Nearly two decades of socialism has left oil-rich Venezuela in an unparalleled crisis.
Recent figures show that a majority of Venezuelans go to bed hungry and 15 percent of people eat garbage to survive. The country desperately lacks basic resources, such as medicine and power.
Mass protests and riots are now breaking out across the country, as dictator Nicolas Maduro attempts to discard the Venezuelan constitution to tighten his grip on power.
However, Venezuela’s problems date back to 1999, with the election of socialist president Hugo Chávez, whose mass redistribution of wealth and financial mismanagement laid the groundwork for the country’s economic collapse.
Like his successor, Chávez was an authoritarian who clamped down on press freedom and regularly locked up his opponents. His government also funded gangs known as colectivos, tasked with intimidating poor communities into supporting him, while distributing pro-government propaganda across the country.
Nevertheless, Chávez’s regime received plaudits from numerous left-wing academics, politicians, and celebrities who have now gone quiet on the matter. Here are ten of the most prominent examples.
The darling of the left, retired MIT professor Noam Chomsky was a supporter of Chávez’s Venezuela and his anti-Americanism, arguing that he brought forward the “historic liberation of Latin America” proving “destructive to the rich oligarchy.”
Chomsky also described claims that Chávez had suppressed press freedom as a “bit of a joke,” arguing that there was “much more of an opposition press than there is in most of Latin America.”
However, the veteran academic did raise skepticism over Chávez’s authoritarian streak, criticizing him for an “assault on democracy” as Chávez expanded his concentration of executive power.
Actor Sean Penn met with Hugo Chavez on numerous occasions, describing him as a “fascinating guy” who did “incredible things for the 80% of the people that are very poor there.”
After Chávez’s death in 2013, Penn said that the “United States lost a friend it never knew it had” while “poor people around the world lost a champion.”
“Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of vice president Nicolas Maduro,” he continued.
Film director Oliver Stone was such a fan of Chávez and the rise Latin American socialism that he made a film about it, entitled South of the Border. In the film, he conducted interviews with the continent’s left-wing leaders, including Chávez, Cuba’s Raúl Castro, Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
Chávez received the film so well that he joined Stone for its premiere at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, describing him as “a genius of cinema.”
“I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place,” Stone said after Chávez’s death. “Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chávez will live forever in history.”
Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson visited Caracas in 2005 to apologize for remarks by TV evangelist Pat Robertson in which he called for Chávez’s assassination.
Addressing the Venezuelan parliament, Jackson said there was no evidence that Venezuela posed a threat to the United States, while praising Chávez for his “focus on foreign debt, debt relief, and free and fair trade to overcome years of structural disorder, unnecessary military spending, [and] land reform.”
After Chávez’s death, Jackson also offered a prayer at his funeral while celebrating his socialist legacy.
“Hugo fed the hungry. He lifted the poor. He raised their hopes. He helped them realize their dreams. And, so, today we do mourn, because we’ve lost a lot. But we have a lot left – a stable government, an orderly transition,” he said.
Unlike others in Hollywood, filmmaker Michael Moore did not share a close relationship with Chávez. However, the pair did meet at the 2009 Venice Film Festival and, after Chávez’s death, Moore praised him for “eliminating 75 percent of extreme poverty” while “[providing] free health and education for all.”
The leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, currently standing to be the country’s next prime minister, was an avid supporter of Hugo Chávez and the Venezuelan regime.
Following his death in 2013, Corbyn thanked Chávez for allegedly insuring “that the poor matter and wealth can be shared,” adding he had made “massive contributions to Venezuela and the world.”
Argentinian soccer star Diego Maradona developed a close friendship with Chávez, declaring himself a “Chavista.” The pair shared a mutual hatred of President George W. Bush, with Maradona once telling a crowd in Caracas that he “hates everything that comes from the United States.”
Maradona, who still owes Italy over $30 million in unpaid taxes, was also a supporter of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. “I believe in Chávez, I am Chavista. Everything Fidel [Castro] does, everything Chávez does, for me is the best.”
In a bizarre foray into journalism, British supermodel Naomi Campbell visited Hugo Chávez in 2007 for an interview with GQ.
“I’ve been here for 24 hours and I’m amazed to see the love and encouragement for the social programs that you have here for women and children in Venezuela,” Campbell said at the time.
In the interview, which has since been taken down, Campbell called Chávez a “rebel angel,” who was “fearless, but not threatening or unreasonable.”
The economist Joseph Stiglitz, a recipient of a Nobel Laureate, praised Hugo Chávez’s socialist policies whilst on a visit to Caracas in 2007.
Speaking at a World Economic Forum, Stiglitz said: “Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appears to have had success in bringing health and education to the people in the poor neighbourhoods of Caracas.”
“It is not only important to have sustainable growth, but to ensure the best distribution of economic growth, for the benefit of all citizens.”
In the run-up to last year’s presidential election, Stiglitz served as an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign on economic and trade issues.
Actor Danny Glover became one of Chávez’s most prominent supporters after meeting Chávez in 2006. The following year, the Venezuelan government even gave Glover $18 million to direct a film on the Haitian revolution. It was never released.
“He was not only my friend, he was my brother,” Glover said after Chávez’s death. “It’s difficult for a leader like him to exist in these times. His vision for humanity and the world can only be compared to that of leaders like Nelson Mandela. He was a great man and I cried when he died.”
In 2014, Glover also gave a speech next to Nicolas Maduro, asking him to “to continue [Chavez’s] vision of a participatory democracy, one involving all citizens,” while calling his government “the stewards of this democracy.”