President Obama may have plenty of vocal defenders in America's media-entertainment complex, but so does Venezuela's aspiring president-for-life.
The American friends of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez seem caught in a time warp, spouting foolish Marxist rhetoric to justify the buffoonish behavior of their hero. But Venezuela's head of state is no fool, and his brand of leftist politics seems to be on the march in Latin America.
Recently an emboldened Chavez called Obama a "poor ignoramus" and handed the beaming leader of the free world a copy of Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. The book is a leftist, anti-American tract from Marxist publisher Monthly Review Press.
It is unclear why Chavez didn't give Obama Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, by Noam Chomsky, the book he brought to the United Nations in 2006 when he called President Bush "the Devil" and made the sign of the cross.
Conservatives criticized Obama for shaking the Venezuelan strongman's hand, and naturally, Hollywood leapt to the defense of both leaders.
This should surprise no one. Hollywood is in love with Obama, and Chavez, who has allowed Iran-aligned Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas terrorists to open offices in the Venezuelan capital, is the kind of anti-American that certain kinds of American leftists swoon over.
Take actor Sean Penn, the recent Oscar laureate for Milk.
He's among those who believe Obama can charm his way through the perilous waters of foreign policy. "With a friend, or an enemy, our president will gain greater strategic position with a smile," wrote the co-star of Shanghai Surprise (currently 2.5 stars out of 10 at IMDB.com).
"I applaud an American President who's tough enough...to smile," wrote Penn, who appears not to know the difference between the verb infer and the verb imply. ("When President Obama today inferred consideration of holding former administration officials accountable to law…")
However, Penn's admiration of his own president pales when compared to the love he shows for the man who, oddly enough, considers himself the reincarnation of anti-socialist Simon Bolivar:
I know President Chavez well. Whether or not one agrees with all his policies, what is certainly true of Chavez is that he is a warm and friendly man with a robust sense of humor (who daily risks his own life for his country in ways Dick Cheney could never imagine). To treat such a man coldly is akin to spitting on him. As a country we've done enough of that. Say what you will, but it has only resulted in the self-celebration of our smirking spitters, while costing us international respect, American lives, and left wounds in the hands of our children's future. The Cheneys, down to the O'Reillys and Hannitys and Limbaughs, effectively hate the principles upon which we were founded. They are among the greatest cowards in all of American history.
Penn also previously called the Chavez-crafted constitution of Venezuela, which gives the president the power to rule by decree, "a very beautiful document."
The Fast Times at Ridgemont High star is hardly the only member of the glitterati to glamorize Chavez.
As Ana Maria Ortiz and I wrote last year in Organization Trends, the oil-reliant Chavez regime enjoys passionate support from actors Danny Glover, Kevin Spacey, Ed Asner, singer Harry Belafonte, and supermodel Naomi Campbell. South American newspapers reported Campbell was having a romantic affair with Chavez -- a claim she denies -- but there's no denying she is enamored of him politically. Campbell rhapsodizes about Chavez, speaking of her "amazement" at the "love and encouragement" that Chavez pours into social welfare programs. Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Marxist writers Howard Zinn and Naomi Klein are also proud chavistas.
Chavez's compliant Congress returned Hollywood's favor in 2007 by approving at least $28 million in financing for two films by Glover, who has been a business partner with Chavez for years. One of the movies is The General in His Labyrinth, about Simon Bolivar, and the other is Toussaint, a biopic about the 18th-century Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture.
News of the financial favoritism shown to the Toussaint project outraged Venezuelan filmmakers.
Just $18 million "could fund five years of local cinema in Venezuela," said Jose Novoa. "And the film's not even about Venezuela." Said screenwriter Jonathan Jakubowicz, "With so much poverty in our country, I can't deny that it infuriates and hurts me deeply."
After filmmakers wrote to Glover asking him not to use Venezuelan taxpayers' funds on his pet project, Venezuela outlawed two local film guilds, Variety reported.
Smitten as he is with the Venezuelan president, it's unlikely this repression would bother Glover, who has appeared with Chavez on his TV show, "Hello, President." On a trip there the actor lauded the revolution in progress, saying he was excited "knowing that you are in a transformative stage and that you are the architects of your own destiny."
Glover, who is co-chairman of the far-left Vanguard Public Foundation in San Francisco, is on the advisory council for La Nueva Televisora del Sur ("The New Television Station of the South"), also known as teleSUR. The station has been broadcasting from Caracas since 2005. Rep. Connie Mack (R-Florida) observes that teleSUR, "the Chavez-funded network…has teamed up with Al-Jazeera to spread anti-democratic messages across Latin America."
Academy Award winner Spacey praises Venezuela's support for film-making. A $13 million government-owned movie studio affords Venezuelans a valuable opportunity to "make films about their own country and their own culture," said Spacey. "I think every country should have this."
And let's not forget singer Harry Belafonte who on a pilgrimage to Venezuela in 2006 told a crowd: "No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we're here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people...support your revolution."
Chavez seems to have only one vocal detractor in Tinseltown, and she hasn't been in any box office smashes lately. Actress and singer Maria Conchita Alonso, whose family took her away from her native Cuba when Fidel Castro seized power, calls Chavez "a totalitarian dictator."
The former Miss Venezuela is reportedly producing and starring in a film, Two Minutes of Hate, about the events of April 11, 2002, when Chavez sent snipers to crush a peaceful protest march. "Nineteen died, and more than a hundred were hurt," she says. Alonso, who appeared in Predator 2 (1990) and Moscow on the Hudson (1984), said Chavez is "the biggest actor there is, much better than Danny Glover, so he has a way of making people believe that he was elected democratically and that he cares for the poor."
Chavez calls capitalism "savagery" and rejects free-market prescriptions to lift less-developed nations out of poverty. Instead, like President Obama, he preaches the gospel of redistribution and nationalization.
No wonder Hollywood loves them both.
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