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Hugo Chavez has done a lot of good things in Venezuela, like empowering the poor, redistributing wealth, and spending billions of dollars in oil revenues on health and education. Despite those impressive achievements, I hope he loses the referendum Sunday that would eliminate restrictions on presidential reelection and allow him to seek additional terms in office. It’s anti-democratic and it’s hard to understand why he would be the single person capable of leading Venezuela. Is there no one else in Chavez’s political movement able to run the country and implement anti-poverty policies?
That said, it’s amusing to watch American pundits and newspaper editorial boards hysterically denounce Chavez–who has thrice been elected with overwhelming popular support–even as they cheerfully accommodate pro-American dictators elsewhere. Take a look at Roger Cohen’s column today in the New York Times:
[M]ore than spreading socialist ideals, Chávez has spread a form of crony capitalism, dedicated to his greater glory, that has imbued the economy with all the resilience of a house of cards. Chávez’s grab for socialist-emperor status is grotesque and dangerous–as Fascism was–a terrible example for a region that has been consolidating democracy.
Chávez, Cohen continues, “has already used gushing oil revenue, a pliant judiciary, subservient institutions and the galvanizing appeal of vitriolic anti-Americanism to concoct a 21st-century, gulag-free authoritarianism.”
Now contrast that with a column Cohen wrote in November of 2006 about Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak has constructed a 20th century brand of authoritarianism, complete with gulag, enriched his family and friends, and impoverished just about everyone else. Furthermore, Mubarak has ruled since 1981, 17 years longer than Chavez, and has never won a remotely fair vote. Yet Cohen utters hardly a squeak of concern about Mubarak’s terrible rule. (I mentioned this column in passing once before, but it’s so ghastly that it’s worth examining in detail, especially given Cohen’s column today on Chavez.)
Here’s a credulous Cohen on the Egyptian strongman:
Mubarak, prodded by the United States, has dabbled in democratic change in the past couple of years, holding the first multicandidate presidential election last year that ushered him into his fifth term with a handy 88.5 percent of the vote, down several points from the more Orwellian scores he notched up in earlier plebiscites…More reforms are promised next year that would give the legislature greater oversight, adding checks and balances to a system that has long amounted to Mubarak rule by fiat.
Talk about seeing the glass half-full. Of course, the promised reforms never came to pass and Mubarak still rules by fiat. He currently is seeking to hand off power to his son.
In his column today, Cohen talks to no one who is even remotely sympathetic to Chavez, yet he devoted much of his 2006 article to a conversation with Mohamed Kamal, an American-educated crony of Mubarak’s. “We are moving in the right direction,” he quotes him as saying. “The president wants democratizing Egypt to be part of his legacy.”
It gets worse. Cohen effectively endorses Mubarak’s continued rule as long as makes a few meager, empty reforms:
Egypt is critical to the United States. It provides potential avenues to Syria and Iran at a time when engagement with those countries is under review. Its influence on the Palestinian Authority is considerable. Its assistance in fighting terrorism is important. Overall, it’s an element of stability. That’s the return America gets on more than $2 billion in annual aid. Democracy sounds good, but putting all the above at risk in its name looks right now like a perverse proposition, a shot in the foot in the name of a grand idea…. Prudence on democracy seems the only reasonable course. Mubarak’s Egypt is inching in a democratic direction. Overdrive could kill the enterprise, damage American interests, and create further regional turmoil.
Cohen is no democrat. Like so much of the pundit class, he favors democracy when convenient, but when authoritarianism protects “American interests,” dictator-coddling is perfectly fine.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Commentary — November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm
The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Minimum number of cats fitted with high-tech listening equipment in a 1967 CIA project:
Zoologists suggested that apes and humans share an ancestor who laughed.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”