This week in the pages of the Guardian
Like many on the left, Navasky never met a dictator he didn't like — as long as that despot claimed to represent a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, or, like the fascist Saddam Hussein, was an enemy of the U.S.
This time Navasky, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, vigorously defended Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's decision to shut down a major television network. RCTV's screen had barely faded to black before Navasky was hurrying to defend his hero Hugo, writing that “non-renewals [Leftspeak for censorship] are…meant to guarantee bottom-up democracy, and the people's access to and ownership of the various modes of communication.” No, that's not a line out of Animal Farm. A revered boardmember of the Authors Guild, International PEN, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, and director of the Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism at Columbia University actually suggests that shutting down the opposition media improves communication, strengthens democracy, and is generally good for “the people.” Awkwardly Navasky's defense of Chavez puts him at odds with one of his own boards — the Committee to Protect Journalist — which last year urged the Venezuelan president to “refrain from making” menacing statements toward the media “which could have a chilling effect on the press,” and in a statement that obviously wasn't penned by Navasky concluded that “the allocation of broadcast frequencies should be based on technical considerations, not politics.”
Still it is both educational and highly entertaining to read Navasky's defense of authoritarian rule: Chavez's nationalization program is no more than a “hostile takeover with a more-than-fair negotiating price,” and while laws that bar “messages contrary to the security of the nation” (i.e., anti-Chavez messages) are “problematic,” Hugo is not as bad as his buddy Fidel. Or, I presume, Stalin. So cut the guy some slack already. It's not like he's as malicious as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And as for Reporters without Borders' declaration that RCTV's shutdown is “a serious attack on editorial pluralism,” that can only mean that the Paris-based organization has been infiltrated by the CIA.
Nearly nine years into his presidency Chavez is busily consolidating his power by nationalizing the last of Venezuela's vital infrastructure, including the “strategic” telecom and energy industries, banks and mass media. Earlier this year the Economist reported that Chavez's “supporters already hold all the seats in the National Assembly, because the opposition boycotted a legislative election in December 2005. He also controls the courts….Other proposed constitutional changes will curb the powers of state governors and mayors, and remove the bar on the indefinite re-election of the president.”
Chavez has now turned his attention to the sole remaining institutions of authority in Venezuela that remain outside his control: the Catholic Church and nongovernmental organizations. Both have been highly critical of Chavez's rule. Recently he told bishops they should read more Marx and Lenin — after all “Christ was an authentic communist”–while a proposed law may soon cost NGOS their ability to receive funds from abroad.
WHY IS CHAVEZ STILL pussyfooting around with his critics? And why aren't Venezuelan dungeons crowded with the democratic opposition?
Perhaps because we now live in a post-communist world, one in which dictators can no longer rely on the masses and the West's leftist intellectuals to turn a blind eye to bloody purges. All those mass graves make the ponytails down at the co-op uneasy. The latter will happily support a communist regime, but the old excuse that a few eggs must be broken to make an omelet was done to death in the gulag and the Cambodian killing fields. Besides, a bloody crackdown would jeopardize oil sales — and Venezuela's $1 billion a month in profits — except, of course, to China.
Fred Barnes has noted that in the 1960s the left could be counted on to at least oppose right-wing dictators like Argentina's Peron. However. more than three decades after the end of Vietnam, the notion of America as bad guy remains strong. And as the left's “live and let live” attitude toward Saddam Hussein proved, even fascist dictators can expect a free pass these days. True, in the beginning, many Democrat politicians supported Saddam's ouster. But that backing was superficial and motivated out of political expediency. After 9/11, and a belief that Saddam had WMD for sale to terrorists, what politician in his right mind would oppose the Iraq invasion? Well, leftists, like the Nation's Navasky, opposed it. “What's bad for America is good for the Nation,” he said.
Venezuelan's will now have the opportunity to watch hours of government TV, featuring exciting anti-gringo speeches by President Chavez, third-rate entertainers singing patriotic songs of praise to President Chavez, footage of peasants picking coffee beans, and old black and white documentaries about the Cuban Revolution. Now that's what I call Must See TV.