Tough Times for Celebrity Fans of Venezuelan Socialism
Venezuelans sick of high crime and higher rates of inflation have been protesting President Maduro's socialist regime. Tens of thousands have marched in the streets in all of Venezuela's cities and several have been killed by motorcycle riding government loyalists.
All of this creates a problem for fans of Venezuelan socialism including Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone and Sean Penn. When Chavez died in March 2013, Stone told the Hollywood Reporter "I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place." Asked for his thoughts on the recent protests, Stone described the students as "sore losers."
Chavez successor, Nicolas Maduro, won a narrow election in 2013. But this came after former President Hugo Chavez announced he would alter the Constitution so he could be President for life and then announced he would rule by decree without any input from legislators.
It was about this time in 2011 that Noam Chomsky realized there might be a problem. After defending Chavez against charges he was a "tinpot dictator" Chomsky finally criticized Chavez saying "Concentration of executive power, unless it's very temporary and for
specific circumstances, such as fighting world war two, is an assault on
democracy. You can debate whether [Venezuela's] circumstances require
it: internal circumstances and the external threat of attack, that's a
legitimate debate. But my own judgment in that debate is that it does
not." In other words, Chavez was becoming a tinpot dictator.
Unlike Chomsky, actor Sean Penn never backed away from his friend. Penn first traveled to Venezuela in 2006. Even after Chavez began consolidating executive power, Penn suggested on television that journalists who labeled Chavez a dictator should be put in prison. Bill O'Reilly suggested at the time that Chavez might "approve" of the suggestion.
Tuesday, the government of Chavez' successor did arrest opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez is accused of being a "fascist" and of fomenting violence that led to three deaths last week. Both the UK's Independent and the AP reported that armed bands of motorcycle vigilantes who fired into crowds of protesters were in fact Maduro supporters. So in effect, opposition leader Lopez has been arrested for murders carried out by pro-Maduro thugs.
Sean Penn has yet to comment on the protests or the deaths in any public forum. Meanwhile Camila Vallejo, who the NY Times once described as "the world's most glamorous revolutionary," apparently has gone silent. Valleo proclaimed Chavez a "hero" when he died but has not been quoted reacting to the current protests. However, Vallejo's former communist student group, The Student Federation of the University of Chile (FECH), issued a statement saying [via Google translation] "We
are not represented by the actions of Venezuelan student sectors that
have sided with the defense of the old order, as opposed to the people
What is taking place in Venezuela this week is exactly the sort of peaceful, popular street theater the left generally loves. But because Venezuela has become the face of Marxism in the hemisphere plaudits for the protesters may be more sparing.