Another article that made the rounds last week on apologists for dictators:

Stalin was applauded by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Mao was visited by a constant stream of worshippers from the West, some of whose names can still produce winces of disgust in China. Castro has basked for years in the adulation of such literary stars as Jose Saramago and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Even Pol Pot found favour among several well-known journalists and academics.

Last year a number of journalists, writers and showbiz figures, including Harold Pinter, Nadine Gordimer, Harry Belafonte and Tariq Ali, signed a letter claiming that in Cuba “there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959 . . .”

Arenas was arrested in 1973 for “ideological deviation”. He was tortured and locked up in prison cells filled with floodwater and excrement, and threatened with death if he didn’t renounce his own writing. Imagine what it must be like to be treated like this and then read about your fellow writers in the West standing up for your oppressors.

None of this is news, and would hardly be worth dredging up if the same thing were not happening once more. Hugo Chavez, the elected strongman of Venezuela, is the latest object of adulation by western “progressives” who return from jaunts in Caracas with stars in their eyes.

Chavez is not yet a Castro, let alone a Pol Pot. His fiery populist rhetoric is more in the line of Juan Peron, the Argentinian “caudillo”. Chavez, by the way, rather relishes this pejorative term. Neither quite left, nor quite right, he is a typical macho Latin leader, whose charisma is meant to stand for the empowerment of his people, mostly poor and darker-skinned than the urban elite. [...]

As Ali, the ubiquitous applauder of Third World blowhards, put it: “Democracy in Venezuela, under the banner of the Bolivarian revolutionaries, has broken through the corrupt two-party system favoured by the oligarchy and its friends in the West.” But whether the corrupt two-party system will be replaced by a functioning democracy is the question.

Ali was lavish in his praise of Venezuela’s new constitution, which allows people to recall the president before he has completed his term of office. “A triumph of the poor against the rich,” he called it. In 2004 Venezuelans exercised their right to do just that by circulating a petition for a referendum. Chavez survived, but soon the names of the petitioners were made public, and anti-Chavistas were denied passports, public welfare and government contracts.

In 2004 a law was passed that would ban broadcasting stations on the grounds of security and public order. Chavez, as well as his cabinet ministers, appears on television to denounce journalists who dare to criticise the revolution. Most ominous, though, is the way Chavez has expanded the 20-seat supreme court by adding 12 sympathetic judges. [...]

Criticism of American policies and economic practices are necessary and often just, but why do leftists continue to discredit their critical stance by applauding strongmen who oppress and murder their own critics? Is it simply a reverse application of that famous American cold war dictum: “He may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard”? Or is it the fatal attraction to power often felt by writers and artists who feel marginal and impotent in capitalist democracies? The danger of Chavism is not a revival of communism, even though Castro is among its main boosters. Nor should anti-Americanism be our main concern. The US can take care of itself. What needs to be resisted, not just in Latin America, is the new form of populist authoritarianism.

That Chavez is applauded by many people, especially the poor, is not necessarily a sign of democracy; many revolutionary leaders are popular, at least in the beginning of their rule, before their promises have ended in misery and bloodshed.

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They love Castro and Chavez

They love Castro and Chavez because the U.S. hates them. It's that simple.

What's amazing is that these often very intelligent, and perpetually cynical writers and artists suddenly leave all of that behind when it comes to populist demagogues who are firmly in the camp of "the other". Suddenly they become very naive.

They praise totalitarianism

They praise totalitarianism because they see themselves as part of the wise and good cadre able to lead the people.

- Josh

Tariq Ali's whole "street

Tariq Ali's whole "street figthing years" thing is a hoot. Try street figthing in Cuba and see where that lands you, Ali.