is riddled with errors and manipulated footage — all to serve the pro-Chávez leftist narrative they had gone to Venezuela to film.

As useful idiots, they dished up a huge wallop of international propaganda for Chávez’s increasingly embattled government. To Chávez’s delight, they portrayed his outster as an old-fashioned Latin American-style coup involving right-wing oligarchs backed by Washington (the Bush administration in this case).

Venezuela’s government never set up a non-partisan commission to establish what precisely transpired, perhaps due to political convenience; or so observed the Caracas Chronicles blog, citing newspaper columns by opposition editor Teodoro Petkoff, a prominent former Marxist guerrilla and now opposition figure with neoliberal economic views.

So what happened behind the scenes during Chávez’s ouster for 47 hours?

Level-headed journalists and analysts without an ideological ax to grind have variously described the military-civilian uprising against Chávez as evolving from a self-coup that Chávez orchestrated (in order to dissolve Congress and Supreme Court and declare martial law); a coup against him by top generals (spurred mainly by Chávez’s illegal order to turn the military loose on anti-government protesters and create a bloodbath); or a counter-coup due to concerns by generals and officials, including some loyal to Chávez, about where the uprising was heading. They believed Chávez’s ouster, while appropriate, had nevertheless proceed in an unconstitutional direction when newly appointed president Pedro Carmona, a businessman who headed the business chamber Fedecamaras, moved to dissolve Congress. This also lost him union support that was vital for successful governance.

It’s a complicated story, to be sure. But the leftist version makes for a more thrilling documentary and serves a leftist narrative — even if the truth is wildly distorted. Or as veteran journalist Phil Gunson explained in The Columbia Journalism Review: “Constructing a false picture of a classic military coup devised by an allegedly corrupt and racist oligarchy, they omit key facts, invent others, twist the sequence of events to support their case, and replace inconvenient images with others dredged from archives.”

Gunson, a former Caracas correspondent, noted that the film portrays the opposition as “rich, white, racist, and violent. Unseen are the armed bands of Chavista thugs who for years have made the center of Caracas a no-go area, beating up or shooting opposition marchers or TV crews who dare to approach.”

The film’s title takes its name from the fact that the opposition media excluded the Chavista point of view from its coverage. But Venezuela’s private media outlets, as mentioned above, hadn’t always been virulently anti-Chávez; they got that way after Chávez revealed himself to be an authoritarian leftist — not the moderate he’d claimed to be during his first election campaign.

In portraying the private media as being anti-Democratic oligarchs, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” also omits the fact that, as protesters were being shot in the street, Chávez ordered radio and television channels to carry one of his long-winded speeches. As the shooting and violence continued, private broadcasters then put up a split screen — one side showing the violence in the streets, the other showing Chávez’s speech. In response, Chávez ordered the National Guard to shut down private television stations.

What’s more, Chávez wasn’t restored to office by “people power”; that is, by massive street demonstrations by his slum-dwelling supporters. He was returned to power as a result of behind-the-scenes political intrigues. And after that happened, his supporters took to the streets.

The lefty BBC, Ireland’s RTE, and other European broadcasters underwrote “This Revolution Will Not be Televised,” noted Gunson. Chávez had 20,000 copies made in Cuba.

As a rejoinder to the poisonous falsehoods of “This Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” a documentary was released in 2004 called “Radiografía De Una Mentira” (“X-Ray of a Lie“). It was not a box office hit, having only been released (with English-subtitles) on YouTube and on DVDs.

Winning back hearts and minds bewitched by leftist propaganda is invariably an uphill battle.

Read Part II of this article in tomorrow’s edition of FrontPage Magazine. 

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